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Chechens, Ingush Mark Anniversary Of Deportations --> A troupe performs a Chechen-Ingush school dance (file photo) (ITAR-TASS) February 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Chechnya and Ingushetia are marking the anniversary of Stalin-era deportations.

On February 23, 1944, Soviet authorities began forcefully removing approximately 500,000 Chechens and Ingush from their homelands. Stalin accused the two peoples of collaborating with the Nazi army.

They were transported to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Siberia. Approximately half of them died in transit or shortly after their arrival.

Survivors were only permitted to return in 1956, during Nikita Khrushchev's de-Stalinization campaign.

Magomed Gazikhanov, who was 10 years old when he was deported, tells RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that, despite the snow, Soviet soldiers did not allow people to take their shoes before they were herded onto transport trains.

"Children, women, and men were packed tightly into the trains. The conditions were brutal. They only let us go to the toilet one time a day. There was barely enough water for everyone. Those who died along the way were just left in the snow," Gazikhanov said.

In a statement on February 22, acting Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said Chechens managed to survive due to a "belief in the triumph of historical justice."