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Russia's Ingushetia Remembers 1944 Deportation Victims

Chechen Survivor Remembers Stalin's Deportation
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WATCH: Chechen Survivor Remembers Stalin's Deportation (video published in 2014)

Residents of Russia's North Caucasus region of Ingushetia are commemorating the victims of the wartime Soviet deportation of Ingush and Chechens from the North Caucasus.

Commemoration ceremonies and public prayers were held in Ingushetia's mosques and cemeteries on February 23.

From February 23 to March 9, 1944, Soviet authorities deported almost all Chechens and Ingush -- an estimated 650,000 people -- to Central Asia, claiming they were collaborating with Nazi Germany.

The Kremlin-appointed leader of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, in an address to the Ingush people on February 23, said that "wisdom, patience, strength of spirit, and faith in the triumph of justice helped us not only to survive in difficult conditions, but also to return to our native land."

As many as half of the deportees died either on the journey or due to the harsh conditions in which they were forced to live.

In 1957, four years after Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's death, the survivors were allowed to return to the North Caucasus.

In neighboring Chechnya, in 2012, Moscow-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov moved the Day of Grief and Remembrance from February 23 to May 10, the anniversary of the burial of his father, Akhmad Kadyrov, who was killed in a bomb attack in Grozny in 2004.

In a statement on Telegram on February 23, Kadyrov condemned Soviet dictator Josef Stalin for the deportation.