ELISTA, Russia -- Russia's Republic of Kalmykia has marked the 75th anniversary of the start of mass deportations of Kalmyks to Siberia by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
Prayers in Kalmykia's Buddhist temples on December 28 were dedicated to those who died between 1943 and 1956 as a result of the deportation.
Thousands attended a commemoration ceremony near the monument of Exodus and Return – a memorial created in Kalmykia’s capital, Elista, by the late Russian-American sculptor Ernst Neizvestny.
Regional head Aleksei Orlov issued a statement saying that "thanks to unity, hard work, and stamina, the Kalmyk people were able to withstand this ordeal with honor and managed to return home."
Kalmyks are a Mongol-speaking and predominantly Buddhist ethnic group, one of several that were deported en masse in the 1940s, by Stalin's Soviet government, which accused them of collaborating with Nazi Germany.
On December 28-29, 1943, almost 100,000 Kalmyks were sent in cattle trains headed for Siberia.
According to unofficial estimates, at least one-third of those who were forced onto the trains died during the journey.
Those who survived were allowed to return to Kalmykia, close to Russia’s North Caucasus region, in 1956.
Kalmykia has marked December 28 as a holiday, the Day of Memory and Sorrow, since 2004.