Russia's Republic of Kalmykia has marked the 76th anniversary of the start of mass deportations of Kalmyks to Siberia by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
Prayers in Kalmykia's Buddhist temples were dedicated on December 28 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 Batu Khasikov, who attended the ceremony, said "our Kalmyk people's spirit has never been broken, despite our people's sufferings."
"After 13 years of wanderings, our elders managed to resurrect and raise our republic. Our duty is to preserve the legacy," Khasikov said.
Kalmyks are a Mongol-speaking and predominantly Buddhist ethnic group -- one of several that was 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 cars 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.