Residents of the North Caucasus region of Ingushetia are commemorating the victims of the wartime Soviet deportation of Ingush and Chechens from the North Caucasus to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
Thousands of people, including the region's leader, Makhmud-Ali Kalimatov, lawmakers, government members, and public organizations, gathered near the memorial called Nine Towers in Ingushetia's largest city, Nazran, on February 23 to honor the victims of the deportation.
Commemoration ceremonies and mass prayers were also held in Ingushetia's mosques and cemeteries.
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.
In his address to the Ingush people on February 23, Kalimatov called Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's decision to deport Ingush and Chechen people "monstrous" and praised those who survived the deportation for the "ability to preserve their values, culture and traditions."
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 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 bombing in Grozny in 2004.
In a statement on February 23, Kadyrov condemned Stalin for the deportation.
Last year, for the first time since moving the date, Kadyrov and his government commemorated the deportation's victims, but this year the date was not officially marked with any public events.