ELISTA, Russia -- Russia's Republic of Kalmykia has marked the 74th anniversary of the start of mass deportations of Kalmyks to Siberia by Soviet leader 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 deportation.
Meanwhile, officials and citizens from the Russian region on December 28 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.
Kalmykia's regional head, Aleksei Orlov, told the gathering that "the memory of those who perished during the illegal deportation unites us today to preserve peace and harmony in our land."
Kalmyks are a Mongol-speaking and predominantly Buddhist ethnic group that were among the ethnicities deported by Stalin's Soviet government during the 1940s.
In 1943, on December 28-29, more than 90,000 Kalmyks were sent in cattle cars to Siberia by the Soviet government -- which accused them of collaborating with Nazi Germany.
According to unofficial estimates, at least a third of those who were forced onto the trains perished 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.