KYIV -- The acting U.S. ambassador to Kyiv, Kristina Kvien, has called on Russia to “stop its legacy of inflicting suffering on the people of Crimea," as Ukraine commemorated the victims of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's mass deportation of Crimean Tatars from their homeland in 1944.
Kvien issued a video statement on Twitter on May 18, which since 2016 has been marked in Ukraine as the Day of Commemoration of Victims of the Genocide of the Crimean Tatars.
The Crimean Tatars were deported en masse from the Black Sea peninsula in May 1944, after Stalin accused them of collaborating with Nazi Germany.
Seventy years later, in March 2014, Russia seized Crimea after sending in troops and staging a referendum boycotted by many Crimean Tatars.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised the Crimean Tatars they would be treated well and guaranteed equal rights.
But Crimean Tatars, rights activists, and Western governments say Russia has subjected Crimean Tatars and others who opposed annexation to abuse, discrimination, and politically motivated prosecution on false charges.
In her statement, Kvien said that the deportation of the Crimean Tatars 76 years ago "caused unimaginable trauma, suffering, and the death of thousands."
"That trauma and suffering is only deepened by Russia's modern-day occupation of Crimea,” the U.S. diplomat added.
The United States “does not and will not recognize Russia's purported annexation of Crimea,” and will remain its Crimea-related sanctions in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine, she said.
Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland issued a joint statement condemning Russia's “aggressive policy towards Ukraine and new repressions” against Crimean Tatars.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy commemorated the 76th anniversary of the mass deportation by saying Crimea will one day “return to Ukraine" and that "Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians [will] return to their homes."
Starting on May 18, 1944, some 250,000 people were put on trains -- most of them in the space of two days -- and sent to Central Asia. Tens of thousands died during the journey or after they were left on the barren steppe with few resources.
Crimean Tatars were not allowed to return to Crimea until the late 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev made reforms in the years before the disintegration of the Soviet Union.