KYIV -- Ukraine is commemorating on May 18 the victims of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's mass deportation of Tatars from Crimea in 1944.
A minute of silence was observed across the country at noon -- except in Crimea, where Russia-backed authorities have banned annual commemorations of the deportation after Moscow illegally annexed the peninsula in March 2014.
"On this important day, as always, we stand together with our brotherly Crimean Tatar people, share our common pain, and bow our heads to commemorate the victims," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote on Facebook.
In November 2015, the Ukrainian parliament approved the bill recognizing May 18 as the Day of Commemoration of Victims of the Crimean Tatars' Genocide.
In Crimea's capital, Simferopol, unknown individuals splashed purple paint on Stalin's commemoration plaque on May 18.
Starting on May 18, 1944, some 200,000 Crimean Tatars were put on trains -- most of them in the space of just two days -- and sent to Central Asia. Thousands are believed to have died during the journey.