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Ukraine Commemorates Deportation Of Crimean Tatars; Dozens Detained


Crimean Tatars gathered in Simferopol on May 18 to commemorate the victims of the deportation.

KYIV -- Ukraine commemorated the victims of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's mass deportation of Crimean Tatars from their homeland in 1944, and authorities on the Russian-controlled peninsula briefly detained dozens of people there.

A minute of silence was observed at noon on May 18 across the country -- except in Crimea, which Russia seized in March 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum boycotted by many Crimean Tatars.

An RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Crimean capital, Simferopol, that the Russian-imposed police briefly detained dozens of Crimean Tatars who tried to commemorate victims of the deportation early in the morning.

Later in the day, several dozen Crimean Tatars held another commemoration event next to a stone erected in a park in Simferopol to honor the deportation victims. Dozens of riot police officers monitored the event.

WATCH: When You Think About Crimea, Think Crimean Tatars. Here's Why. (originally published March 6, 2017)

When You Think About Crimea, Think Crimean Tatars. Here's Why.
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In Kyiv, by contrast, bells at Orthodox Christian churches tolled for a minute to pay tribute to the victims of the deportation.

"The pain of the Crimean Tatar people is our common pain. It is the pain of tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars who never made it back to their native Crimea," President Petro Poroshenko wrote on Facebook.

"We will never forget the cynical crime of the Soviet regime, the crime against an entire ethnic group, against humanity," he wrote. "I am confident that these days' criminals will also face punishment for occupation of the Crimean Peninsula, and the Ukrainian Crimea will be free again."

The Crimean Tatars were deported en masse from the Black Sea peninsula in May 1944 after Stalin accused them of collaborating with Nazi Germany.

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 conducted reforms in the years before the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

In November 2015, the Ukrainian parliament passed a law declaring May 18 the Day of Commemoration of Victims of the Genocide of the Crimean Tatars.

After Russia seized Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised the Crimean Tatars that 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 persecution on false charges.

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