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Around seventy people in the Crimean capital defied official warnings to commemorate the victims of Stalin’s mass deportation of the Tatar people in 1944.

Around 70 people in the Crimean capital defied official warnings to commemorate the victims of Stalin’s mass deportation of the Tatar people in 1944.

They braved heavy rain and the risk of reprisals to attend a commemorative event on a plaque near Simferopol station, carrying flags and, in some cases, the Ukrainian colors in the form of a bracelet or a lapel pin.

Half of the Crimean Tatars, a Sunni Muslim people, are thought to have died during their forced displacement to remote parts of the Soviet Union; their descendants speak of the deportation as a genocide.

But for the past eight years since Russia annexed Crimea, they have been denied permission to commemorate the horror.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Group, which investigates abuses across Ukraine, says this year Tatar activists received warnings from Russian officials in Crimea about the “inadmissibility of extremist activity”.

But the event took place, with older people making up the majority of attendees.

A young man present said that before Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014, as many as 50,000 people would converge on Simferopol’s main square to mark the anniversary.

Many of them had returned to their homeland after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the Tatar community had once again flourished.

CNN is not naming the man for its own safety.

“It was forbidden to do such demonstrations in recent years,” he told CNN, and gradually the number of participants decreased.

“People are going in small groups to mosques, cemeteries and memorials,” he said.

But he had wanted to come to the event in Simferopol, to “gather in crowds with our flags, pray together and commemorate this tragedy, because it moves the soul”.

About 200 Tatars gathered at Büyük Onlar (named by the Soviets Oktyabrskoe) where a prayer was recited in the rain and children read poems.

A man reads a book in the Crimean capital to commemorate the victims of Stalin's mass deportation of the Tatar people in 1944.
A man reads a book in the Crimean capital to commemorate the victims of Stalin’s mass deportation of the Tatar people in 1944.

The anniversary was also marked by the Ukrainian government, which drew a parallel with the ongoing Russian invasion.

President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a law “for the protection of all ordinary peaceful civilians who were suppressed by the occupiers and taken prisoner by them”.

Tamila Tasheva, Zelensky’s representative in Crimea, said: “We cannot help but draw parallels with 1944. Current crimes have a long history…Crimean Tatars are no longer put in freight cars and taken away by force, but [the Russians] create the conditions for us to leave our historic homeland.”

Tatars who protest or promote Crimean identity often find themselves in court.

According to the human rights group Crimea SOS, almost 100 Tatars are victims of politically motivated criminal proceedings; many of them are serving long prison sentences.

Eskender Bariiev, one of the leading Crimean Tatar activists, says the historical parallels between 1944 and today are unmistakable.

“The Crimean Tatar people were accused of collaborating with the Nazis and [Stalin] carried out a special operation, thus expelling Crimean Tatars from Crimea,” Bariiev said this week.

“Now, under the slogans of denazification and demilitarization, the occupiers have launched a so-called special operation, and in effect the genocide of the Ukrainian people.”

Bariev said that just as the Crimean Tatars had been deported, the Russians were now forcibly deporting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, mostly to remote parts of Russia.


cnn

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