Elderly men and women standing in crowd, wiping their tears (© AP Images)
Crimean Tatars in Simferopol wipe tears on the 2004 anniversary of Stalin’s forced deportation. (© AP Images)

Russian occupation authorities banned the Crimean Tatars from marking the anniversary of a mass, forced deportation by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Only events sanctioned by the authorities were allowed to proceed.

Until 2014, some tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars gathered annually on the central square in Simferopol, Crimea’s capital, to commemorate May 18, the day in 1944 when Stalin deported 230,000 Tatars from Crimea. Forced into cattle cars, many Tatars died en route to the Urals, Siberia and Central Asia. Those who survived faced hunger, disease and repression. Nearly half — mostly women and children — perished between 1944 and 1947.

“[This is] the third time that Crimean Tatars are facing bans and harassment for remembering the victims of Stalin’s crime,” writes human rights activist Halya Coynash.

The United States and European Union reiterated their concern about the deterioration of human rights on the peninsula. “Russia must end its repression of Crimean Tatars, and all who are victims of its occupation,” said Daniel Baer, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

“The persecution of the Crimean Tatar people is not merely a historical fact, it is a present-day reality in Russia-occupied Crimea,” Baer said.

Russia today intimidates and represses the very same people:

  • All but one of the independent Tatar-language media outlets operating in Crimea have been shut down, including ATR TV, the first channel dedicated to Crimean Tatars.
  • In February, Russian authorities raided homes in Tatar villages, arresting at least 13 people. Four activists were detained on trumped-up “terrorism” charges.
  • On April 26, Crimea’s so-called Supreme Court banned the Mejlis — the ethnic minority group’s representative body, criminalizing Tatar political expression, according to U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. Samantha Power.
  • On May 6, police raided a Crimean mosque and detained more than 50 Tatars for not carrying their passports.

Follow the conversation on Ukraine @UnitedforUkr and sign up for weekly updates on United for Ukraine.