Ukraine: Soviet mass deportations of Tatars remembered

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR officials yesterday (Thursday) joined the Crimea's Tatar leaders and Ukrainian officials in a string of ceremonies in the Crimea's capital, Simpferopol, marking the 56th anniversary of the Stalin era mass deportation of more than 200,000 Crimean Tatars to Soviet Central Asia. Since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union an estimated quarter million Tatars and their descendants have returned to the Crimean peninsula - their historic homeland - which today is part of Ukraine. They have often come back to nothing. UNHCR has helped rehabilitate communal housing for the most vulnerable. We have also pushed with the Ukrainian government for the Tatars to be granted Ukrainian citizenship.

Between May 18 and May 20, 1944, the Crimea's entire Tatar population was herded up by Stalin's security forces, after being accused by Stalinist propaganda of siding with the Nazis. They were crammed into cargo trains and sent to Central Asia. Thousands perished during the long trip in overcrowded railcars without adequate food and water. At the time of the deportation, the Tatars were Soviet citizens and the Crimea was part of the Russian Soviet Republic. When they started coming back they were caught in a legal limbo since the Crimea had in the meantime become part of the Ukraine.

By now an estimated 90 percent of Tatar returnees have been granted Ukrainian nationality.