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Exiled by Stalin, Ukraine's Tatars still struggling to recover

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(Read caption) A man cries during an international gathering of Crimean Tatars in Simferopol on May 19. The First World Congress of Crimean Tatars brought together representatives of Crimean Tatar organisations from around the world and was held one day after the 65th anniversary of their people's deportation from the peninsular to distant parts of the Soviet Union.

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KYIV, UKRAINE – Twenty thousand Crimean Tatars marked the 65th anniversary of their deportation from Crimea in southern Ukraine by marching in Simferopol, the peninsula’s capital, on Monday. The march was as much in protest as commemoration, as the Tatars complain that they have not been treated fairly since they started to return to their homeland 20 years ago.

“[Ukraine] has not passed a single law aimed at the restoration of the political, economic, social, and cultural rights of the Crimean Tatar people,” read a resolution by the protesters.

The Crimean Tatars had populated the Crimean peninsula for centuries before Stalin ordered them to be deported in May 1944 on false charges of collaborating with Nazi forces. Of the more than 180,000 who were sent by train to Central Asia, almost half died during the first year (for more on the Tatars, view past Monitor stories here and here).

When they started to return during perestroika in the late 1980s, things were far from easy. Many sold everything they had in order to return to Crimea, and then lived in poor conditions.

Tatars now number around 250,000, or 12 percent of Crimea’s population, but although their situation has improved, a number of problems still remain, the sorest of which is the question of land. By law, Tatars should be able to receive land plots to build on, but the practice is very different.


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