The deportation of the Crimean Tatars, which began on May 18, 1944, is one of the most striking examples of the Soviet regime's crimes committed during the Second World War.
For more than 20 years, the Soviet authorities completely denied the criminal nature of their actions. In 1967, the Verkhovna Rada of the USSR recognized the groundlessness of the total accusation of the Crimean Tatars, but unlike other “punished peoples”, they did not get the right to return to Crimea. Only in 1989, the Soviet parliament deportation was found to be illegal and criminal.
The annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in February 2014 actualized the problem of the struggle of Crimean Tatars for their rights. On March 20, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted Resolution No. 1140-18 “On guarantee of the rights of the Crimean Tatar people as a part of the Ukrainian state”, which recognized the Crimean Tatars as the indigenous people of Ukraine and guaranteed their right to self-determination as part of Ukraine.
On April 21 of the same year, the Decree of the President of the Russian Federation No. 268 “On the Measures for the Rehabilitation of Armenian, Bulgarian, Greek, Crimean Tatar and German Peoples and the State Support of Their Revival and Development” was signed, which included the “restoration of historical justice”, “national-cultural and spiritual revival” and “ensuring protection of rights and legitimate interests.”
In reality, the new “authority” of Crimea banned the holding of a traditional mourning rally in the center of Simferopol on May 18 for the first time in modern history, and the 70th anniversary of the deportation was forcibly celebrated by Crimean Tatars in places of compact residence surrounded by police units accompanied by helicopters. At the same time, only during the first year of the annexation of 2014, more than 150 Crimean Tatars were subjected to “selective justice”, 21 went missing or were killed, and Mejlis was deprived of both the house and the opportunity to conduct dialogue with state authorities of the “Republic of Crimea.” It has to be noted that in the fifth year of the annexation of Crimea, the persecution of the Crimean Tatar people by the occupation administration only increased.
Under such circumstances, the commemoration at the national level of the victims of the Crimean Tatar people deportation and the demonstration of solidarity in the struggle for the restoration of their rights acquire an important Ukrainian and international significance.
The deportation of the Crimean Tatars from Crimea in 1944 was recognized as genocide of the Crimean Tatar people by the Resolution of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine No. 792-VIII of November 12, 2015 “On Recognition of the Genocide of the Crimean Tatar People.” May 18 is set as Remembrance Day for the victims of Crimean Tatar People Genocide in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Parliament stated that the systemic pressure on the Crimean Tatar people, the repression of Ukrainian citizens by nationality, the organization of ethnically and politically motivated persecutions of Crimean Tatars and their bodies, such as the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people and the Kurultai of the Crimean Tatar people, in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine by the state organs of the Russian Federation, starting from the date of the temporary occupation onset, is a conscious policy of the Crimean Tatar people ethnocide.
In 2016 the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine renamed 75 units of the administrative-territorial structure of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, whose names contained symbols of the communist totalitarian regime. According to the recommendation of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, the original historical Crimean Tatar names were returned to the overwhelming majority of the renamed settlements, which became the practical implementation of Article 3 of the Law of Ukraine “On Restoration of the Rights of Persons Deported on Ethnic Grounds” to ensure the National right of deportees to return historical names of settlements, which were renamed during the Soviet Union resulting from deportation.
The operation of the Soviet troops to expel the Nazi occupants from the territory of the Crimean peninsula began on April 8, 1944 and ended on the eve of May 13. Even before the fighting ended, on April 22, in a memorandum on behalf of Lavrentiy Beriya, the Crimean Tatars were accused of mass desertion from the Red Army. On May 10, Beriya repeated the previous reproach in a letter to Stalin, adding to him “the treacherous actions of the Crimean Tatars against the Soviet people” and “the undesirability of further residence of the Crimean Tatars on the frontier border of the Soviet Union.” The letter also formulated the proposal to evict all Crimean Tatar population to Uzbekistan.
The next day, on May 11, 1944 a completely secret Decree of the State Defense Committee No. 5859ss “On Crimean Tatars” was adopted. It provided preliminary complaints to the Crimean Tatar population, such as mass treason and mass cooperation, which became the justification for deportation. In fact, there is no evidence of “mass desertion” of the Crimean Tatars, and the absolute majority of the collaborators died in battles or were convicted on an individual basis.
The deportation of the Crimean Tatar population began at 3 a.m. on May 18, 1944 and ended, basically, on May 20. 32 thousand NKVD employees were involved in the operation. The deportees were allowed from a few minutes to half an hour to pack their personal belongings, utensils, household equipment and provision for up to 500 kg per family. In reality, it was possible to collect on average 20-30 kg of things and products, the absolute majority of the property remained and was confiscated by the state. There were numerous cases of looting. Within 2 days the Crimean Tatars were driven by cars to the railway stations of Bakhchisaray, Dzhankoi and Simferopol, from where the train was sent to the East.
During the main wave of deportation (May 18-20), 180,014 people were evicted and 67 trains were used for transportation. In addition, 6,000 troops mobilized during the April-May period of the Crimean Tartar youths were separately sent to the garrisons of the Main Department for the formation of reserves for Guryev (Atyrau, Kazakhstan), Kuibyshev and Rybinsk and 5,000 more Crimean Tatars were sent to work at Moskovugol trustees' camps. Altogether 191, 044 people were deported from Crimea within first two days. 5989 people, accused of collaboration with the Germans, and other “anti-Soviet elements” were arrested during the deportation. They ended up in Gulag and were not included in the consolidated reports about exiles.
In the course of June deportations of Bulgarians, Armenians, Greeks and “foreign subjects”, 3,141 Crimean Tatars were evicted, who were lucky to escape in May. Thus, the total number of displaced people from the Crimea was: 183 thousand people on the general special settlement + 6 thousand in reserve management camps + 6 thousand in GULAG + 5 thousand special contingent for the Moscow Coal Trust = 200 thousand people. There were also 2,882 Russians, Ukrainians, Gypsies, Karaites and representatives of other nationalities who were exiled because of their adherence to mixed marriages.
The last train of deportees arrived in Uzbekistan on June 8, a certain part of the Crimean Tatars died along the way. According to official sources their number totaled 191 people, but it spawns doubts. However, even the Soviet statistics allows us to trace the cutback in the number of exiled population.
The total demobilization of the Crimean Tatars from the ranks of the Soviet Army began straight after the victory over Nazism. During 1945-1946, 8,995 servicemen were sent to the labor camps of Siberia and the Urals, which allowed them to be reunited with their families in exile only in 1953. The same fate happened to well-known warriors – even twice Hero of the Soviet Union Amet-Khan Sultan was not allowed to return to the Crimea. The military service record cards were taken away from all military deportees, they were forbidden to carry weapons. In this case, senior officers remained in service, while senior police officers and punitive forces went to special settlements.
By the decision of the Soviet government of January 8, 1945, “On the legal status of special settlers” it was noted that the special settlers enjoyed all the rights of the citizens of the USSR, but they did not have the right to arbitrarily leave the special settlements defined for them, heads of families were required to register with the police on a monthly basis, and all changes in families had to be reported to the police within three days.
Deportation had catastrophic consequences for the Crimean Tatars in the places of exile. Over a year before the end of the war more than 30 thousand Crimean Tatars died from hunger, disease and exhaustion. No less harm was suffered by the Crimean economy, deprived of experienced workers.
Escape from the places of exile was usual practice. This phenomenon took on a special scale in 1948, when 8,692 Crimean special settlers fled, of which 6,295 were arrested and 2,645 persons were brought to justice. As of February 21, 1948 the Government obliged the Interior Ministry to establish a regime of complete cessation of flight by the special decree “On exile, expulsion and special settlements”. On November 28, 1948, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, by its Decree “On Criminal Responsibility for Escaping From Places of Obligatory and Permanent Settlement to the Distant Districts of the Soviet Union during the Patriotic War”, established a life sentence for eviction and imposed a 20-year sentence by coercion for escape and 5 years – for housing.
On July 5, 1954, the Soviet government removed from the register the special settlers under the age of 16 and young people were granted the right to study at educational institutions. On July 13, 1954, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR withdrew its decree of November 26, 1948, on the criminal responsibility for escaping from the places of exile.
Crimean Tatars resettled from the Crimea were released from special settlements on the basis of the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of April 28, 1956 without the right to return to the places from which they were exiled and without the return of the confiscated property. The Decree of the Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian SSR of December 15, 1956, concerning the resettlement of Tatars, Germans, Greeks, Bulgarians and Armenians who had previously lived in the Crimean region and returned from settlements, recognized the inadmissibility of their return to the Crimea, and also considered the resettlement of them in Kherson, Zaporozhye, Mykolayiv and Odessa oblasts “inadvisable”.
Despite the half-heartedness of the decisions, they still eased the civilian position of the deported, depriving them of humiliating accounting formalities. It also provided an opportunity for relocation to other areas of the USSR, which some deportees were able to use.
Political moves of the Crimean Tatars (petition campaign, the creation of political organizations, protest actions, etc.) led to yet another political success. On September 5, 1967, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR issued a decree “On Citizens of Tatar nationalities who lived in the Crimea”, which abolished charges of betrayal of Crimean Tatars, but proclaimed that the Crimean Tatars were supposedly full of rooting in Uzbekistan. In January 1974, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR abolished the prohibition on returning of the Greeks, Armenians, Bulgarians and Crimean Tatars to Crimea, to their former places of residence.
In the period after the 1967 Decree, the state bodies of the USSR and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic resorted to another tactic against the return of deported peoples to Crimea. The main instrument for it was the control of the return of former deported people in Crimea through the institution of registration (residence permit). The organs of internal affairs made it difficult or impossible to purchase housing for those who tried to return legally. They also complicated the registration process or barred it. Those without the registration were prosecuted and evicted from the peninsula by force. Any protest actions provoked by these actions have been steadily pursued by the judiciary.
At the same time, since 1968 the authorities even settled for the organization of repatriation through so-called Organs. In 1969, 104 families were taken to Crimea through this route, in 1970 – 45 families and in 1971 – 65 families. Moreover, even the meager plan was not fulfilled due to the most rigorous checks of the candidates for resettlement.
The Crimean Tatars moved on their own. At the end of the late 60's – beginning 1970's, 195 families (3,496 people) came to Crimea. In addition, deportees settled in other regions of the Ukrainian SSR, in particular Kherson region – 1541 people, Zaporizhzhia – 1,063, Donetsk – 633, Odesa – 61. As of May 11973, there were 6,874 Crimean Tatars living in the republic.
On November 14, 1989, the Verkhovna Rada of the USSR adopted the Declaration “On the Recognition of Unlawful and Criminal Reprisals Against the Peoples Subjected to Forced Immigration and Ensuring Their Rights”, and on March 7, 1991, the Resolution “On the Abolition of Legislative Acts in Connection with the Declaration of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of November 14, 1989, “On Recognizing Illicit and Criminal Reprisals Against the Forced-Reset People and Ensuring Their Rights”. Therefore, the restoration at the expense of the state of property and repatriates status, which they had before deportation, acquired the necessary legitimacy.
Ukraine has never refused to recognize the acts of the former USSR bodies for the restoration of the rights of the deported, and since the proclamation of independence, it has taken full responsibility for the fate of all its citizens, including those returning to its territory from the places of deportation.