Ukraine’s parliament has passed legislation recognising the World War II deportation of Tatars – a Muslim minority in the Crimean peninsula – as “genocide”.
Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the 1944 deportation of some 180,000 Tatars for their alleged collaboration with advancing Nazi Germany troops.
Nearly half of the deported population died of starvation and hardship en route or within months after their arrival in Soviet Central Asia, the Ukrainian parliament, called the Verkhovna Rada, said in a statement on Thursday.
Tatars were allowed to return to Crimea only in the late 1980s without receiving any compensation for the lost land and property, and their resettlement prompted tensions with ethnic Russians and Ukrainians who moved to the peninsula following their deportation.
Tatar leaders allege Ukrainian authorities deliberately prevented them from obtaining government jobs, and tacitly allowed “land grabs”.
Ukraine’s decision follows Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, after Moscow-supported pro-Russia activists hastily organised a referendum in which the majority of Crimea residents voted for “returning” the peninsula to Russia.
The referendum was criticised by Western powers and triggered sanctions against Moscow.
One casualty of the Russian takeover was an ethnic Tatar activist who protested the annexation. The activist was kidnapped by pro-Moscow armed groups and found dead in March with traces of torture.
Several more Tatars and pro-Ukraine activists have been kidnapped and gone missing in Crimea. Their relatives believe them to be dead.
Following the referendum, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government tried to assure Tatars that they would be treated fairly under Russian rule.
However, Moscow-appointed authorities have already ordered searches in mosques, religious schools, and houses of Tatar Muslims in Crimea, and have banned their public gatherings to commemorate the deportation anniversary.
Czarist Russia conquered Crimea in 1788, prompting a mass exodus of Crimean Tatars to Turkey.