Every year on May 18, Ukraine commemorates the victims of the genocide of the Crimean Tatar people. Crimean Tatars are an indigenous nation of Ukraine along with two other Crimean nations: Karaites and Krymchaks. Due to the modern forcible deportation of Ukrainians, this date has an additional meaning to every Ukrainian.
The USSR committed many atrocities against occupied nations, including 110 deportations. In 1944, they committed genocide against the Crimean Tatars, forcing them out of their homeland, the Crimean Peninsula.
The deportation of Crimean Tatars (Qirimlar) was a mass punitive action. The communist regime sought to forcefully change the ethnic makeup of the territories it controlled and destroy any possible resistance.
In just three days in May 1944, between 180,000 and 200,000 people, adults and children, were expelled from their homes and put on crowded trains to be resettled in Central Asia and the Ural mountains. The official reason for the deportation was tied to false treason charges brought against the whole population by the Stalin regime. Publications and education in the indigenous Crimean Tatar language (Qırım Tili) also faced restrictions: to this day the language is designated by UNESCO as under serious threat of extinction (severely endangered).
The ban on their return was officially abolished on 14 November 1989, when the Supreme Council of Crimea declared that the deportation had been a crime. On 12 December 2015, the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) issued a resolution recognizing the deportation as genocide and established 18 May as the “Day of Remembrance for the victims of the Crimean Tatar genocide”.
The trauma and memory of the deportation remain central to the history and identity of the Crimean Tatars, and having returned home from deportation only after 1989, Crimean Tatars were forced to leave their land again due to the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014. The ones who stayed, are being persecuted, imprisoned and tortured.
The Russia-installed Crimean authorities banned the Crimean Tatars’ representative body, the Mejlis, and since then, over 10,000 people, most of them Crimean Tatars, have left the occupied peninsula.
In 2016, Ukraine participated in the Eurovision Song Contest with “1994”, a song about Soviet Union’s repressions against the Crimean Tatar community. Jamala, a Ukrainian Crimean Tatar artist, won the contest that year.