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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Thousands of Tatars March

KIEV -- Thousands of Crimean Tatars marched in the capital of Crimea on Thursday to commemorate the 62nd anniversary of their deportation from the Black Sea peninsula under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, a forced exile that lasted almost half a century.

"On this day, we remember those who died in foreign lands and those who struggled to return to their homeland," Mustafa Djamiliev, head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, or assembly, said by telephone.

The anniversary was remembered with solemn flower-laying ceremonies in Kiev and a big march of some 30,000 in Simferopol, a Crimean Tatar group said.

The Crimean Tatars, a Muslim Turkic group, had inhabited Crimea for more than seven centuries. In 1944, Stalin accused them of collaborating with the Nazis and ordered the deportation of some 200,000 -- about 70 percent of Crimea's population at the time.

Over a three-day period, officers from the Soviet secret police came knocking on their doors to read Stalin's deportation order, victims recalled. Many were given just 20 minutes to pack their belongings and climb aboard freight trains for the long journey to the Central Asian steppe. It was primarily women, children and the elderly, since the Tatar men were serving in the Soviet Army at the time. However, later, Crimean Tatar men were kicked out of the army and also forced into exile. Many families ended up separated.

According to different estimates, between 15 and 46 percent of those deported died of famine and disease.