VILNIUS - The foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Georgia and Ukraine on Monday issued a joint statement condemning the Soviet regime for the deportation of Crimean Tatars 76 years ago and Russia's current actions on the peninsula.
"76 years ago, on 18 May 1944, the Soviet regime criminally deported the Crimean Tatar people from the territory of their historic residence – Crimea – to distant areas of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation," they said.
Almost half of all deported Crimean Tatars died in the first years of exile. The ban on returning to Crimea remained in place until 1989 and was "accompanied by purposeful linguistic and cultural assimilation", according to the statement.
"The tragedy of the Crimean Tatar people repeated in 2014, when the Russian Federation seized and illegally attempted to annex Crimea, which is an integral part of Ukraine," the ministers said.
"It is no coincidence that Russia, which glorifies Stalin's totalitarian regime, continues its criminal policy in the 21st century in the temporarily occupied Crimea: ban (on) the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, systemic repressions, persecution and violations of the rights of Crimean Tatars, who opposed Russia's armed aggression against the territorial integrity of Ukraine."
The foreign ministers expressed their support to the Crimean Tatars "in their struggle for their rights" and emphasized "the inviolability of sovereignty, territorial integrity within the internationally recognized borders and political independence of Ukraine".
"We condemn Russia's aggressive policy towards Ukraine and new repressions against the Crimean Tatar people," they said.
"We call upon Russia to stop violations of the fundamental principles of international law, implement fully UN General Assembly resolutions on Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, and comply with the demands of the international community regarding the deoccupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol."
In the wake of Russia's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula in 2014, the Crimean Tatars' assembly and TV channel were outlawed and hundreds of activists were detained and jailed.
Over 10,000 Tatars were forced to leave their homes in Crimea and move to mainland Ukraine because of persecution and repression.