March 25 deportations commemoration parallels current situation in Ukraine

Memorial candles (photo is illustrative).
Memorial candles (photo is illustrative). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Saturday sees the anniversary of the March 25, 1949 deportation of over 20,000 Estonians, the bulk of them women and children, to Siberia and other locations deep inside the Soviet Union.

While poignant at any time, the 74th anniversary takes on a new significance in the light of the invasion of Ukraine as conducted by the Soviet Union's successor state, the Russian Federation, now in its second year and with deportations also among the atrocities reported from that conflict, Estonian politicians said.

"Different decades. Different name of the country. Even different regime. But what stays the same is the cruel and brutal playbook Russia uses," Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) wrote on social media on Saturday.

Estonia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted: "On this day 74 years ago, the Soviets deported over 20,000 Estonians from their homes, to Russia – just as they are doing today, with the children of Ukraine.

"We commemorate those whose lives were destroyed," the ministry added.

President Alar Karis said the crimes will never be forgotten.

"Seventy-four years ago, nearly 3 percent of the Estonian population were forcefully deported by the Soviets to Siberia. These crimes against humanity by the occupiers brought pain and suffering to many of our people, our families, our homes. All of Estonia [will] never forget," he wrote on social media.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas highlighted her personal connection to the deportations.

"My mother was deported to Siberia today 74 years ago as a 6-months old baby. Russia hasn't changed," she wrote on social media.

"Russia uses the same terror tactics in Ukraine. We must end this cycle of aggression. Ukraine must win. Russia must be held accountable for all crimes committed."

The 1949 deportation mirrored an earlier deportation in June 1941, soon after the Soviet Union first occupied Estonia, but the number of people exiled was twice as high. Many Estonians never returned.

Following World War Two, the Soviet Union occupied Estonia for the second time, this time for nearly half a century. This happened despite a peace agreement signed in 1920 between the USSR and Estonia recognizing the smaller country's borders and independence.

The Museum of Occupations in Tallinn has many exhibits and features of the March 25 deportation and other aspects of the Soviet and Nazi occupations of Estonia.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Helen Wright

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