Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: December 28 is a memorable date in the history of Kalmyks

December 28 is the day of memory and sorrow of the Kalmyk people. The people of Kalmykia had to endure thirteen years of grief and suffering; thousands of innocent lives were taken by forcible exile to Siberia. We do not have a single family that would not have suffered a loss in those terrible years. We bow before the courage and resilience of the older generation, who managed to survive, withstand and preserve their national dignity.

I often remember 1993, when the mournful date approached - the 50th anniversary of the deportation. We decided to hold several events and to organize a train of Memory so that people who survived exile could travel to Siberia and see their friends, Siberians, who helped them survive. To rent a train, I came to Moscow. Friends from Moscow helped to agree on the lease and many helped with money.
In 1943, our people were deported to Siberia in the terrible cold Stolypin wagons, and I wanted the Memory Train to be of the highest class. The former exiles were to travel to the places of their youth in beautiful comfortable carriages. So that it would be a train of Grateful Memory and Love to those who, in the most terrible years for the Kalmyks, helped them survive in the harsh conditions of Siberia.

In Moscow, I was invited to the presidential administration. One of the officials said: "What is your point, why are you stirring up the past?" They refused to arrange the train, and cancelled everything. Frustrated, I came back to my room in the National Hotel. There I met with the sculptor Ernst Neizvestny. He listened very carefully to my story and said: "Do not despair, you will win!" He said that he was meeting with the President of Russia. I don't know, maybe it was he who helped, but the memory train hit the road in the summer of 1994. The people were happy. There were very warm meetings on Siberian soil.

 There were only five trains altogether, including the Children of Siberia train. We also went to Sakhalin. Ernst Iosifovich came to Kalmykia in the summer of 1994. He came to us several times to work with archives and communicate with survivors. He made sketches. There are many images of real people in the monument. For a year and a half, he created the Exodus and Return monument.

Then I came to New York and saw the finished bronze monument. There were difficulties with the delivery of the monument to Russia. But everything worked out. On December 29, 1996, the opening took place. Ernst Iosifovich was there too. The wind was terrible, and it was 20 degrees below zero. I asked him: "Are you cold?" “No,” he replied, “I think about those Kalmyks on their way to Siberia in the cold waggons on December 28, 1943.”
The forced eviction, the liquidation of statehood and other repressions of the Stalinist regime caused irreparable damage to the Kalmyk people. To honour the memory of that tragedy thousands of people come to the Exodus and Return memorial in Elista. For the sake of future generations, we must remember the past, remember the victims of the monstrous Stalinist repressions. This is our duty. Blessed memory of the victims!
Editor’s note: 78 years ago, by the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the Kalmyk ASSR was liquidated. The entire nation was forcibly deported.