Polina Ibrayeva is now a frail old lady with sparkling brown eyes. Seventy-three years ago, she was a three-month-old infant suddenly uprooted from the Chechen mountain village where she was born and deported thousands of kilometers east to the steppes of northern Kazakhstan.
Ibrayeva was one of over half a million souls — the entire population of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic — who were bundled into cattle cars, and endured a 2,500-kilometer journey into Central Asian exile. Chechens and Ingush are marking the anniversary of the deportation this week.
“They called us enemies of the people,” Ibrayeva said plainly in a quavering voice, sitting dressed in a tulip-patterned headscarf and polka-dot dress in her neat wooden cottage in the village of Krasnaya Polyana, a plump gray cat snoozing contentedly beside her.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.