KYIV, Ukraine — In the Soviet Union, they were stigmatized as disloyal and driven into a decades-long exile far from their native land.
In an eerie echo of that exodus, many Crimean Tatar men are now fleeing to Kazakhstan to escape conscription in Russia’s hastily called draft to reinforce its army in Ukraine, which Tatar activists see as a continuation of Moscow’s long history of repressive policies.
In one region on the Crimean Peninsula — the Tatars’ homeland and part of Ukraine that Russia has occupied for the past eight years — all but two of 48 people who received draft notices were ethnic Tatars, according to the Ukraine-based Crimean Tatar Resource Center, a rights group.
Elsewhere on the peninsula, Russia called up Tatars in numbers far disproportionate to their share of the population, Ukrainian officials said. Dozens of Tatars sought legal help to avoid the draft.
“When we analyze the mobilization, we clearly see this is a continuation of the Crimean Tatar genocide,” Eskender Bariyev, the director of the resource center, said in an interview. “It’s a violation of Indigenous rights,” he said, adding: “There are already too few of us.”
Opposition to the draft has grown in Russia since President Vladimir V. Putin announced last week that hundreds of thousands of civilians would be pressed into military service in the wake of embarrassing battlefield losses in Ukraine.
At least 2,000 antiwar protesters have been arrested in Russia since the announcement, according to OVD-Info, a rights group that monitors police activity. And young Russian men have been flying out of the country or heading for border crossings, fearing that they will be pressed into service.
On Monday, a gunman apparently distraught over the chaotic mobilization opened fire at a draft office in Siberia, seriously wounding a recruitment officer.
But ethnic minorities in Russia and occupied areas of Ukraine have been hit so disproportionately by the draft that it is clearly discriminatory, rights activists and Ukrainian officials say. It’s the latest abuse Russia has been accused of in a war that has seen artillery and missiles raining down on cities and towns, the deportation of Ukrainian orphans to Russia and documented cases of torture.
Supporters of the Crimean Tatars say that by conscripting men from minority groups that have long been a thorn in Moscow’s side, the Russian security services can achieve two goals at once: tamping down dissent and filling its military ranks in Ukraine.
In his nightly address on Sunday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine accused Russia of singling out Crimean Tatars, saying Moscow’s policy was “to physically exterminate men — representatives of Indigenous peoples.” He went on to call it “a deliberate imperial policy.”
The Soviet Union deported the Crimean Tatars along with members of other ethnic minority groups from their homelands during World War II, out of worry that they would side with the German Army. Many returned in the late Soviet period and after Ukraine’s independence, only to find themselves back under Moscow’s rule when Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
Throughout Russia’s seven-month war in Ukraine, the Russian Army has deployed units of soldiers from ethnic minority regions. Soldiers from Buryatia, a Siberian region bordering Mongolia, for example, fought in battles north of Kyiv and in eastern Ukraine.
Mr. Putin’s mobilization has disproportionately targeted far-flung regions of Russia and those with large populations of minority groups, including in Siberia and the predominantly Muslim provinces of the North Caucasus. Protests involving women who oppose the drafting of husbands or sons broke out in Chechnya and Dagestan over the weekend.
For Crimean Tatars, the enlistment effort came with an added element of terror: forcing Ukrainian men to fight other Ukrainians.
Several dozen Tatar men wrote letters objecting to being drafted, said a lawyer working in Crimea with the Tatar community, who asked not to be identified to avoid retaliation from Russian authorities. The lawyer said it was more dangerous to go to war than to write the letter, adding that fathers in large families have also been asking for exemptions.
Mr. Bariyev said Tatar men were leaving the peninsula through Russia and traveling on to Kazakhstan.
“This is discrimination based on ethnicity,” he said of the mobilization. “It started in the Russian empire, went on in the Soviet Union and continues now in Russia.”
Maria Varenikova contributed reporting.