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How peoples were resettled and deported under Stalin
How peoples were resettled and deported under Stalin

The deportation of peoples is one of the saddest pages of Soviet history, which is still a sore spot for representatives of many resettled nationalities and social groups.

Millions of people fell into the whirlpool of repression and deportation in the USSR in the 1930s-1950s. Their children and grandchildren are still deeply affected by these events.

The freshness of the wounds inflicted at that time is also proved by the success of two recent best-selling novels by the author Guzeli Yakhina, a new name in Russian literature. Both touch on the topic of the deportation of peoples and what a tragic trace it leaves in the personal destinies of specific people and in the national order as a whole.

Chulpan Khamatova as Zuleikha in the TV series based on the novel by Guzel Yakhina

Chulpan Khamatova as Zuleikha in the TV series based on the novel by Guzeli Yakhina - Yegor Aleev / TASS

The debut incredibly successful novel by Yakhina "Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes" has been translated into 30 languages, and a series has already been filmed based on it. The book describes the deportation of kulaks - wealthy peasants - from a Tatar village in the 1930s.

All their property, provisions and livestock are taken by the Bolsheviks. Those who resist are often shot, while others, deprived of their homes, are taken as a herd in freight cars far from their native mosques - to the Siberian taiga. There, from scratch, they are invited to build an exemplary Soviet settlement, where there will be work, correct order, no God - and generally a better life. Nothing that is forced.

Migrant dugouts

Migrant dugouts - Archive photo

Another novel, My Children, describes the drama of the Volga Germans. They arrived in the Russian Empire a long time ago, at the invitation of Catherine II in the 18th century, and managed to create small towns with their own authentic way of life on the banks of the Volga. But the Soviet government destroyed their life and drove them far from their already native Volga - into the harsh steppes of Kazakhstan. Deserted German villages in the novel appear before the reader in a deplorable state: "The seal of devastation and long-term sadness has fallen on the facades of houses, streets and faces."

Why were they deported?

The deportation of peoples is recognized as one of the forms of Stalin's political repression, as well as one of the forms of strengthening and centralizing the personal power of Joseph Stalin. The task was to resettle the areas where there was a large concentration of representatives of certain nationalities who lived, talked, raised children and published newspapers in their own languages.

It was important for Stalin to eliminate national autonomies

It was important for Stalin to liquidate national autonomies - Ivan Shagin / MAMM / MDF

Many of these places enjoyed varying degrees of autonomy - after all, many republics and regions were formed at the dawn of the Soviet Union precisely along ethnic lines.

Researcher of Soviet deportations, stories Nikolai Bugai calls the approach of Stalin and his associate Lavrenty Beria to deportation as "a means of settling interethnic conflicts," correcting "their own mistakes, suppressing any manifestations of dissatisfaction with the anti-democratic, totalitarian regime."

And although Stalin, as Bugai wrote, declared a course towards "mandatory observance of visible internationalism," it was important for him to eliminate all autonomies that could potentially secede - and to prevent any possibility of opposition to centralized power.

Barracks of special settlers in the Urals

Barracks of special settlers in the Urals - State Historical Museum of the South Urals

This method has already been used many times in Russia since ancient times. For example, when in 1510 the Moscow prince Vasily III annexed Pskov to his possessions, he evicted all influential families from Pskov. They received possessions in other cities of the Russian lands, but not in their native Pskov - so that the local elite could not, relying on the common people, further protest against the Moscow government.

Vasily borrowed this method from his father, the founder of the Moscow state Ivan Vasilyevich III. In 1478, after the victory over the Novgorod Republic, Ivan Vasilyevich made the first Russian deportation of the population - he evicted more than 30 of the richest boyar families from Novgorod and confiscated their property and land.

New courtyards were given to the boyars in Moscow and the central cities of Russia. And in the late 1480s, more than 7,000 people were evicted from Novgorod - boyars, wealthy citizens and merchants with their families. They were settled in small groups in different cities - Vladimir, Rostov, Murom, Kostroma, in order to "dissolve" the former Novgorod nobility in the Central Russian population. Of course, at the same time, the Novgorodians lost all their nobility, becoming in new places ordinary service people, "ordinary" nobles.


"Expulsion of Martha Posadnitsa from Novgorod" - Alexey Kivshenko

The practice of deportation was used in tsarist Russia and later, in similar cases of suppression of local uprisings - for example, after the Polish uprisings of 1830 and 1863, thousands of Poles - participants in the uprisings and sympathizers - were exiled to settle in the interior of Russia, mainly to Siberia.

Whom and where were they resettled?

Deportation in the USSR was on a huge scale - according to the documents of the NKVD, in the 1930s-1950s, about 3.5 million people left their original places of residence. In total, more than 40 ethnic groups were resettled. They were resettled mainly from border areas to remote areas of the Union.

Poles were the first to be affected by the deportation. In 1936, 35 thousand "unreliable elements" from the former Polish territories in western Ukraine were resettled to Kazakhstan. In 1939-31 more than 200 thousand Poles were deported to the north, to Siberia and Kazakhstan.

Peoples were also resettled from other border areas - in 1937 more than 171 thousand Soviet Koreans were resettled to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan from the eastern borders of the USSR.

Since 1937, Stalin also pursued a systematic policy of resettling the Germans. With the outbreak of World War II, the Germans became and even became outcasts in the USSR. Many were recognized as spies and sent to camps. By the end of 1941, about 800 thousand Germans had been resettled within the country, and in total during the war years, more than a million. Siberia, the Urals, Altai became their new home, almost half a million ended up in Kazakhstan.

Special settlement in the Khibiny

Special settlement in Khibiny - Archive photo

Soviet power actively resettled peoples during the war. A huge number of people were evicted from the territories liberated after the German occupation. Under the pretext of espionage and cooperation with the Germans, the peoples of the North Caucasus suffered - tens and hundreds of thousands of Karachais, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Kabardians were evicted to Siberia and Central Asia.

They accused of aiding the Germans and resettled Kalmyks, as well as about 200 thousand Crimean Tatars. In addition, smaller peoples were also resettled, including Meskhetian Turks, Kurds, Greeks and others.

This is how the barracks in special settlements looked from the inside

This is how the barracks in special settlements looked from the inside - State Historical Museum of the South Urals

The inhabitants of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania resisted joining the USSR - there were also armed anti-Soviet detachments - this gave the Soviet government a reason to settle the Baltic peoples especially cruelly.

How the resettlement was carried out

Under the signature of the People's Commissar of Internal Affairs Lavrenty Beria, detailed instructions were drawn up for organizing the resettlement - and for each nation, separate. The deportation was carried out by local party bodies and special Chekists who arrived at the destination. They compiled lists of displaced persons, prepared transport for the delivery of people and their property to railway stations.

Departmental machines prepare people for resettlement

Departmental vehicles prepare people for resettlement - Archival photo

People were forced to get ready in a very short time - they were allowed to take household property, small household equipment and money with them; in total, the “luggage” for a family was supposed to be no more than a ton. In fact, they could only take the essentials with them.

Most often, for each individual nationality, several railway echelons were allocated, with a guard and medical personnel. Under escort, people were loaded into wagons to capacity and taken to their destination. According to the instructions, the migrants were given bread on the way and fed them with hot food once a day.

Settlers were often transported in boxcars

The settlers were often transported in freight wagons - Archival photo

A separate instruction also described in detail the organization of life in a new place - in special settlements. Able-bodied settlers were involved in the construction of barracks, and later more permanent dwellings, schools and hospitals.

Collective farms were also created to work on land and farms. The NKVD officers were in charge of control and administration. At first, the life of the settlers was difficult, food was scarce, and people also suffered from diseases.

The resettled peoples were forbidden to leave new territories on pain of imprisonment in a camp. The ban was lifted and freedom of movement in the Union returned to these people only after Stalin's death. In 1991, these actions of the Soviet government were declared illegal and criminal, and against some peoples they were even declared genocide.

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