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How Tsarist Russia settled the Far East with immigrants
How Tsarist Russia settled the Far East with immigrants

In the middle of the 19th century, after the final annexation of lands along the Amur and in Primorye, Russia received a huge and almost deserted land. In addition, it is separated from the places of residence of the bulk of the population by hundreds, even thousands of miles of Siberian taiga and off-road.

But in just half a century, the authorities of the Russian Empire managed to resolve the issue of settling the Far East, providing land, assistance and benefits to migrants. Alexey Volynets especially for DV recalls how it was.

A resettlement center near the Kansk station. From the album "The Great Way", 1899, photographer Ivan Tomashkevich

Cossacks on the Chinese border

The first inhabitants of the new lands, as was often the case in Russian history, were the Cossacks. On December 29, 1858, by decree of Tsar Alexander II, the Amur Cossack army was formed. Soon, on June 1, 1860, the "Statute on the Amur Cossack Host" appeared - the first document in Russian history that regulated the provision of land in this region.

Then, in the middle of the 19th century, a total of about 18 thousand people lived on the territory of the modern Amur Region, the Jewish Autonomous Region, Sakhalin, Khabarovsk and Primorsky Territories. For comparison: today the total population in these regions is about 5 million people, almost 300 times more.

Tiny tribes of Gilyaks (Nivkhs), Golds (Nanais), Orocs and Udege were practically invisible in the endless Far Eastern taiga. The new border of Russia with China stretched for almost 2000 km and required not only protection, but also settlement.

How Far Eastern lands were distributed in tsarist Russia

Cossacks of the Ussuri Foot Battalion / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

The Cossack army was formed from the Cossacks, Buryats and peasants of Transbaikalia. They were settled along the border, on the banks of the Amur and Ussuri, in the places indicated by the authorities. As compensation, the Cossacks-settlers received large land plots. Officers, depending on their rank, were given from 200 to 400 dessiatines, and privates - 30 dessiatines of land for each male soul in the family. Tithing - a pre-revolutionary measure of the area - was equal to 109 acres, or 1.09 hectares. That is, each Cossack family received in perpetual possession many tens of hectares of Far Eastern land.

Such government measures quickly yielded visible results. Just a year later, in 1862, along the recently deserted banks of the Amur, there were 67 Cossack villages with a population of almost 12 thousand people, and in Primorye there were 23 villages where 5 thousand Cossacks lived.

Hectare for 3 rubles

But for the vast expanses of the Far East, this was negligible. The new Cossacks only allowed the organization of border guards; for the full development of the land, not even tens, but hundreds of thousands of migrants were required.

Therefore, on March 26, 1861, the government of the Russian Empire approved the regulation "On the rules for the settlement of Russians and foreigners in the Amur and Primorsky regions of Eastern Siberia." According to these "Rules", the peasants who moved to the Far East received free of charge for temporary use for 20 years up to 100 acres of land per family with the right of subsequent redemption. The land could be immediately acquired into ownership at a price of 3 rubles per tithe.

100 dessiatines (or 109 hectares) was almost 30 times more than the average land plot of a peasant family in the European part of Russia. In addition, all migrants from the Far East had benefits. For 10 years they were exempted from conscription into the army and for life from paying the poll tax - the largest tax that peasants then paid.

The land and privilege policy has been successful. For 20 years, from 1861 to 1881, 11,634 peasant families moved to the Far East. But the resettlement to the banks of the Amur was very long and difficult.Railways to the east of the Urals have not yet been built - the journey on a peasant cart along the Siberian highway and the almost complete impassability of the Transbaikalia took one and a half to two years.

How Far Eastern lands were distributed in tsarist Russia

Peasant family. Photo from the Library of Congress

Few could withstand two years of travel across the whole of Russia. Moreover, the government, having provided land and benefits to the migrants, did not bother with support during the resettlement itself. In fact, the peasants had to overcome about 5000 miles on foot from the Urals to Khabarovsk, founded in 1858, at their own expense.

Realizing that in such conditions, despite the generous land and benefits, the rate of resettlement would be low, the government of the Russian Empire in 1882 began to organize resettlement using the most modern technologies of that time. It was decided to carry ships going to the Far East.

To the Far East through Odessa

This route turned out to be expensive and exotic: from Odessa by sea, through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, past Crete and Cyprus to the Suez Canal. Further, the steamers sailed along the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. Past India and the island of Ceylon, they headed to Singapore, and from there, along the shores of Vietnam, China, Korea and Japan, went to the Russian Primorye in Vladivostok.

On June 1, 1882, the law "On state-owned resettlement to the South Ussuriysk Territory" was adopted, according to which several hundred families were resettled in Primorye annually for the "state-owned settlement", that is, at the expense of state funds. The journey by steamer from Odessa to Vladivostok required at least 50 days, and each family resettled in this way cost the state 1,300 rubles - a huge amount at that time, the monthly average earnings in the country did not exceed 15 rubles. In addition, since March 1896, those moving to the Far East were given interest-free loans in the amount of 100 rubles per family for a period of three years.

Irrevocable allowances for the transportation of people and property were also paid. In 1895 alone, the state spent over half a million rubles on the transportation of immigrants by steamers along the Amur River. Before the completion of the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway, passenger navigation on the Shilka and Amur rivers, from Transbaikalia to Khabarovsk, was very expensive - the journey took 10 days, the settlers paid 10 rubles for an adult ticket and 5 rubles for a child ticket.

The flow of immigrants gradually increased. From 1882 to 1891, 25,223 peasants came to the Far East for farming. In the next decade, from 1892 to 1901, significantly more peasants arrived - 58,541 people.

How Far Eastern lands were distributed in tsarist Russia

Muravyov-Amursky Street in Khabarovsk, 1900. Photo chronicle TASS

In connection with the growth of the population of the Far East (more than 3 times over 20 years), the government changed the norms for free land allotment. From January 1, 1901, the resettled family received an allotment at the rate of 15 acres (just over 15 hectares) of comfortable land for each male soul.

At the same time, the government drew attention to the imbalance in the demographics of immigrants: there were noticeably more men than women in the Far East. And from 1882 to 1896, those families in which the number of girls and women exceeded the number of men were transported at the expense of the state.

Russian eagle - one head to the East

How Far Eastern lands were distributed in tsarist Russia

Count Nikolai Muravyov-Amursky, from 1847 to 1861 served as Governor-General of Eastern Siberia. Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

In just five subsequent years, from 1901 to 1905, 44,320 peasants arrived in the Far East. The growth in the number of immigrants was caused by the commissioned Trans-Siberian railway. From now on, the journey from the European part of Russia to Vladivostok took not a year and a half on a cart and not two months on a steamer, but only two or three weeks in a railway carriage.

Moreover, the state was worried about creating "medical and food centers" along the Trans-Siberian Railway, where the "settlers", as the settlers were then officially called, could receive free medical care and buy food at reduced prices.Hot food was provided by the state for children of migrants free of charge.

The next explosive growth in the number of immigrants to the Far East was associated with the agrarian policy of Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin. In April 1908, he spoke vividly and figuratively in one of his speeches before the deputies of the State Duma, objecting to those who were against the increase in government spending on the development of the Far East: “Our eagle is a two-headed eagle. Of course, the one-headed eagles are strong and powerful, but by cutting off one head of our Russian eagle, facing the East, you will not turn it into a one-headed eagle, you will only make it bleed to death …"

In the course of the Stolypin agrarian reform, the peasants received the right to leave the former rural community and consolidate their individual allotment into private property. The opportunity to sell their plot of land allowed a mass of peasants to move to new areas rich in undeveloped, vacant land.

During the period of the Stolypin government's activity, the norm on the free allocation of 15 hectares of land in the Far East for each male peasant continued to operate. At the same time, loans to migrants for settling in a new place were doubled, to 200 rubles. In the period from 1905 to 1907, over 90% of the settlers who arrived on the banks of the Amur and in Primorye applied for this financial assistance.

In 1912, for the Amur Territory, the size of the maximum loan was increased again - up to 400 rubles per family. It was a considerable amount: a horse in Siberia cost about 40 rubles, and a cow - no more than 30. The settlers received half of the loan immediately, the second part - only after the local official was convinced of the targeted spending of the first half. Such loans were issued for a period of 33 years: the settlers used the money for 5 years without paying interest, then they paid 6% of the total amount annually.

The whole range of government measures ensured a sharp increase in resettlement to the Far East. For example, in 1907 alone, 11,782 peasants moved to the Amur Region, and 61,722 people arrived in the Primorsky Region in the same year. That is, almost as many migrated in a year as in the entire 19th century.

It was more satisfying here …

The settlers of the late XIX - early XX centuries were mostly illiterate peasants, so there are no memoirs about the Far Eastern odyssey of the rural population. Only today historians and ethnographers have been able to record individual memories of the children of pre-revolutionary settlers.

In the municipal district named after Lazo of the Khabarovsk Territory, more than a century ago, peasant settlers from Belarus founded the villages of Poletnoye, Prudki and Petrovichi. Alexander Titovich Potiupin, born in 1928, from the village of Petrovichi, recalls: “My ancestors were from the Mogilev province. My grandfather told me everything about how he came here. Came here in 1900 or 1902. I came and looked at this area. And then only in 1907 the whole family moved here. We went by train through Manchuria, and then on horseback. They carried the entire household with them: horses, utensils, seeds. And it was necessary to grumble more, there was taiga all around. In the beginning, dugouts were placed. Then they made aspen huts”.

How Far Eastern lands were distributed in tsarist Russia

Khabarovka, the bank of the Amur, 1901. Emile Ninaud, National Library of France

The reasons for the resettlement are succinctly characterized by Sofya Moiseevna Samuseva, born in 1934, living in the village of Poletnoye: “My mother said that everyone lived very poorly in their homeland. The houses had earthen floors … It was nourishing here."

Polina Romanovna Krakhmaleva, born in 1926, who lived in the village of Chembary in the Svobodnensky District of the Amur Region, recalls: “Our Alekseenko Stepan moved forward. He was the first settler. Mom moved here in the fourteenth year, and the father in the twelfth from the Kiev province. In the sixteenth they got married … When the village was called, they scandalized everything! It was shortly after the wedding. Alekseev wanted to be named Alekseevka! And there was such a Chembarov. He was the right person. There was a scandal! But they named Chembars …"

In total, from 1906 to 1914 inclusively, 44,590 peasant families, or 265,689 people, moved to the Amur and Primorsk regions of the Russian Empire. They founded 338 new villages and developed over 33 million hectares of new lands. At the beginning of the 20th century, this made it possible not only to populate previously almost deserted areas, firmly tying them to Russia, but also to ensure an impressive socio-economic development of the Far East.

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