How Ukraine was purged of her population


The twentieth century was also an epoch of "the great transmigration of peoples". At least on the3 one sixth of the globe. West Ukraine survived several waves of deportations of the local population. In 1939-40 Polish families were sent to East: state figures, military officers, members of political parties, land owners. In 1940-41the terror rolled down upon the nationally conscious and civilly active Ukrainian intelligentsia, families of well-to-do peasants. The Nazi occupation fully exterminated the Jewish community in Galicia. We shall remind the reader that between the WW1 and the WW2 Jew made about a half of the population of Galician towns and settlements.

After he first three waves of the great terror and deportations only about one fifth part of the former inhabitants remained the towns of West Ukraine. The specific Galician town atmosphere, which was weak-cultured, was lost forever.

The period after the WW2 included two great waves of deportations: the first was connected with the coercive migration of Ukrainian from Poland and the reverse flow of ethnic Polish and Polish-cultured families from Ukraine. During the second wave, which lasted from 1946 to 1951, 20-30% of the population were coercively deported to East Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Siberia and the Far East. They were people suspected in ties with the OUN-UPA underground, those, who did not accept the kolkhozes, intelligentsia, Greek-Catholic priests. In the districts, where the authorities failed to suppress the guerilla resistance for a long time, whole villages were deported. The terms of exile and incarceration were from 1 to 15 years. A great proportion of the deported perished, many did not return yet to their native land. The more or less correct data on the number of the repressed and deported during 1939-1951 have not been published yet. We do not know any cases (at least in the Ternopil oblast) of finding and publishing corresponding archives of the NKVD, KGB and the Ministry of Interior.

The special commissions in charge of the repressed, which work at district radas during the last 4 years, established the number of the repressed, who now live on their territories. So, in the Chortkiv district they registered 629 persons, 203 of them – those, who were born in the places of deportation. 12 of them are the former UPA soldiers, who returned from the concentration camps. Most of them are rehabilitated now.

Oleksandr Stepanenko

How Ukraine was purged of her population

Mykhaylo Stepanenko, Chortkiv

This "mission" began from the summon to the communist party committee of the Ternopil oblast and the offering of an administrative job. (I was a physician and the party interest in any sphere was common.) More probably, it was a premeditated provocation. I refused, and second secretary of the party committee Titarenko said: "Do you want to be a general practitioner? We have a job for you – a mission to the Khabarovsk territory. You will accompany enemies of the people". This time I could not refuse.

By that time I knew about repressions not by hearsay (the repressions rolled over my family too), survived the famine of 1933 near Kyiv, served as a sapper in the WW2 and came to Czechia and Austria. Yet, the dreadful details of this mission are still vivid in my mind. Maybe the reason is that other people suffered, and I allegedly was among those, who inflicted these sufferings, although I did my very best to diminish their sufferings…

In early 50s after five post-war years of fighting with the UPA in West Ukraine, the Ministry of Interior organs were completing the immense campaign of deporting civil population from these regions, where they could not root out the guerilla movement. Sometimes entire villages were deported.

A part of this train, where I had to serve, was formed from the convict of the Berezhany prison, who were arrested for "ties with Bandera fighters". Mostly they were women, children, minors, old people, sometimes entire families. Young men were few. Some former soldiers in faded tunics occurred: if a relative was a guerilla, then no war merits were taken into consideration. Even one Russian officer, who carelessly married a Ukrainian girl, was among these "enemies of the people".

I came to the train before the departure; the train was noisy: hundreds cried and sobbed. In Berezhany they loaded 20 carriages with these unfortunates. 20 more carriages loaded at the station Krasne were hooked to the train in Ternopil. There were 40-50 people in each carriage. All in all, there were about two thousand. The carriages were freight cars, equipped with berths, iron stoves, window bars and hole in the floor instead of a toilet seat. The engines were supplied with machineguns, in every second car there were guards on duty armed with Kalashnikovs. The road to the place of destination had to last 29 days. The season was winter.

We transported cripples and babies too. A typical scene: the doctor is called to one of the cars since an old man is dying. I am coming: there is a plank bed with two children and a 85-year-old man, his legs are swollen – ascites. The man is crying: "Do not touch me, doctor! Why do they take me God knows where? Let them bury me here, in Ukraine! All the same I cannot help my grandchildren." I ask the children: "Where are your parents?" The answer: "They killed Daddy in the forest, and Mammy died in a prison". Oh, how can I keep my own tears?!

Real troubles started, when we appeared behind the Urals. Bitter frosts began: every day 20-30 centigrade below zero. Walls of the cars were covered with snow inside, the ceiling was a slab of ice. The coals for the stove were law-quality and the stoves extinguished. All that was given for a car per day was: a bucket of coals, a bucket of soup or cereal and a bucket of boiling water – "tea". People drank ice melted on the stove. "Passengers" were given food at night, when the train stopped. Fortunately, the train commander, captain Grechko, appeared to be humane. Every night he stopped the train and let me and nurses in search of additional coals, of medicines and bandages. It happened so that among my patients there were many beaten and burned. Some of them inherited their injuries from prisons, some got them anew falling from berths or burnt falling asleep near stoves. There was no food for sucking infants. Milk was not given and the exhausted mothers could not breast-feed their infants. I warned the commander: "All sucking babies will die, and we are responsible for them". And he permitted us during the every-night stop to wander to nearest villages for milk. So it happened that in the middle of the night, when the temperature was 30 centigrade below zero, we, I and nurses, walked to a village and knocked at doors, saying: "Here is a train at the station. It takes "enemies of the people" from West Ukraine. There are babies among them. They are starving, we have no milk". And the miracle happened: Siberian women opened the doors to strangers, milked their cows in the middle of the night and carried the cans wrapped in their shawls to the station. Every night we managed to beg about 30 liters of milk!

When we passed the Baikal, where the frosts were even stronger, two babies died. But the rest, if they certainly survived on the place of the exile, must be grateful for the mercy of Siberian women.

Near Irkutsk an escape happened. During night stop the women, who brought coals, water and food from the station, were permitted to leave the cars. A snowstorm lasted several days, the frost was about 40 centigrade, and one night several boys dressed as women left the cars. Near the station they got rid of their buckets and started to run. The guards either were bewildered or did not want to shoot at women. At night the local railway militia was alarmed and the escapers were caught. Interrogations began: "Who was the instigator?" No torture was needed, since one of the boys confessed at once: "Do not beat the boys, that was I, who instigated them". The officer in charge (senior lieutenant Volodka) took the instigator apart. I was called after the "talk": "Doctor, run, make the skunk conscious!" I did what I was told.

This horrible train arrived at Khabarovsk on 29 December 1950. Half of our load was left here, and another half was transported farther – north of Khabarovsk, to some railway dead end. There the people were taken from the cars to the unfinished barracks without doors and windows. Fortunately, much dry wood lay around.

During the way three of our "passengers" died and three were born (the babies were delivered in the moving cars), so "the total balance" was OK. Yet, it appeared that nobody cared to count the coming people. "What for must I count them?", asked the local commander, "many will die until winter is over. Then we shall count them".

The New Year of 1951 I met in the Khabarovsk railway station. The burden on my soul was so heavy that I could not fall asleep without drinking a bottle of vodka. On 1 January I was taken West by the "Vladivostok – Moscow" train. It was a quite another train. The passengers began a new year, they were full of hopes and optimistic plans. And what could bring this new year to all those people kicked from their native homes and thrown to the snowy taiga eight thousand kilometers from their homes and three months before spring?

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