70 years since the beginning of Stalin’s deportations


Services and other remembrance measures have marked the anniversary of the beginning of the mass deportation of people from Western Ukraine to the North of Russia and Kazakhstan.

Stalin’s regime began the policy of repression on the territory of former Eastern Poland just a few months after occupying the area from 17 September 1939.

During that first wave, 89 thousand people were suddenly taken far from their homes. The regime claimed that this was to fight counter-revolutionary acts, banditry and theft of socialist property.

The BBC’s Olha Betko spoke with historian Ihor Andrukhiv about this time.

Who in the first instance did the Soviet regime see as a threat to itself and who did it call “unreliable”?

Ihor Andrukhiv:  Categories of enemy were given in the NKVD Order “On introducing a single system for operational records of anti-Soviet elements identified by agents” issued on 11 October 1939. That gives 18 groups of so called enemies on political, religious, professional and social lines, with each of those groups having several categories. It’s therefore easier to find who wasn’t an enemy. After all virtually the entire population living here under Poland fell into this category. Including the “osadnyky” since they had Polish citizenship, and even more so because they had land of no less than 25 hectares and living in areas bordering on Soviet territory. They were therefore considered potential enemies although that was also about prospects for the future since they had to undergo collectivization, and it was that category which opposed the collective farm system. Thus there were both political and social reasons.

Osadnyky were Polish colonists whom the Polish government resettled in western regions of Ukraine in the middle of the 1920s. There were retired military people, participants in the Ukrainian-Polish war, as well as civilians enjoying the State’s support. They were either leased or sold land estates.

And as far as I understand they were among those who head the list of enemies, yes?

Ihor Andrukhiv: 

As soon as the Soviets arrived here, 9,436 families were put on the register by the NKVD operational groups who arrived with the Red Army. Then a resolution of the Sovnarkom [Council of People’s Commissars] (on the basis of a letter from Beria dated 2 December 1939) was passed on 5 December “On moving osadnyky from Western Ukraine and Western Belarus” where Beria explained that they were potential enemies who therefore needed to be isolated and moved to the northern regions of the USSR.

And how was the beginning of the repression seen by the local population, were they aware what was really happening? Did the local people support those deported, or the authorities?

Ihor Andrukhiv:  I’ve even found documents which say that among the local Ukrainian population (since the lists were made up before 25 January 1940) they found so-called “sympathisers” with the Soviet regime, who held meetings where they incited people to get up and say that we don’t need Poles, move them East, and so forth. However there were of course many people who felt sorry for them, so there were different responses. Obviously the Polish population since it was devastated that the State had ceased to exist was anti-Soviet. And on top of it all came this deportation. As for the Ukrainian population, it saw with time what the Soviet regime was like. Particularly since we should add that on 19 January 1940 the Politburo of Ukraine stepped up the resolution, so as to include Ukrainian osadnyky from mixed families, as well as forest rangers owning land with 2-3 hectares around.

You say that the deportation laid the foundation for a heightening of anti-Soviet sentiments. Can one say that this was a reason for people increasingly looking on the Germans as liberators from the “Soviet tyrant”?

Ihor Andrukhiv:  Undoubtedly. That was the first wave, and after that there were three mass waves when they also moved the families of repressed Polish officers, landowners and civil servants, and then the so-called refugees. And then at the end of 1940 there was a resolution “On deporting traitors of the Motherland and their families”. Here in the main they were talking about members of the families of members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists [OUN]. And all the repressive measures were carried out in the night, secretly. People were given 2-3 hours to get ready and they obviously couldn’t take anything with them. All their positions remain, they didn’t know where they were going, and clearly there were hopes for something better. Yet we shouldn’t forget either that at that time there were also mass arrests. There were more than 70 thousand people in prison under various articles of the Criminal Code as so-called enemies.

How well in Ukrainian historiography is the fate of these thousands of deported people studied? What happened to them?

Ihor Andrukhiv:  There is a lot of literature in this area, and Moscow researchers are particular active here since the Russian Federation State Archive and President’s Archives where the documents have been declassified are nearby.  Here in Ukraine Tamara Vronska from Kyiv recently defended her doctorate in which she examines the fate of the wives of repressed enemies of the people. Wives and children. This is the first such substantial work in Ukraine showing the fate of women and children sent to the North, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan etc.

Yet I understand that’s only isolated works and historians have only a fragmentary picture, is that right?

Ihor Andrukhiv:  Isolated because for a long time these document were held in special storage however the process is now underway and material is gradually emerging specifically about the role of women and of those resettled people who were in administrative resettlement and special settlements.

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