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Inspired by age-old imperial policy, endless territorial expansion and impunity, Russia’s rulers have been destroying and assimilating indigenous peoples of captured territories for centuries. One of the tools that Russia used and still uses against Ukrainians is deportation, which is forced resettlement, or expulsion from a permanent place of residence or from a country in general. In one of our previous materials, we discussed how Russia deports the Ukrainian population from the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories in 2022. In this material, you will learn about earlier evictions from the territory of Ukraine and how the aggressor country has long used this tool of suppressing freedom on the occupied territories.

At various times, the Russians forcibly evicted representatives of various national communities from the territory of Ukraine — Germans, Poles, Czechs, Jews, but the indigenous peoples of Ukraine — Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars — suffered the most. Deportations, as well as other crimes against national communities, were used by the authorities to punish and isolate sections of the population that were “unreliable” from the Russian point of view. Also, forcibly removed people often became unpaid labor force. Even through deportations, the authorities sought to mono-ethnicize the state and control demographic indicators, actually suppressing the development of national communities.

Those people who, in political or ideological terms, were causing mistrust in the government’s eyes.

A large part of the territory of Ukraine was under Russian occupation for centuries – either as part of its empire or in the Soviet Union. The first mass deportations of Ukrainians began in the 18th century, when by order of Peter I, thousands of people were deported to build St. Petersburg and the Ladoga Canal. During World War I, the Russian Empire also actively used forced evictions during the occupation of the territories. Approximately 13,000 people were deported from Eastern Halychyna in 1914–1915, including the Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Andrey Sheptytskyi, and the dean of the Lviv Theological Seminary, Yosif Botsyan. However, the largest number of people was forcibly deported from Ukraine in the 20th century, during the times of the USSR.

1920–1940s — the first Soviet deportations

Since the 1920s, forced labor camps began to be established in the USSR. They became centers of cheap labor for hard physical work, for example, the construction of the White Sea-Baltic Canal. Deportees were also used to fill these camps. In 1922, a Special Commission was created under the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs of the USSR for deportation to forced labor camps. The same year, a decree was issued that legalized the deportation of so-called “untrustworthy persons” to remote regions of the USSR. These two events laid the foundation and became the basis for the criminal deportations of the Soviet authorities.

The People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs is one of the ministries of the Soviet government. It was created in 1917, and in 1946 it was renamed the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR.

In the Soviet period of deportations from Ukraine, several main stages can be distinguished:

1925–1928 — the so-called tripartite commission of the Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian socialist republics met to redistribute borders. In order to “cleanse” the lands of Starodubshchyna, Bilhorodshchyna, Oryolshchyna, and Donshchyna (now this is the territory of Russia), hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were deported to the east of the country – to Zelenyi*, Malynovyi, and Siryi Klyn. The first is located in the Far East, the second – in Kuban, and the third – in Southwestern Siberia.

Zelenyi Klyn
*There Ukrainians formed a separate community that tried to preserve its national self-identity for decades. Descendants of Ukrainian immigrants gradually assimilated, and centers of Ukrainianism (schools, clubs, etc.) are decreasing there.

1930–1936 — “Kurkul* deportation”, during which well-off peasants were deprived of their property and taken outside Ukraine. In 1930–1931 alone, 63,817 peasant families from the Ukrainian SSR were deported to the Urals, Eastern and Western Siberia, the Far East, and Yakutia (and this is only official numbers!). Joseph Stalin and his accomplices sought to destroy the wealthy Ukrainian peasantry as a class, because these people prevented the establishment of totalitarian power.

*In the Soviet Union, kurkul was a contemptuous name for well-off peasants or opponents of collectivization.

1939–1941 — there were several waves of deportations of Ukrainians from the territories of western Ukraine and western Belarus. Only then, the USSR together with Nazi Germany occupied Poland and started World War II. In total, up to 1,250,000 people were deported to Siberia, the Volga region, Kazakhstan and the north of the RSFSR*. According to various estimates, that number is from 10 to 20% of the population of these territories.

The purpose of the first deportations was to destroy the resistance of Ukrainians against the Soviet authorities. Stalin sought to conquer all the countries that made up the USSR, erase their national identity and establish totalitarian power. The Soviet authorities exterminated and assimilated millions of people by force.

However, this did not break the Ukrainians. In new places, they united into communities, created Ukrainian schools, gave their settlements the names of Ukrainian cities, and preserved national traditions. They even built the same houses as in Ukraine, painted them in white, and planted flowers near their yards.

1944 — deportation of the Crimean Tatars

Crimean Tatars survived three occupations of their native land. All three were by Russians.

In 1783, due to the annexation of the Crimean Khanate by the Russian Empire, most of the Crimeans left for the Ottoman Empire. On 18 May 1944, the Soviet authorities began deporting Crimeans from their historical homeland to remote regions of Central Asia and Siberia. In total, 191,044 Crimean Tatars were deported, according to official statistics. In fact, 423,100 Crimean Tatars were deported according to the self-census conducted by the National Movement of Crimean Tatars. In the first years after the eviction, from a third to half of the Crimean Tatar population died.

The grounds for deportation were the absurd accusations of Crimean treason and cooperation with the Nazi regime during the Second World War, oppression of the non-Tatar population of Crimea, and separatism. According to the resolution of the State Defense Committee of the USSR “On the Crimean Tatars” dated 11 May 1944, People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs Beria and People’s Commissar of Communications Kaganovich had to evict the Crimean Tatars by the 1st of June 1944.

Council of People's Commissars of the Soviet Union
The people's commissar is an official in the USSR who headed the Council of People's Commissars of the Soviet Union, the central body of state management in a certain area (similar to a minister in a ministry).

Deportation began at dawn, and already at 8 a.m. 90,000 people were herded into 25 echelons. Each family could allegedly take up to 500 kg of cargo with them, and the value of all remaining or confiscated property had to be compensated at the new location. However, the deportees were moved almost without food and clothing, and no one was waiting for them at the places of resettlement.

Stalin sought to destroy all traces of the presence of Crimean Tatars on the peninsula, banning the ethnonym “Crimean Tatars”. For more than 40 years there was no mention of Crimeans in the censuses of the USSR (1959, 1970, 1979). In addition, after the deportation, the process of renaming settlements began in order to erase references to the Crimean people from the names of villages, districts, and cities. A total of 1,300 settlements in Crimea, almost 90% of all toponyms, were renamed (for example, original town of Ieda-Kuiu was changed to Lenine). Unfortunately, before the occupation of the peninsula in 2014 by Russia, the historical names had not been returned. However, in 2016, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted a draft law on the renaming of 75 toponyms in Crimea, most of which were returned to their authentic names. The decision will enter into force after the liberation of the peninsula.

In 1945, people from the Voronezh, Kursk, Oryol, and Belgorod oblasts of the USSR (now Russia) were systematically relocated to the territory of the then Crimea Oblast leading to the total russification of Crimea and the destruction of its memory as the homeland of the Crimean people. In order to create a myth about the Russianness of the peninsula, 16 thousand Greeks, more than 9.8 thousand Armenians, and 12.6 thousand Bulgarians were deported together with the Crimean Tatars.

Only in 1989, Crimeans were able to return to their homeland after the deployment of the Crimean Tatar people’s movement to return their people home. The Soviet authorities of that time did not contribute to this in any way, although they condemned the deportation done by its predecessors, recognizing it as criminal and illegal. The Crimean Tatars had nowhere to return, because the real estate no longer belonged to them, and the government did not provide compensation.

According to the 2015 resolution of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 was recognized as genocide. In 2019, the governments of Latvia and Lithuania adopted the same decision. However, no trials of the guilty or conviction of those who committed genocide have taken place in Russia, which calls itself the legal successor of the USSR.

In 2014, Russia occupied the Crimean Peninsula again. At least 30,000 Crimeans left the peninsula for mainland Ukraine. At least 150 Crimean Tatars have the status of political prisoners and are being prosecuted on trumped-up criminal charges.

The topic of deportation, the devastating influence of Russia on the Crimeans, became prevalent in the Ukrainian discourse even before the occupation of the peninsula. In 2013, the film “Khaitarma” was released, the plot of which is based on the deportation of 1944. And in 2016, the Ukrainian singer of Crimean Tatar origin, Jamala, won the Eurovision Song Contest with the song “1944“, which told Europe about the tragic events in the history of Crimea.

The leader of Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Dzhemilev, says that back in 2014, Crimeans were ready to take up arms and defend the integrity of their state together with Ukrainians. Currently, he does not believe in diplomatic methods of deoccupation of Crimea, but he is confident that it is possible to achieve by military means – if Ukrainians and Crimeans act together.

1944–1951 — deportation of Ukrainians from the western regions

During and after World War II, the USSR absorbed new regions of Ukraine (in particular, Volyn, Bessarabia, Bukovyna, Halychyna, Transcarpathia), which previously belonged to other state entities. Liberation from the German occupation brought Ukrainians not a long-awaited relief, but new repressions, in particular deportations. They took place in several waves – ostensibly to liberate the territories from the “Banderivites”, “nationalists” and “Kurkuls”. In fact, the totalitarian regime sought to erase the national identity and physically destroy “unreliable” Ukrainians.

In total, from 1944 to 1951 (and in some cases until 1952), almost 750,000 Ukrainians were evicted. The first waves of evictions took place in 1944–1946. It was a punishment for the resistanceshown by the inhabitants of these territories, for the desire to be independent and the struggle against the Soviets in the ranks of the OUN-UIA (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and Ukrainian Insurgent Army). Ukrainians from the western regions that were under the administration of Poland — Lemkivshchyna, Western Boikivshchyna, Nadsiannia, Kholmshchyna, and Pidliashshia — were resettled in various regions of the Ukrainian SSR — in Halychyna, Prychornomoria, Slobozhanshchyna, and Donechchyna. The deportations were carried out by the communist governments of the USSR and Poland. They called it “voluntary resettlement” and promised “equivalent property compensation.” In reality, most of the time, people were faced with exploitations on collective farms and lack of housin. Upon eviction, the authorities gave so-called “evacuation letters” with a list of lost property and its value, but in fact no one cared about them.

The abbreviation that unites the activities of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (founded in 1929) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (1942—1954).

Most of the deportees received the status of special resettlers, some of them were settled in special camps. On the ground, mass political work was carried out to “re-educate” Ukrainians. All those dissatisfied with this policy were arrested and tried as “nationalist elements”. Some attempted to return to their ethnic lands, but this rarely succeeded and often ended in arrests. Currently, Ukrainians, together with Poles, are trying to process this trauma. For example, in 2021, the documentary “Deportation 44-46” was released, which tells about those events.

Another wave of evictions took place in 1947. Those Ukrainians who did not leave their homes in previous years were deported by the communist Polish authorities during Operation Vistula with the support of the Soviet leadership and the Third Czechoslovak Republic. Its main goal was the ethnic cleansing of the territories of Lemkivshchyna, Nadsiannia, Pidliashshia and Kholmshchyna. In a few months, almost 150,000 Ukrainians were forcibly evicted, almost 4,000 were imprisoned in the Jawozhno concentration camp (Poland), almost 3,000 members of the OUN-UIA were arrested, and 655 people were killed during the operation.

In the same year 1947, the Minister of Internal Affairs of the USSR Kruglov announced the resettlement of more than 77,000 “active nationalists and bandits” from the western regions of Ukraine. Ukrainians were sent to work in the coal industry in the eastern regions of the USSR and in the Omsk region (now Russia). There is also evidence that Ukrainian women were sent in separate echelons to the territory of Russia to Soviet military garrisons. They received mutilations and became victims of rape. All these facts were covered up during Soviet times.

Separate exchanges of border territories between the USSR and Poland took place in 1948 and 1951. Again, these events were accompanied by deportations of Ukrainians. For example, in 1948, in accordance with the decrees of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, those accused of “malicious evasion of labor in agriculture and leading an anti-civic lifestyle” were deported from the territory of Ukraine for 8 years. Many residents of the eastern and central regions of Ukraine, who survived the famine in 1947, also fell under this accusation. People had neither food nor work, so they physically could not fulfill the annual norm of working days.

2022. Ongoing deportation

In 2022, during the full-scale war, Russia is deporting Ukrainians again. Russians take people from the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories, which we talked about in more detail in one of the previous texts. As of the beginning of September, it is already known that more than 1.2 million people have been deported, including children. Just like a hundred years ago, Ukrainians are being sent to remote regions of Russia: to the Far East and to the North Caucasus. The Russian Federation invents laws that legitimize its criminal actions. It says that it is “protecting” the local population. In fact, in the times of the empire, in the USSR, and now, Russian politicians have been trying with to support the Russian national myth, created upon hatred of the indigenous peoples of the occupied territories.

Russia carried out more than 10 deportations from the territory of Ukraine during the times of the USSR alone, the scale of this tragedy is still difficult to comprehend. We have experienced a terrible collective pain that has affected at least four generations. In 2022, Russians are deporting Ukrainians again, and we still do not have an effective procedure for the return them. The war continues. However, this time, unlike with the previous deportations and other war crimes committed by Russia, we have a chance to live it differently. Earlier, when Ukraine was part of the USSR, it was forbidden to mention the terrible government policy due to the threat of repression. Back then, the world did not know and did not understand this tragedy, but now Ukrainians are working hard to let the world know about these mass deportations.

The perpetrators were not punished then, but their crimes do not have a statute of limitations. In order not to repeat the mistakes of the past, the world must unite and make the current criminals responsible for modern Russian deportations. Recognizing the regime of the Russian Federation as a terrorist state and the war against Ukraine as genocide are sure steps towards the creation of effective tribunals.

Chronology of deportations

16 October 1922 — a Special Commission was formed under the NKVD of the USSR on issues of deportation to forced labor camps.

10 August 1922 – the decree of the Central Committee “on administrative deportation” gave the right to deport all suspected persons to the separate regions of the USSR.

On 28 March 1924, the “Regulations on the rights of the ODPU in terms of administrative evictions, exile and imprisonment in concentration camps” was approved.

4 April 1925 – ODPU received the right to prohibit “socially harmful” persons from living in certain areas.

12 June 1929 – the resolution “On the deportation of particularly vicious criminals.”

20 February 1930 — the resolution of the Central Committee of the CPSU(b) on the necessity of forced eviction of 200–300 thousand families from areas of complete collectivization, primarily to areas of Kazakhstan.

June 1931 — the department of special settlements in the Gulag system was formed.

25 November 1935 — resolution of the Central Committee of the CP(b)U on eviction from the western border strip of the USSR.

28 April 1936 — the resolution of the RSC of the USSR “On the eviction of 15 thousand Polish and German households from the Ukrainian SSR to the Karaganda Oblast of the Kazakh ASSR.”

13 April 1938 — Circular No. 80 of the NKVD of the USSR on the registration of special settlers.

September 1939–June 1941 — more than 500,000 people were deported from Western Ukraine.

1940 — the administration of correctional labor colonies (VTK) and Gulag labor settlements was established.

March 1943 — the resolution of the DKO of the USSR “On special measures in the western oblasts of Ukraine”, which obliged the NKVD of the USSR to evict the families of “active members of the OUN-UIA to remote areas of the USSR.”

7 January 1944 — Order No. 20 signed by L. Beria, in which the People’s Commissar ordered “all discovered accomplices on the territory of Ukraine to be arrested with confiscation of property on the basis of the order of the NKVD of the USSR No. 001552.”

31 March 1944 — order of the NKVD of the USSR No. 122 signed by L. Beria on the repression of family members of Ouniv residents.

March 1944 — the resolution of the DKO of the USSR “On special measures in the western regions of Ukraine”, paragraph 8 of which stated: “To oblige the NKVD of the USSR to evict the families of active members of the OUN, UIA and UNRA to remote areas of the USSR.”

24 March 1944 — the Special Settlements Department was established in the structure of the NKVD of the USSR.

31 March 1944 — NKVD directive No. 122 signed by L. Beria “On the deportation to remote areas of Krasnoyarsk Krai, Irkutsk, Omsk, Novosibirsk Oblasts, of family members of Ouniv residents and active rebels, both arrested and killed in skirmishes.”

5-15 April 1944 — the instruction “On the procedure for deporting family members of the OUN and active insurgents to remote regions of the USSR” and the instruction-guideline “On the procedure for evicting families of active members of the OUN and UIA.”

29 October 1944 — the resolution of the DKO No. 684-c, according to which the place of exile for the participants of the national liberation struggle and members of their families was the Komi ARSR, Arkhangelsk, Kirov, and Molotov oblasts “for labor education.”

15 May 1945 — Lviv. At a meeting with the secretaries of regional committees of the CP(b)U and the heads of the regional offices of the NKVD and the NKGB, M. Khrushchev demanded that the families of the rebels be deported to remote areas of the USSR.

19 May 1945 — an appeal by the leadership of the Ukrainian SSR “to the workers, peasants and intelligentsia of the western regions of Ukraine”, who were warned that if they do not arrive as expected (by July 20), “the most severe measures will be applied to all members of the gangs.”

20 April 1946 — directive of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR No. 97 on the deportation of “former policemen, residents of Vlasov and other persons.”

10 September 1947 — Resolution No. 3214 of the Council of Ministers (RM) of the USSR on the eviction to special settlements by decision of the Special Meeting under the MGB of the USSR “families of members of OUN gangs, guides to members of OUN and members of their families, nationalist kulaks and their families.”

15 October 1947 – secret resolution No. PB-148/142 of the Central Committee of the CP(b)U and RM of the Ukrainian SSR “On the procedure for the use of land and property left after the eviction of the families of nationalists and bandits.”

21 February 1948 — Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR “On the eviction from the Ukrainian SSR of persons who maliciously avoid work in agriculture and lead an antisocial, parasitic lifestyle.”

23 February 1948 — Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on the deportation to settlements of convicted “members of OUN gangs” after serving their sentences in correctional labor camps (VTT).

26 November 1948 — Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR “On criminal liability for escape from places of mandatory and permanent settlement of persons evicted to remote areas of the Soviet Union during the Patriotic War.”

1950 — the 9th Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR was formed, which was responsible for special settlements.

15 April 1950 — order of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR No. 00248 “On the announcement to evicted peoples about leaving them forever in special settlements.”

13 February 1951 — Resolution of the Ministry of the Interior of the USSR No. 377-100 “On the deportation from Ukraine of former servicemen of the Anders army and members of their families.”

1944-1952 — 203,662 people were deported from the territory of the western oblasts of Ukraine.

30 October 1954 — the 4th department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR was formed to record and control special settlements.

5 July 1954 — resolution of the Central Committee of the CPSU and the Republic of the USSR “On the removal of some restrictions on the legal status of special settlers.” It did not apply to Ukrainian nationalists and their family members evicted from the western oblasts of Ukraine.

29 March 1959 — due to the deregistration of special settlers, the 4th Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR for the supervision of special settlements was liquidated.

15 June 1959 — Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR “On the responsibility of former special settlers for their spontaneous return to the places from which they were evicted”, violators of which were threatened with a 3-year eviction period.

14 November 1989 — the declaration of the Supreme Council of the USSR abolished deportation restrictions.

All deported peoples have been rehabilitated.

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