Supriya Ghosh

Population transfer in the Soviet Union

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Population transfer in the Soviet Union

Population transfer in the Soviet Union may be classified into the following broad categories: deportations of "anti-Soviet" categories of population, often classified as "enemies of workers," deportations of entire nationalities, labor force transfer, and organized migrations in opposite directions to fill the ethnically cleansed territories.


In most cases their destinations were underpopulated remote areas (see Forced settlements in the Soviet Union). This includes deportations to the Soviet Union of non-Soviet citizens from countries outside the USSR. It has been estimated that, in their entirety, internal forced migrations affected some 6 million people.

Some 1 to 1.5 million perished as a result of the deportations and of those deaths the deportation of Crimean Tatars and the deportation of Chechens were recognized as genocides by Ukraine and the European Parliament respectively.

Deportation of social groups

Kulaks were a group of relatively affluent farmers and had gone by this class-system term in the later Russian Empire, Soviet Russia, and early Soviet Union. They were the most numerous group deported by the Soviet Union. Resettlement of people officially designated as kulaks continued until early 1950, including several major waves.

Large numbers of kulaks regardless of their nationality were resettled to Siberia and Central Asia. According to data from Soviet archives, which were published in 1990, 1,803,392 people were sent to labor colonies and camps in 1930 and 1931; and 1,317,022 reached the destination. Deportations on a smaller scale continued after 1931. The reported number of kulaks and their relatives who had died in labour colonies from 1932 to 1940 was 389,521.

Ethnic operations

During the 1930s, categorisation of so-called enemies of the people shifted from the usual Marxist–Leninist, class-based terms, such as kulak, to ethnic-based ones. The partial removal of potentially trouble-making ethnic groups was a technique used consistently by Joseph Stalin during his government; between 1935 and 1938 alone, at least nine different nationalities were deported. Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union led to a massive escalation in Soviet ethnic cleansing.

Looking at the entire period of Stalin's rule, one can list: Poles (1939–1941 and 1944–1945), Romanians (1941 and 1944–1953), Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians (1941 and 1945–1949), Volga Germans (1941–1945), Ingrian Finns (1929–1931 and 1935–1939), Finnish people in Karelia (1940–1941, 1944), Crimean Tatars, Crimean Greeks (1944) and Caucasus Greeks (1949–50), Kalmyks, Balkars, Karachays, Meskhetian Turks, Karapapaks, Far East Koreans (1937), Chechens and Ingushs (1944). Shortly before, during and immediately after World War II, Stalin conducted a series of deportations on a huge scale which profoundly affected the ethnic map of the Soviet Union. It is estimated that between 1941 and 1949 nearly 3.3 million were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics. By some estimates up to 43% of the resettled population died of diseases and malnutrition.

The deportations started with Poles from Byelorussia, Ukraine and European Russia (see Polish minority in Soviet Union) 1932-1936. Koreans in the Russian Far East were deported in 1937. (See Deportation of Koreans in the Soviet Union.)

After the Soviet invasion of Poland following the corresponding German invasion that marked the start of World War II in 1939, the Soviet Union annexed eastern parts (known as Kresy to the Polish) of the Second Polish Republic. During 1939-1941 1.45 million people inhabiting the region were deported by the Soviet regime, of whom 63.1% were Poles, and 7.4% were Jews. Previously it was believed that about 1.0 million Polish citizens died at the hands of the Soviets, however recently Polish historians, based mostly on queries in Soviet archives, estimate the number of deaths at about 350,000 people deported in 1939-1945. From the newly conquered Eastern Poland 1.5 million people were deported.

The same followed in the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia (see Soviet deportations from Estonia and Soviet deportations from Lithuania). More than 200,000 people are estimated to have been deported from the Baltic in 1940-1953. In addition, at least 75,000 were sent to the Gulag. 10% of the entire adult Baltic population was deported or sent to labor camps. In 1989, native Latvians represented only 52% of the population of their own country. In Estonia, the figure was 62%. In Lithuania, the situation was better because the migrants sent to that country actually moved to the former area of Eastern Prussia (now Kaliningrad) which, contrary to the original plans, never became part of Lithuania.

Likewise, Romanians from Chernivtsi Oblast and Moldovia had been deported in great numbers which range from 200,000 to 400,000. (See Soviet deportations from Bessarabia.)

During World War II, particularly in 1943-44, the Soviet government conducted a series of deportations. Some 1.9 million people were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics. Treasonous collaboration with the invading Germans and anti-Soviet rebellion were the official reasons for these deportations. Out of approximately 183,000 Crimean Tatars, 20,000 or 10% of the entire population served in German battalions. Consequently, Tatars too were transferred en masse by the Soviets after the war.

Volga Germans and seven (non-Slavic) nationalities of the Crimea and the northern Caucasus were deported: the Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, and Meskhetian Turks. All Crimean Tatars were deported en masse, in a form of collective punishment, on 18 May 1944 as special settlers to Uzbekistan and other distant parts of the Soviet Union. According to NKVD data, nearly 20% died in exile during the following year and a half. Crimean Tatar activists have reported this figure to be nearly 46%. (See Deportation of Crimean Tatars.)

Other minorities evicted from the Black Sea coastal region included Bulgarians, Crimean Greeks, Romanians and Armenians.

After World War II, the German population of the Kaliningrad Oblast, former East Prussia was expelled and the depopulated area resettled by Soviet citizens, mainly by Russians.

Poland and Soviet Ukraine conducted population exchanges - Poles who resided east of the established Poland-Soviet border were deported to Poland (c.a. 2,100,000 persons) and Ukrainians that resided west of the established Poland-Soviet Union border were deported to Soviet Ukraine. Population transfer to Soviet Ukraine occurred from September 1944 to April 1946 (ca. 450,000 persons). Some Ukrainians (ca. 200,000 persons) left southeast Poland more or less voluntarily (between 1944 and 1945).

In February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev in his speech On the Personality Cult and its Consequences condemned the deportations as a violation of Leninist principles, asserting as a joke that the Ukrainians avoided such a fate "only because there were too many of them and there was no place to which to deport them." His government reversed most of Stalin's deportations, although it was not until as late as 1991 that the Crimean Tatars, Meskhetian Turks and Volga Germans were allowed to return en masse to their homelands. The deportations had a profound effect on the non-Russian peoples of the Soviet Union and they are still a major political issue - the memory of the deportations played a major part in the separatist movements in Chechnya and the Baltic republics.

Some peoples were deported after Stalin's death: in 1959, Chechen returnees were supplanted from the mountains to the Chechen plain. The mountaineers of Tajikistan, such as the Yaghnobi people, were forcibly settled to the plain deserts in the 1970s.

Labor force transfer

Punitive transfers of population transfers handled by the Gulag and the system of forced settlements in the Soviet Union were planned in accordance with the needs of the colonization of the remote and underpopulated territories of the Soviet Union. (Their large scale has led to a controversial opinion in the West that the economic growth of the Soviet Union was largely based on the slave labor of Gulag prisoners.) At the same time, on a number of occasions the workforce was transferred by non-violent means, usually by means of "recruitment" (вербовка). This kind of recruitment was regularly performed at forced settlements, where people were naturally more willing to resettle. For example, the workforce of the Donbass and Kuzbass mining basins is known to have been replenished in this way. (As a note of historical comparison, in Imperial Russia the mining workers at state mines (bergals, "бергалы", from German Bergbau, 'mining') were often recruited in lieu of military service which, for a certain period, had a term of 25 years).

There were several notable campaigns of targeted workforce transfer.

  • Twenty-five-thousanders
  • NKVD labor columns
  • Virgin Lands Campaign
  • Baku oil industry workers transfer: During the German-Soviet War, in October 1942, about 10,000 workers from the petroleum sites of Baku, together with their families, were transferred to several sites with potential oil production (the "Second Baku" area (Volga-Ural oil field), Kazakhstan and Sakhalin), in face of the potential German threat, although Germany failed to seize Baku.
  • Repatriation after World War II

    When the war ended in May 1945, millions of Soviet citizens were forcefully repatriated (against their will) into the USSR. On 11 February 1945, at the conclusion of the Yalta Conference, the United States and United Kingdom signed a Repatriation Agreement with the USSR.

    The interpretation of this Agreement resulted in the forcible repatriation of all Soviets regardless of their wishes. British and U.S. civilian authorities ordered their military forces in Europe to deport to the Soviet Union millions of former residents of the USSR (some of whom collaborated with the Germans), including numerous persons who had left Russia and established different citizenship many years before. The forced repatriation operations took place from 1945-1947.

    At the end of World War II, more than 5 million "displaced persons" from the Soviet Union survived in German captivity. About 3 million had been forced laborers (Ostarbeiter) in Germany and occupied territories.

    Surviving POWs, about 1.5 million, repatriated Ostarbeiter, and other displaced persons, totally more than 4,000,000 people were sent to special NKVD filtration camps (not Gulag). By 1946, 80% civilians and 20% of PoWs were freed, 5% of civilians, and 43% of PoWs re-drafted, 10% of civilians and 22% of PoWs were sent to labor battalions, and 2% of civilians and 15% of the PoWs (226,127 out of 1,539,475 total) transferred to the NKVD, i.e. the Gulag.


  • State Defense Committee Decree No. 5859ss: On Crimean Tatars (See also Three answers to the Decree No. 5859ss)
  • References

    Population transfer in the Soviet Union Wikipedia

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