Population transfer in the Soviet Union

Population transfer in the Soviet Union refers to forced transfer of various groups from the 1930s up to the 1950s ordered by Joseph Stalin and 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 at least 4 million people.[1][2][3] Of this total, 1.8 million kulaks were deported in 1930–31, 1.0 million peasants and ethnic minorities in 1932–39, whereas about 1.5 million ethnic minorities were further resettled during 1940–52.[3]

Soviet archives documented 390,000[4] deaths during kulak forced resettlement and up to 400,000 deaths of persons deported to Forced settlements in the Soviet Union during the 1940s;[5] however Steven Rosefield and Norman Naimark put overall deaths closer to some 1 to 1.5 million perishing as a result of the deportations — of those deaths, the deportation of Crimean Tatars and the deportation of Chechens were recognized as genocides by Ukraine and the European Parliament respectively.[6][7][8][9]

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.[10] Resettlement of people officially designated as kulaks continued until early 1950, including several major waves.[11]

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.[12] It is estimated that 15 million kulaks and their families were deported by 1937, during the deportation many people died, but the full number is not known.[13]

Ethnic operations

A train with Romanian refugees following the Soviet annexation of Bessarabia

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.[14] The partial removal of potentially trouble-making ethnic groups was a technique used consistently by Joseph Stalin during his government;[15] between 1935 and 1938 alone, at least nine different nationalities were deported.[16] Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union led to a massive escalation in Soviet ethnic cleansing.[17]

The Deportation of Koreans in the Soviet Union, originally conceived in 1926, initiated in 1930, and carried through in 1937, was the first mass transfer of an entire nationality in the Soviet Union.[18] Almost the entire Soviet population of ethnic Koreans (171,781 persons) were forcefully moved from the Russian Far East to unpopulated areas of the Kazakh SSR and the Uzbek SSR in October 1937.[19]

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.[20] It is estimated that between 1941 and 1949 nearly 3.3 million were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics.[21] By some estimates, up to 43% of the resettled population died of diseases and malnutrition.[22]

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

Western annexations and deportations, 1939–1941

Deportee barrack in the Kolyma region, 1957

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 or as West Belarus and West Ukraine in the USSR and among Belarusians and Ukrainians) of the Second Polish Republic, which since then became western parts of the Belarusian SSR and the Ukrainian SSR. During 1939–1941, 1.45 million people inhabiting the region were deported by the Soviet regime. According to Polish historians, 63.1% of these people were Poles and 7.4% were Jews.[23] Previously it was believed that about 1.0 million Polish citizens died at the hands of the Soviets,[24] but recently Polish historians, based mostly on queries in Soviet archives, estimate the number of deaths at about 350,000 people deported in 1939–1945.[25][26]

The same followed in the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia (see Soviet deportations from Estonia and Soviet deportations from Lithuania).[27] 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.[28][29] In 1989, native Latvians represented only 52% of the population of their own country. In Estonia, the figure was 62%.[30] 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.[31]

Likewise, Romanians from Chernivtsi Oblast and Moldovia had been deported in great numbers which range from 200,000 to 400,000.[32] (See Soviet deportations from Bessarabia.)

World War II, 1941–1945

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Lavrenti Beria (in foreground). As head of the NKVD, Beria was responsible for mass deportations of ethnic minorities.

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.[33] Consequently, Tatars too were transferred en masse by the Soviets after the war.[34] Vyacheslav Molotov justified this decision saying "The fact is that during the war we received reports about mass treason. Battalions of Caucasians opposed us at the fronts and attacked us from the rear. It was a matter of life and death; there was no time to investigate the details. Of course innocents suffered. But I hold that given the circumstances, we acted correctly."[35] Historian Ian Grey writes "Towards the Moslem peoples, the Germans pursued a benign, almost paternalistic policy. The Karachai, Balkars, Ingush, Chechen, Kalmucks, and Tatars of the Crimea all displayed pro-German sympathies in some degree. It was only the hurried withdrawal of the Germans from the Caucasus after the battle of Stalingrad that prevented their organizing the Moslem people for effective anti-Soviet action. The Germans boasted loudly, however, that they had left a strong “fifth column” behind them in the Caucasus."[36]

Volga Germans[37] and seven (non-Slavic) nationalities of the Crimea and the northern Caucasus were deported: the Crimean Tatars,[38] Kalmyks, Chechens,[39] 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%.[40][41] (See Deportation of Crimean Tatars.)

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

Post-war expulsion and deportation

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).[42]

A dwelling typical to some deportees into Siberia in a museum in Rumšiškės, Lithuania

Post-Stalin policy on deportation

In February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev in his speech On the Personality Cult and its Consequences condemned the deportations as a violation of Leninist principles. His government reversed most of Stalin's deportations.

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

According to a secret Soviet ministry of interior report dated December 1965, for the period 1940—1953, 46,000 people were deported from Moldova, 61,000 from Belarus, 571,000 from Ukraine, 119,000 from Lithuania, 53,000 from Latvia and 33,000 from Estonia.[43]

Labor force transfer

Punitive transfers of population transfers handled by the Gulag[44] 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.

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.[45] On 11 February 1945, at the conclusion of the Yalta Conference, the United States and United Kingdom signed a Repatriation Agreement with the USSR.[46]

The interpretation of this Agreement resulted in the forcible repatriation of all Soviet citizens 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.[47]

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)[48] in Germany and occupied territories.[49][50]

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.[51][52]

Modern views

Several historians, including Russian historian Pavel Polian[53] and Lithuanian Associate Research Scholar at Yale University Violeta Davoliūtė[54] consider these mass deportations of civilians a crime against humanity. Terry Martin of Harvard University observes:

... the same principles that informed Soviet nation building could and did lead to ethnic cleansing and ethnic terror against a limited set of stigmatized nationalities, while leaving nation-building policies in place for the majority of nonstigmatized nationalities.[55]

Death toll

The number of deaths attributed to deported people living in exile is considerable. The causes for such demographic catastrophe lie in harsh climates of Siberia and Kazakhstan, disease, malnutrition, work exploitation which lasted for up to 10 hours daily as well as any kind of appropriate housing or accommodation for the deported people.

Number of deaths of people in exile 1930s—1950s
Ethnicity Estimated number of deaths References
Kulaks 1930–1931 389,521 [56]
Kulaks 1930–1937 Unknown [13]
Poles 90,000 [57]
Koreans 28,200–40,000 [58][59]
Estonians 5,400 [60]
Latvians 17,400 [60]
Lithuanians 28,000 [61]
Finns 18,800 [58]
Karachais 13,100–19,000 [62][63]
Soviet Germans 42,823–228,800 [64][62]
Kalmyks 12,600–16,000 [62][58][63]
Chechens 100,00–170,000 [63][65]
Ingush 20,300–23,000 [62][63]
Balkars 7,600–11,000 [62][58][63]
Crimean Tatars 34,300–44,000 [62][66]
Meskhetian Turks 12,859–15,000 [62][63]
TOTAL 820,903–1,115,921


Date of transfer Targeted group Approximate numbers Place of initial residence Transfer destination Stated reasons for transfer
April 1920 Cossacks, Terek Cossacks 45,000[67] North Caucasus Ukraine, northern Russian SFSR "Decossackization", stopping Russian colonisation of North Caucasus
1930–1931 Kulaks 1,679,528- 1,803,392[68] "Regions of total collectivization", most of Russian SFSR, Ukraine, other regions Northern Russian SFSR, Ural, Siberia, North Caucasus, Kazakh ASSR, Kirghiz ASSR Collectivization
1930–1937 Kulaks 15,000,000[13] "Regions of total collectivization", most of Russian SFSR, Ukraine, other regions Northern Russian SFSR, Ural, Siberia, North Caucasus, Kazakh ASSR, Kirghiz ASSR Collectivization
November–December 1932 Peasants 45,000[69] Krasnodar Krai (Russian SFSR) Northern Russia Sabotage
February–May 1935; September 1941; 1942 Ingrian Finns 420,000[70] Leningrad Oblast, Karelia (Russian SFSR) Vologda Oblast, Western Siberia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Siberia, Astrakhan Oblast; Finland
February–March 1935 Germans, Poles 412,000[69] Central and western Ukraine Eastern Ukraine
May 1936 Germans, Poles 45,000[69] Border regions of Ukraine Ukraine
July 1937 Kurds 1,325[71] Border regions of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan Kazakhstan, Kirghizia
September–October 1937 Koreans 172,000[72] Far East Northern Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan
September–October 1937 Chinese, Harbin Russians 9,000[69] Southern Far East Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan
1938 Persian Jews 6,000[73] Mary Province (Turkmenistan) Deserted areas of northern Turkmenistan
January 1938 Azeris, Persians, Kurds, Assyrians 6,000[74] Azerbaijan Kazakhstan Iranian citizenship
January 1940 – 1941 Poles, Jews, Ukrainians (including refugees from Poland) 320,000[75] Western Ukraine, western Byelorussia Northern Russian SFSR, Ural, Siberia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan
July 1940 to 1953 Estonians, Lithuanians & Latvians 203,590[76] Baltic states Siberia and Altai Krai (Russian SFSR)
September 1941 – March 1942 Germans 855,674[77] Povolzhye, the Caucasus, Crimea, Ukraine, Moscow, central Russian SFSR Kazakhstan, Siberia
August 1943 Karachais 69,267[78] Karachay–Cherkess AO, Stavropol Krai (Russian SFSR) Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, other Banditism, other
December 1943 Kalmyks 93,139[72] Kalmyk ASSR, (Russian SFSR) Kazakhstan, Siberia
February 1944 Chechens, Ingush 478,479[79] North Caucasus Kazakhstan, Kirghizia 1940-1944 insurgency in Chechnya
April 1944 Kurds, Azeris 3,000[80] Tbilisi (Georgia) Southern Georgia
May 1944 Balkars 37,406[78]–40,900[72] North Caucasus Kazakhstan, Kirghizia
May 1944 Crimean Tatars 191,014[78][72] Crimea Uzbekistan
May–June 1944 Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians, Turks 37,080
(9,620 Armenians, 12,040 Bulgarians, 15,040 Greeks[81])
Crimea Uzbekistan (?)
June 1944 Kabardins 2,000 Kabardino-Balkar ASSR, (Russian SFSR) Southern Kazakhstan Collaboration with the Nazis
July 1944 Russian True Orthodox Church members 1,000 Central Russian SFSR Siberia
November 1944 Meskhetian Turks, Kurds, Hamshenis, Pontic Greeks, Karapapaks, Lazes and other inhabitants of the border zone 115,000[72] Southwestern Georgia Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia
January 1945 "Traitors and collaborators" 2,000[82] Mineralnye Vody (Russian SFSR) Tajikistan Collaboration with the Nazis
1944–1953 Poles 1,240,000[70] Kresy region postwar Poland Removal of indigenous population from the new territory acquired by Soviet Union
1945–1950 Germans Tens of thousands Königsberg West or Middle Germany Removal of indigenous population from the new territory acquired by Soviet Union
1945–1951 Japanese, Koreans 400,000[83] Mostly from Sakhalin, Kuril Islands Siberia, Far East, North Korea, Japan Removal of indigenous population from the new territory acquired by Soviet Union
1948—1951 Azeris 100,000[84] Armenia Kura-Aras Lowland, Azerbaijan "Measures for resettlement of collective farm workers"
May–June 1949 Greeks, Armenians, Turks 57,680[85]
(including 15,485 Dashnaks)[85]
The Black Sea coast (Russian SFSR), South Caucasus Southern Kazakhstan Membership in the nationalist Dashnaktsutiun Party (Armenians), Greek or Turkish citizenship (Greeks), other
March 1951 Basmachis 2,795[85] Tajikistan Northern Kazakhstan
April 1951 Jehovah's Witnesses 8,576–9,500 [86] Mostly from Moldavia and Ukraine[87] Western Siberia Operation North
1920 to 1951 Total ~20,086,000

See also