Forced settlements in the Soviet Union

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

Forced settlements in the Soviet Union took several forms. Though the most notorious was the Gulag labor camp system of penal labor, resettling of entire categories of population was another method of political repression implemented by the Soviet Union. At the same time, involuntary settlement played a role in the colonization of remote areas of the Soviet Union. This role was specifically mentioned in the first Soviet decrees about involuntary labor camps.

Population transfer in the Soviet Union that led to the creation of these settlements was performed in a series of operations organized according to social and national criteria of the deported.

Compared to the Gulag camps, the involuntary settlements had the appearance of "normal" settlements: people lived in families, and there was more freedom of movement; however, that was only permitted within a specified area. All settlers were overseen by the NKVD (под надзором НКВД): once a month a person had to visit a local law enforcement office at a selsoviet in rural areas or at a militsiya department in urban settlements.

Exile settlements

Exile settlements (ссыльное поселение, ssylnoye poselenie) were a kind of internal exile. The system of political and administrative exile existed in Imperial Russia as well. The most notable category of exile settlers in the Soviet Union (ссыльнопоселенцы, ssylnoposelentsy) were the whole nationalities resettled during Joseph Stalin's rule (1928–1953). At various times, a number of other terms were used for this category: special settlement (спецпоселение), special resettlement (спецпереселение), and administrative exile (административная высылка, a term which refers to an extrajudicial way of deciding the fates of people "by administrative means").

Exiles were sent to remote areas of the Soviet Union: Siberia, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and the Russian Far East.

Population of the settlements

The major source of the population in exile settlements were victims of what is now called ethnic cleansing. The Soviet government feared that people of certain nationalities would act as "fifth column" subversives during the expected war, and took drastic measures to prevent this perceived threat. The deported were sent to prisons, labor camps, exile settlements, and "supervised residence" (residence in usual settlements, but under the monitoring of the NKVD).

Deportations from border territories in 1939–1941

Several waves of forced resettlement occurred from the territories on the Western borders. These territories included Murmansk Oblast and the recently annexed lands invaded and occupied by the Soviets under the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany; parts of Poland and Romania (about 20,000 people: the men were deported to Siberia, while the women and children to Kazakhstan); and the Baltic States.

In territories annexed from Poland (the Kresy territories and the Białystok Voivodeship), the initial wave of repression of 1939 was in a way a continuation of the Polish operation of the NKVD and was rationalized as removal of "social enemies", or "enemies of the people": military, police and administrative personnel, large landowners, industrialists, and merchants. They were usually sentenced to 8–20 years of labor camps. In addition, settlers or osadniks as well as foresters and railroad workers were forcibly removed. Massive deportations of the Polish population into remote areas of the Soviet Union took place in 1940–1941. Estimates of the total number of deported Poles vary between 400,000 and 1.7 million people, including prisoners of war.

On 23 June 1940 Lavrenty Beria, head of the NKVD, ordered the Murmansk Oblast to be cleansed of "foreign nationals", both Scandinavians and all other nationalities. People of Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian (see also "Kola Norwegians") ethnicities were moved to the Karelo-Finnish SSR. Germans, Koreans, Chinese, and others were moved to Altay.

Deportations of "exiled settlers" from the Baltic States (Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians) and the annexed part of Romania (Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina) were carried out in May–June 1941.

In 1941, after the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union forced Stalin to resume relations with the Polish Allied government, all of Poland's surviving citizens[quantify] still in captivity were "amnestied" and freed from "special settlement" (but still barred from border territories).

Those deportations are commemorated by monuments such as Monument to the Fallen and Murdered in the East.

"Preventive" deportations of nationalities in 1941–1942

These deportations concerned Soviet citizens of "enemy nationality". The affected were Volga Germans, Finns, Romanians, Italians, and Greeks. At the end of this period Crimean Tatars were included in this wave of deportation.

"Punitive" deportations of nationalities in 1943–1944

These deportations concerned ethnicities declared guilty of cooperation with Nazi occupants: a number of peoples of North Caucasus and Crimea: Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, Meskhetian Turks, Crimean Tatars, and Crimean Bolgars, as well as Kalmyks.

Deportations of Germans from the occupied territories in 1944–1945

The Red Army occupation led to the deportation to Siberia of more than 200,000 ethnic Germans of Romania (around 75,000 Transylvanian Saxons), Hungary and Yugoslavia. Most of them died in prison camps. See Forced labor of Germans in the Soviet Union for details.

East Prussia

After capturing East Prussia in 1945, virtually all of its pre-war population of three million was expelled to Germany (which was destroyed by war and crowded with refugees, but still a better place to live than Siberia). The depopulated area was then settled with people from the western parts of the Soviet Union, mainly ethnic Russians.

East Prussia, now known as the Kaliningrad Oblast now has a population of about a million. Kaliningrad is now home to about 7,000 Germans, though many of them are Volga Germans, or other ethnic Germans from similar parts of the former Soviet Union.

Post-war deportations

Deportations after the end of World War II were not particularly differentiated or classified by "NKVD operations". The affected were people from the territories that were under the administration of the Axis Powers: family members of persons accused of loyalty to the Axis administration and of persons who continued resistance to Soviet power, which was classified as "banditism". A significant number[quantify] of former Ostarbeiters were "filtered" into exile as well. "Cleansing" of the annexed territories continued until the early 1950s. In July 1949, a further 35,000 were deported from Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, accused of being kulaks or collaborating with the wartime Romanian administration.


The term ukaznik derives from the Russian term "ukaz" that means "decree". It applies to those convicted according to various Soviet ukazes, but the most common usage refers to a series of decrees related to what was later formalized in Soviet law as parasitism, or evasion from socially-useful work. Among the first of these was the decree of 2 June 1942 "About the Criminal Answerability for Evasion from Socially Useful Work and for Antisocial Parasitic Way of Life in Agricultural Sector" (Об ответственности за уклонение от общественно полезного труда и за ведение антиобщественного паразитического образа жизни в сельском хозяйстве). It was usually applied to kolkhozniks who failed to carry out their work quota (trudodni, "labour-days"). The term of exile was 8 years. During 1948–1952 33,266 special settlers – "ukazniks" were registered. Unlike other exile settler categories, children of these exiles were not subject to the Decree.

Religious persecution

A number of religious groups, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses (свидетели иеговы), True Orthodox Church (истинно-православные христиане), Inochentism (иннокентьевцы) and True and Free Seventh-day Adventists (адвентисты-реформисты) were persecuted by the Soviet Union.[citation needed] In particular, members of these groups refused to join the Young Pioneers, the Komsomol, or to serve in Soviet Army. Usually members of these groups and especially influential members were subject to criminal law and treated on a case-by-case basis. However, on 3 March 1951, the USSR Council of Ministers issued a decree, "On Expulsion of Active Participants of the anti-Soviet Illegal Sect of Jehovists and their Family Members" (Постановление Совета Министров СССР о выселении активных участников антисоветской нелегальной секты иеговистов и членов их семей №1290-467 от 3 марта 1951 года). According to this decree, about 9,400 Jehovah's Witnesses, including about 4,000 children[citation needed], were resettled from the Baltic States, Moldova, and western parts of Belarus and Ukraine to Siberia in 1951, an event known as "Operation North".

Only in September 1965, a decree of the Presidium of the USSR Council of Ministers canceled the "special settlement" restriction for members of these religious groups.[1]

Azerbaijanis from the Armenian SSR

By the decree of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, No 4083, of 23 December 1947 [1], from 100,000 up to 150,000[2] Azerbaijanis in the Armenian SSR became subject to a "voluntary resettlement"[3] to Azerbaijan.[4]


The above are the major, most populous categories of exile settlers. There were a number of smaller categories. They were small in the scale of the whole Soviet Union, but rather significant in terms of the affected categories of population. For example, in 1950 all Iranians, with the exception of persons of Armenian ethnicity, were resettled from the Georgian SSR, a population of some 4,776 persons.

Labor settlements

Labor settlements (трудопоселение, trudoposelenie) were a method of internal exile that used settlers for obligatory labor. The main category of "labor settlers" (трудопоселенцы, trudoposelentsy) were kulaks and members of their families deported in 1930s before the Great Purge. Labor settlements were under the management of the Gulag, but they must not be confused with labor camps.

The first official document that decreed wide-scale "dekulakization" was a joint decree of Central Executive Committee and Sovnarkom on 1 February 1930. Initially families of kulaks were deported into remote areas "for special settlement" without particular care about their occupation. In 1931–1932 the problems of dekulakization and territorial planning of the exile settlement were handled by a special Politburo commission known as the Andreev-Rudzutak Commission (комиссия Андреева-Рудзутака), named after Andrey Andreyevich Andreyev and Yan Rudzutak. The plan to achieve goals like exploitation of natural resources and the colonization of remote areas with "special settlements" instead of labor camps was dropped after the revelation of the Nazino affair in 1933; subsequently the Gulag system was expanded.

The notions of "labor settlement"/"labor settlers" were introduced in 1934 and were in official use until 1945. Since 1945 the terminology was unified, and exiled kulaks were documented as "special resettlers – kulaks".

Free settlements

Free settlements (вольное поселение, volnoye poselenie) were for persons released from the confines of labor camps "for free settlement" before their term expiration, as well as for those who served the full term, but remained restricted in their choice of place of residence. These people were known as free settlers (вольнопоселенцы, volnoposelentsy).

The term was in use earlier, in Imperial Russia, in two meanings: free settlement of peasants or cossacks (in the sense of being free from serfdom) and non-confined exile settlement (e.g., after serving a katorga term).

In the Soviet Union, a decree of Sovnarkom of 1929 about labor camps said, in part:

"For gradual colonization of the regions where concentration camps are to be established, suggest the OGPU and Narkomat of Justice to urgently plan activities based on the following principles: (1) <to transfer the convicts of good behavior to free settlement ahead of term> (2) <to leave the convicts served full term but restricted in residence, for settlement and supply them with land> (3) <to allow the settlement of released convicts volunteered to stay>".

The "free settlers" of the first category were often required to do the work assigned to the corresponding labor camp or some other obligatory work. Later, people could be assigned for "free settlement" in other places as well, even in towns, with obligatory work wherever a workforce was required.

Population statistics

For a long time the numbers of people prosecuted in the Soviet Union were based on various estimates, counted in tens of millions and varied by a wide margin. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union the researchers gained access to the archives of the NKVD. The revealed numbers point rather to lower numbers of the estimate range. In particular, data on 1 January 1953, show "only" 2,753,356 "deported and special settlers". Also, Dmitri Volkogonov in his book about Stalin quoted an MVD document that reports 2,572,829 on 1 January 1950.

Olga Shatunovskaya, a member of a special commission during the 1960s appointed by Khrushchev, has concluded in her report that "from January 1, 1935 to June 22, 1941, 19,840,000 enemies of the people were arrested. Of these, 7,000,000 were shot in prison, and a majority of the others died in camp." These figures were also found in the papers of Politburo member Anastas Mikoyan. Historian Dmitri Volkogonov, head of a special Russian parliamentary commission, citing KGB documents available after the fall of the USSR concluded that "from 1929 to 1952, 21.5 million [Soviet] people were repressed. Of these a third (7,166,666) were shot, the rest sentenced to imprisonment, where many also died."[citation needed]

See also


  1. "Christan Believers Were Persecuted by All Totalitarian Regimes" Prava Lyudini ("Rights of a Person"), the newspaper of a Ukrainian human rights organization, Kharkiv, December 2001 (Russian)
  2. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, written declaration, The forced mass deportation of Azerbaijanis from Armenia (1948–1953 and 1988).
  3. Deportation of 1948–1953.
  4. Armenia: Political and Ethnic Boundaries 1878–1948 by Anita L. P. Burdett (ed.) ISBN 1-85207-955-X
  1. Павел Полян, Не по своей воле... (Pavel Polian, Against Their Will... A History and Geography of Forced Migrations in the USSR), ОГИ Мемориал, Moscow, 2001, ISBN 5-94282-007-4
  2. V.N. Zemskov, Inmates, Special Settlers, Exile Settlers, Exiled and Evicted (Statistical-Geographical Aspect). In: History of the USSR, 1991, no.5, pp. 151–165. (in Russian)
  3. Ioniţoiu, Cicerone, Genocidul din România, Repere în procesul comunismului (in Romanian)
  4. International Socialism Journal, "Forced migration in 20th century Balkans", 1995
  5. Lynne Viola, The Unknown Gulag: The Lost World of Stalin's Special Settlements, Oxford University Press (2007) ISBN 0-19-518769-5