Finnish prisoners of war in the Soviet Union

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There were two waves of the Finnish prisoners of war in the Soviet Union during World War II: POWs during the Winter War and the Continuation War. [1]

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Winter War 1939–1940 war between the Soviet Union and Finland

The Winter War was a military conflict between the Soviet Union (USSR) and Finland. It began with a Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939, three months after the outbreak of World War II, and ended three and a half months later with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940. The League of Nations deemed the attack illegal and expelled the Soviet Union from the organisation.

Continuation War 1941–1944 war by Finland and Germany against the Soviet Union

The Continuation War was a conflict fought by Finland and Nazi Germany, as co-belligerents, against the Soviet Union (USSR) from 1941 to 1944, during World War II. In Russian historiography, the war is called the Soviet–Finnish Front of the Great Patriotic War. Germany regarded its operations in the region as part of its overall war efforts on the Eastern Front and provided Finland with critical material support and military assistance.


Winter War

Before the Winter War (1939–1940), the Soviet Union established the main camp for Finnish POWs within the former monastery near Gryazovets in Vologda Oblast, Russia. The NKVD expected the war to result in many POWs and planned nine camps to handle about 25,000 men. However, over the whole of the Winter War there were only about 900 Finnish POWs, about 600 of who were placed in the Gryazivets camp. A total of 838 Finnish POWs were returned to Finland. The last party of Finns left Russia on April 20, 1940. [2]

Gryazovets Town in Vologda Oblast, Russia

Gryazovets is a town and the administrative center of Gryazovetsky District in Vologda Oblast, Russia, located on the Rzhavka River, 47 kilometers (29 mi) south of Vologda, the administrative center of the oblast. Population: 15,528 (2010 Census); 16,172 (2002 Census); 16,424 (1989 Census).

Vologda Oblast First-level administrative division of Russia

Vologda Oblast is a federal subject of Russia. Its administrative center is Vologda. Population: 1,202,444. The largest city is Cherepovets, the home of the Severstal metallurgical plant, the largest industrial enterprise in the oblast.

Russia transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia

Russia, officially the Russian Federation, is a transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and North Asia. At 17,125,200 square kilometres (6,612,100 sq mi), Russia is by far or by a considerable margin the largest country in the world by area, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area, and the ninth most populous, with about 146.77 million people as of 2019, including Crimea. About 77% of the population live in the western, European part of the country. Russia's capital, Moscow, is one of the largest cities in the world; other major cities include Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. Extending across the entirety of Northern Asia and much of Eastern Europe, Russia spans eleven time zones and incorporates a wide range of environments and landforms. From northwest to southeast, Russia shares land borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It shares maritime borders with Japan by the Sea of Okhotsk and the U.S. state of Alaska across the Bering Strait. However, Russia recognises two more countries that border it, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which are internationally recognized as parts of Georgia.

Continuation War

The number of Finnish prisoners of war during the Continuation War (1941–1944) is estimated from 2,377 to 3,500 persons.

Soviet and Russian views

According to the official Soviet statistics, Finland lost 2,377 men as prisoners of war, and their mortality rate was 17 percent. [3]

Mortality rate measure of the number of deaths in a population

Mortality rate, or death rate, is a measure of the number of deaths in a particular population, scaled to the size of that population, per unit of time. Mortality rate is typically expressed in units of deaths per 1,000 individuals per year; thus, a mortality rate of 9.5 in a population of 1,000 would mean 9.5 deaths per year in that entire population, or 0.95% out of the total. It is distinct from "morbidity", which is either the prevalence or incidence of a disease, and also from the incidence rate.

According to Russian historian Viktor Konasov, 2,476 Finns were registered by the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs), of which 1,972 were handled by POW camps with the majority handled by Camp no. 158 in Cherepovets, Vologda Oblast, and its subcamps. [2] Of all captured, 582 were from the Finnish offensive in 1941, 506 during 1942–1943 and 2,313 during the Soviet offensive of 1944.

The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, abbreviated NKVD, was the interior ministry of the Soviet Union.

Cherepovets City in Vologda Oblast, Russia

Cherepovets is a city in Vologda Oblast, Russia, located in the west of the oblast on the banks of the Sheksna River and on the shores of the Rybinsk Reservoir. As of the 2010 Census, its population was 312,310, making it the most populous city in the oblast.

Finnish historians

Finnish historians estimate the number of prisoners was around 3,500 persons, of whom five were women. The number of deceased is estimated around 1,500 persons. Approximately 2,000 persons returned home. It is estimated that the mortality rate was even 40 percent. The result is different from the Soviet statistics, where officials mainly checked only prisoners who survived to reach a prison camp. Finnish studies have tracked individuals and their fates. Most common causes of death were hunger, cold and oppressive transportation. [3]

In law, medicine, and statistics, cause of death is an official determination of conditions resulting in a human's death, which may be recorded on a death certificate. A cause of death is determined by a medical examiner.

In the beginning of capture, executions of Finnish prisoners of war were mainly done by the Soviet partisans. The partisans operated deep inside Finnish territory and they mainly executed their soldier and civilian POWs after a minor interrogation. Usually Finnish officer POWs had a chance to survive until arriving for a major interrogation at the headquarters of Soviet Karelian partisans or the Karelian Front, or quarters of the NKVD. After this, a Finnish POW had a much better chance to stay alive until the end of the war. [4]

The high mortality rate of prisoners of war had objective issues, such as huge territory losses in the beginning of the war and high number of POWs. There were shortages of food and medicine, and POWs had to work exhausting duties in labor camps. Furthermore, medical treatment was of a very low standard. However, overall the treatment of Finnish POWs was humane being war time. [5]


In 1992 a memorial monument was established at Cherepovets cemetery, where Finnish POWs were buried. [2]

See also

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  1. V. Galitsky (1997) "Finnish Prisoners of War in NKVD Camps (1939–1953)" ISBN   5-7873-0005-X (in Russian)
  2. 1 2 3 Finnish POW during the World War II, Viktor Konasov, North magazine ("Север") no. 11–12, 2002 (in Russian)
  3. 1 2 Malmi, Timo (2005). "Jatkosodan suomalaiset sotavangit". In Leskinen, Jari; Juutilainen, Antti. Jatkosodan pikkujättiläinen (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö. pp. 1022–1032. ISBN   951-0-28690-7.
  4. Nikkilä, Reijo (2002). Alava, Teuvo; Frolov, Dmitri; Nikkilä, Reijo, eds. Rukiver!: Suomalaiset sotavangit Neuvostoliitossa (in Finnish). Edita. p. 17. ISBN   951-37-3706-3.
  5. Frolov, Dmitri (2002). "Sotavankilainsäädäntö Neuvostoliitos vuosina 1939–1944". In Alava, Teuvo; Frolov, Dmitri; Nikkilä, Reijo. Rukiver!: Suomalaiset sotavangit Neuvostoliitossa (in Finnish). Edita. pp. 58–59. ISBN   951-37-3706-3.