Forced settlements in the Soviet Union

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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.

Gulag government agency in charge of the Soviet forced labor camp system

The Gulag was the government agency in charge of the Soviet forced-labor camp-system that was set up under Vladimir Lenin and reached its peak during Joseph Stalin's rule from the 1930s to the early 1950s. English-language speakers also use the word gulag to refer to any forced-labor camp in the Soviet Union, including camps which existed in post-Stalin times. The camps housed a wide range of convicts, from petty criminals to political prisoners. Large numbers were convicted by simplified procedures, such as by NKVD troikas or by other instruments of extrajudicial punishment. The Gulag is recognized by many as a major instrument of political repression in the Soviet Union.

Labor camp prison

A labor camp or work camp is a simplified detention facility where inmates are forced to engage in penal labor as a form of punishment under the criminal code. Labour camps have many common aspects with slavery and with prisons. Conditions at labor camps vary widely depending on the operators.

Political repression in the Soviet Union

Throughout the history of the Soviet Union, tens of millions of people suffered political repression, which was an instrument of the state since the October Revolution. It culminated during the Stalin era, then declined, but continued to exist during the "Khrushchev Thaw", followed by increased persecution of Soviet dissidents during the Brezhnev stagnation, and did not cease to exist until late in Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika.


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.

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, deportations of entire nationalities, labor force transfer, and organized migrations in opposite directions to fill the ethnically cleansed territories.

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.

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

Selsoviet is a shortened name for a rural council and for the area governed by such a council (soviet). The full names for the term are, in Belarusian: се́льскi Саве́т, Russian: се́льский Сове́т, Ukrainian: сільська́ ра́да. Selsoviets were the lowest level of administrative division in rural areas in the Soviet Union. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, they were preserved as a third tier of administrative-territorial division throughout Ukraine, Belarus, and some of the federal subjects of Russia.

Militsiya police force in USSR and some other countries

Militsiya, was the name of the police forces in the Soviet Union and in several Soviet bloc countries (1945–1991), as well as in the non-aligned SFR Yugoslavia of 1945–1992; the term continues in common and sometimes official usage in some of the individual former Soviet republics such as Belarus, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, as well as in the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria.

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").

Exile event by which a person is forced away from home

To be in exile means to be away from one's home, while either being explicitly refused permission to return or being threatened with imprisonment or death upon return.

Joseph Stalin Soviet leader

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was a Soviet revolutionary and politician of Georgian ethnicity. He led the Soviet Union from the mid–1920s until 1953 as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–1952) and Premier (1941–1953). While initially presiding over a collective leadership as first among equals, he ultimately consolidated enough power to become the country's de facto dictator by the 1930s. A communist ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, Stalin helped to formalise these ideas as Marxism–Leninism, while his own policies became known as Stalinism.

By administrative means was an expression in use in the Soviet Union applied to the cases when some actions that normally required a court decision were left to the decision of executive bodies (administration).

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

Siberia Geographical region in Russia

Siberia is an extensive geographical region spanning much of Eurasia and North Asia. Siberia has historically been a part of modern Russia since the 17th century.

Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic union republic of the Soviet Union

The Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic was one of the transcontinental constituent republics of the Soviet Union from 1936 to 1991 in northern Central Asia. It was created on 5 December 1936 from the Kazakh ASSR, an autonomous republic of the Russian SFSR.

Soviet Central Asia section of Central Asia formerly controlled by the Soviet Union

Soviet Central Asia refers to the section of Central Asia formerly controlled by the Soviet Union, as well as the time period of Soviet administration (1918–1991). Central Asian SSRs declared independence in 1991. In terms of area, it is nearly synonymous with Russian Turkestan, the name for the region during the Russian Empire. Soviet Central Asia went through many territorial divisions before the current borders were created in the 1920s and 1930s.

Population of the settlements

A dwelling typical to some deportees forcibly resettled to Siberia in a museum in Rumsiskes, Lithuania Rumsiskes jurta.jpg
A dwelling typical to some deportees forcibly resettled to Siberia in a museum in Rumšiškės, Lithuania

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).

Ethnic cleansing is the systematic forced removal of ethnic, racial and/or religious groups from a given territory by a more powerful ethnic group, often with the intent of making it ethnically homogeneous. The forces applied may be various forms of forced migration, intimidation, as well as genocide and genocidal rape.

Fifth column group of people who undermine a larger group

A fifth column is any group of people who undermine a larger group from within, usually in favour of an enemy group or nation. The activities of a fifth column can be overt or clandestine. Forces gathered in secret can mobilize openly to assist an external attack. This term is also extended to organised actions by military personnel. Clandestine fifth column activities can involve acts of sabotage, disinformation, or espionage executed within defense lines by secret sympathizers with an external force.

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 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. See Forced labor of Germans in the Soviet Union for details.

After capturing East Prussia in 1945, virtually all of its pre-war population of three million was expelled to Germany. 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 "On criminal culpability for evasion from socially useful work and for social parasitism in the 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 corvée ( 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 the 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, Moldavia, and western parts of Byelorussia 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]

Iranians and Assyrians

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 Georgia, a population of some 4,776 persons, and in the same year thousands of Christian ethnic Assyrians were deported from Armenia and Georgia to Kazakhstan. [2]

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,[ citation needed ] 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.[ citation needed ] In particular, data on 1 January 1953 show "only" 2,753,356 "deported and special settlers".[ citation needed ] Also, Dmitri Volkogonov, in his book about Stalin, quoted an MVD document that reports 2,572,829 on 1 January 1950.[ citation needed ]

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

Related Research Articles

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NKVD troika or Special troika, in Soviet history, were the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs of three persons who issued sentences to people after simplified, speedy investigations and without a public and fair trial. The three members were judge and jury, though they themselves did not carry out the sentences they dealt. These commissions were employed as instruments of extrajudicial punishment introduced to supplement the Soviet legal system with a means for quick and secret execution or imprisonment. It began as an institution of the Cheka, then later became prominent again in the NKVD, when it was used during the Great Purge to execute many hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens. Defendants in the Troika’s proceeding were typically not entitled to legal aid or the presumption of innocence. Convictions usually did not include information about actual incriminating evidence and basically contained only information about indictment and sentencing. The outcome of such trials was often determined before it even began due to targeted numbers of citizens to be executed or imprisoned in Gulag prison camps.

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Adoption of plans for the mass repressions against the "social base" of the potential aggressors, start of purging the "opposition" from the "elites".
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Karlag was one of the largest Gulag labor camps, located in Karaganda Oblast, Kazakh SSR, USSR. It was established in 1931 during the period of settlement of remote areas of greater USSR and its' ethnic republics. Cheap labor was in high demand for these purposes. Hundreds of thousands of inmates were creating wealth for the nation for a mere bowl of soup a day. People were arrested and transported from the West of the Aral Mountains to the gigantic labor camp in Central Kazakhstan spanning from Akmola Region in the North to the Chu River in the South. Later, after WWII, another wave of "enemies of the people" poured in from newly added territories. These were immigrants and Soviet POW's captured by Hitler's army and later "liberated" by the Soviet Army. An enormous part of Karlag inmates were political prisoners - "enemies of the people" who were victims of the Article 58 RSFSR. Over a 1,000,000 inmates served in total in Karlag over its history.

In the Soviet Union of World War II, NKVD labor columns were militarized labor formations created from certain categories of population, both fully rightful Soviet citizens, as well as categories of limited civil rights. They were primarily from the people of ethnicities associated with the countries that fought against the Soviet Union. The vast majority of them were ethnic Germans. In later literature these formations were informally referred to as "labor army", in an analogy with Soviet Labor armies of 1920-1921, although this term was not used in official Soviet documents in reference to 1941-1946.

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Estimates of the number of deaths attributable to Joseph Stalin vary widely. Some scholars assert that record-keeping of the executions of political prisoners and ethnic minorities are neither reliable nor complete, others contend archival materials contain irrefutable data far superior to sources utilized prior to 1991, such as statements from emigres and other informants. Those historians working after the Soviet Union's dissolution have estimated victim totals ranging from approximately 3 million to nearly 9 million. Some scholars still assert that the death toll could be in the tens of millions.

Deportation of the Meskhetian Turks

The Deportation of the Meskhetian Turks was the forced transfer by the Soviet government of the entire Meskhetian Turk population from the Meskheti region of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic to Central Asia on 14 November 1944. During the deportation, between 92,307 and 94,955 Meskhetian Turks were forcibly removed from 212 villages. They were packed into cattle wagons and mostly sent to the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. Members of other ethnic groups were also deported during the operation, including Kurds and Hemshils, bringing the total to approximately 115,000 evicted people. They were placed in special settlements where they were assigned to forced labor. The harsh conditions caused between 12,589 and 14,895 deaths.


  1. "Christian Believers Were Persecuted by All Totalitarian Regimes" Prava Lyudini ("Rights of a Person"), the newspaper of a Ukrainian human rights organization, Kharkiv, December 2001 (in Russian)
  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
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