Deportations of Ukrainians in the 1920s

The deportation history of Ukrainians to Russia began with the colonization of the Cossack lands in the late 18th century and lasts to this day. There were several stages associated with changes in the governing policies of the metropolis, Moscow, but the process method remains unchanged. This article will focus on the beginning of active eviction of Ukrainians in the 20th century, its causes, mechanisms, and rhetoric.

The deportation of Ukrainians during the Soviet Union era was a consistent criminal instrument of the state policy. What was meant is the forced displacement of groups of people to remote areas of the USSR, to «special settlements» [1]. Such a process of eviction was carried out in accordance with an administrative or court decision, accompanied by terror. In the context of the USSR, deportation was one of the forms of political repression that the Communist Party regime actively used in the state governance [2, p. 110]. 

Professor Vasylenko M.P.

Professor Vasylenko M.P.
(from the T.S. scientific soc. encyclopedia [9])

Such targeted activities can be characterized by the following features:

  • administrative character. The decision on deportation was partly extrajudicial, taken by the authorities and not as a result of proving a deportee’s guilt;
  • collective aspect. Deportation was mostly directed not at an individual, but at a group of people;
  • spatial dimension. Deportation was carried out with the aim of excluding numerous stratum from their usual places of residence and forcibly moving them to places of eviction located at a great distance without the possibility of returning to their homeland [3, p. 5].

The Soviet government used mass deportations as a mechanism of punishment to control the state and societies. In fact, these were a whole set of actions that can be characterized as deportation operations. In particular,  the continuous process of the eviction of a clearly fixed contingent, carried out within a specific time frame and a specially selected territory, with the use of force or under the threat of their use as a result of disobedience. As a rule, such actions were conducted according to a precise plan of the Soviet authorities, enshrined in relevant laws, orders, directives, and regulations [3, p. 11]. 

In the 1920s, the main factor of the Soviet deportation operations was the socio-ethnic feature of the deportees. The party officials, first, aimed to evict the intelligentsia of the pre-revolutionary generation, because it stood in the way of establishing political control over society. Specifically, in Ukraine, the main pressure was put on scientists as the intellectual discourse should have been at the service of the ideology proclaimed by the Bolsheviks. One of the «soft» forms of «re-education» of scientists was dismissal, prohibition to engage in research and artistic activities, to organize scientific societies, and to publish researches [4, p. 8]. The initial intent was the isolation from active work and influence on the consciousness and intellectual formation of the nation.

On June 1, 1922, the GPU bodies informed the Politburo of the Central Committee of the RCP (b) about the formation of «anti-Soviet groups among the intelligentsia», linking their emergence with the proclamation and implementation of NEP. To the authorities, it seemed that the beginning of a new economic policy and the easing of repression contributed to an increase in the number of «anti-Soviet elements» [5, p. 409]. They considered the higher education institutions, public associations, press, publishing houses, cooperatives, religious organizations, and trade institutions the centers of anti-Soviet intelligentsia. Each of these establishments were monitored. In an attempt to prevent the tendency of «autonomy of higher education», on November 23, 1922, the GPU began to organize a network of informers among the professors and students of all faculties. [6, c. 135]. The educators and learners were ordered to regularly report on the political sentiments of professors and students, on the creation of their non-partisan societies (scientific circles, clubs), illegal associations, on the «political physiognomy of professors», and on their statements about the «autonomy of higher education».

This campaign of overtly control and isolation of professors and students who disagreed with the authorities paved the route to mass arrests and further deportation processes. On July 16, 1922, Vladimir Lenin, the ideologist and initiator of the selective deportation of the intelligentsia, sent a letter to the Central Committee of the RCP (b), in which he insisted on the decisive “eradication of the remnants of the Mensheviks”, Socialist Revolutionaries, and Jens, and demanded “to expel all of them”, using such characteristics and assessments towards them as ”cunning enemy”, “fierce enemies of Bolshevism”, “ruthless traitor” [6, p. 87]. 

Identifying the “anti-Soviet intelligentsia” was an elementary matter for the Bolsheviks because they had a network of “sexots” (snitches/informers) in educational institutions. The deportation itself was much more difficult to succeed. The most reliable was to relocate intelligentsia abroad, but to do this authorities had to spend money on visas and transportation tickets. So they tried to make scientists leave the USSR on their own. The Bolsheviks sent them special questionnaires in German, applications  for a visa and travel documents, which were mandatory to fill out, thus forcing them to pay for their own deportation abroad [5, p. 410]. 

Arrests of intellectuals in Ukraine began in July 1922, when several Kharkiv and Kyiv doctors were detained. Soon, the same year, on August 3, the Central Committee of the CP (b) U approved a full list of university professors who were  to be deported. It included teachers from Kharkiv, Odesa, Kyiv and Podillia — 77 people in total. In September 1922, another 56 people were arrested, including 10 in Kharkiv, 9 in Ekaterinoslav, 17 in Odesa, and 20 in Kyiv. Among the prominent scientists imprisoned that summer were M. Ptukha (demographer), O. Korchak-Chepurkivsky (hygienist, epidemiologist), V/ Chekhivsky (Prime Minister of the Ukrainian People’s Republic) and others. First they were arrested and then sent to unknown places.

Trying to preserve the scientific potential, the UPR Academy did everything possible to save its employees from imprisonment and further deportation. For this, the following procedure was introduced: the General Assembly of UPR Academy got notifications about each case of its employees’ arrest and decided upon petitioning to the authorities. Then a special protocol was signed and letters were sent to the appropriate officials. Quite often these measures were successful [7].


Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR Korchak-Chepurkivskyi O.V.

Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR Korchak-Chepurkivskyi O.V. (from the collection of Mykhajlo Hrushevsky e-archive [8])

The basis of the intellectual potential of Ukrainian society, its real elite, was subject to the first wave of deportation processes in the USSR. However, in a few months from the beginning of the campaign, on November 24, 1922, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CP (b) U recognized such actions as inexpedient. After the release from arrest, some scientists managed to go abroad on their own to survive and continue working. Others were forcibly deported from the USSR. Those professors who remained in the country were subjected to political oversight. Despite the pressure, the intelligentsia (university professors and ordinary teachers) took an active part in the peasants’ insurgent groups in the early 20s. The Soviet authorities, especially its punitive bodies, resorted to regular political purges to prevent this tandem of intellectuals and peasants “co-working”. This can be proved on the basis of the «exposure» of «The Kyiv Regional Action Center» organization in the summer of 1923, the trial on whose members ended only in March-April 1924. Dozens of people were put on tribunal, including such famous historians as M. Vasylenko and P. Smirnov. Judging by archival documents on the arrests of Ukrainian intellectuals in September 1922, including Kyiv professors from the Medical Institute and the reorganized Imperial University of St. Vladimir (now — Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv), they were considered not «imprisoned» but «isolated». At that time, such an assessment met the main objectives of Lenin’s purge of anti-Soviet intelligentsia, and after the leader’s death, his heirs continued his work, but repressed more «seriously and for a long time» [5, p. 411].

Another social stratum which underwent deportation in the 1920s were Ukrainians living in the border territories of the Ukrainian and Russian Soviet republics. The government aimed to «settle» the state borders between the Ukrainian SSR and the RSFSR. At that time, most of the lands that were annexed to Soviet Russia were Ukrainian by their ethnic composition. In order to Russify and change the ethnic landscape in these territories, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were deported from the lands of Starodubsk, Belgorod, Kursk, Orel, and Don regions (now the territory of the Russian Federation) to the east of uninhabited lands – to the Green, Malinovy, and Gray Wedges. The first is located in the Far East between the Amur River and the Pacific Ocean, the second – in  Kuban, and the third – in Southwestern Siberia [10].  

The evidence of the Ukrainian nationality of deportees from the border areas between the Ukrainian SSR and the RSFSR is proved by the following documents. On September 21, 1924, the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Ukrainian SSR received a letter expressing the dissatisfaction of the Ukrainian people with the accession of Shakhtyn and Taganrog districts (now Rostov region, Russia) to Soviet Russia. The letter emphasized that in these districts the majority of the population was Ukrainian, and therefore it would be more sane to give these lands to the Ukrainian SSR. There were also mentioned the districts of Kursk and Voronezh regions, where ethnic Ukrainians lived as well. The author of the letter disregarded the policy of forced Russification of the mentioned lands and emphasized that the local population was against joining Soviet Russia [11, p. 100]. Moreover, there were also cases, in particular, from the Kursk region, where residents of the Zaoleshenka settlement at a community meeting clearly declared their desire to be part of Ukraine. Their main argument was that more than 5,000 inhabitants of this settlement were «one hundred percent ethnic Ukrainians», at the same time, their economic relations were built on the connection with the cities of Kharkiv and Sumy, which remained a part of the Ukrainian SSR.

The growing level of national self-consciousness and the Ukrainian nation’s inherent «freedom-loving» attitude towards its own self-determination both in intellectual circles and among the peasantry increasingly became an «uncompromising obstacle» in the context of Russification and Sovietization of the people in the Soviet Union. In this regard, it was in the 1920s that the number of personnel in the punitive bodies of the ODPU-NKVD was scaled up. At that time, a system of concentration camps was created for deported and repressed people, ideologically unacceptable to the Soviet authorities, who were defined as «socially harmful» individuals. On March 28, 1924, the regulation on the rights of the ODPU regarding administrative evictions, exiles and imprisonment in concentration camps was approved. According to it, the number of «signs» of social danger of the USSR citizens significantly increased [12, p. 15]. In October 1926, the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of the Ukrainian SSR by their respective decrees enshrined the right of the ODPU bodies to initiate criminal cases, conduct inquiries and preliminary investigations. Over time, the «rights» of these bodies were even more expanded, in particular, they were allowed to confiscate the property of «administratively expelled» individuals. Without stopping there, the Soviet repressive machine tried to close the «criminal circle» of the deportation process, namely – to prevent the return of forcibly evicted citizens to their homeland. Thus, from February 1928, people who had served their sentences in concentration camps were subjected to further exile, and those whose term of exile had expired were deprived of the right to return home. [Ibid].

Overall, the deportations of Ukrainians in the 1920s began the formation of the Soviet criminal repressive machine, which aimed at destroying ethnic and cultural differences by mass evictions. At first,  this terror was focused on the elimination of the intellectual elites so that the national self-consciousness did not have its own scientific, educational and cultural personnel, who through their activities shaped the prospects of Ukrainian culture and sciences.

Then, the second victim of this repressive “Moloch” in the 1920s were ethnic Ukrainian peasants from the borderlands with the Russian SSR. Their conscious national self-positioning and successful agricultural organization was an obstacle for the party authorities in building a “Soviet state”, the central concept of which was the idea of “one people”, and the main tool of which was deportation. From the very beginning, the policy of this system applied an authoritarian method of governance from the center (the capital of the USSR — Moscow), disregarding any national, cultural and ideological peculiarities of the occupied territories and trying to equalize all colonized societies. In fact, the 1920s was the time when the Stalinist  state policy began to be implemented and led to the practical restoration of Russian imperialism , which was veiled by the ideological doctrine of “friendship of peoples” [16, p. 65].


Chronology of deportation processes in the 1920s:

October 16, 1922 — the Special Commission under the NKVD of the USSR on deportation to forced labor camps was established.

August 10, 1922 — the decree of the Central Executive Committee “on administrative expulsion” gave the right to expel all suspected persons to separate regions of the USSR.

March 28, 1924 — «Regulations on the rights of the ODPU in terms of administrative expulsions, exile and imprisonment in concentration camps» were approved.

April 4, 1925 — ODPU received the right to prohibit “socially harmful” persons to reside in certain areas.

1925-1928 — the so-called Trilateral Commission of the Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian Socialist Republics met to redistribute borders.

June 12, 1929 — Resolution «On the exile of particularly malicious criminals».



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