Victims’ Testimonies of the Soviet Forcible Deportations

The Soviet forcible mass deportations caused a demographic crisis and a national tragedy in the temporarily occupied countries — Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Poland. Although each wave of forcible deportation in the period from the 1920s to the 1950s targeted different ethnic or social groups, they all bear the same features, characteristic of the Soviet governmental mechanisms.

The communist punitive authorities sought various reasons to justify such crimes against humanity as forcible deportation. One of them was an ethnic factor, as in the case of ethnic Germans, who were accused of supporting fascism. Their eviction from Ukraine led to a forced modification of the ethnic composition of the Bessarabia region and many settlements in Volyn, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia regions, where German settlements ceased to exist. According to statistics, the number of Germans in Ukraine decreased almost tenfold in the first half of the 20th century — from more than 390,000 to 38,000 people [1]. Or, as in the case of ethnic Poles (Polish siege victims), who lived in the West of Ukraine and were deported for ties with the Polish army fighting against Bolshevism in 1920.

Another way of justifying the forcible deportation of people from Soviet occupied territories was the socio-political factor. If a person or a group of people belonged to a certain social stratum (intellectuals, wealthy villagers, clergy, national-patriotic movements) — they were deported to remote regions of the USSR — Siberia and the Far East — without any actual possibility of returning.

Different sources estimate that the Soviet deportation processes in Ukraine, the Baltics, and Poland targeted about 6 million victims [2]. However, behind these large-scale figures are human lives and tragedies of entire families and nations. In this article, we will draw upon the testimonies of victims of the Soviet deportation processes, of real people who went through this ordeal. 

The dekulakisation policy of the Soviet government in the 1930s and the subsequent eviction of wealthy peasants was one of the first deportation processes on the territory of Ukraine. Vira Baran (born in 1928) recalls the struggles of her family at that time: “My father was deported to the Far East in 1933, my grandmother and my aunt’s family were taken to the Urals. They were kicked out of their home, and together with two other families, they — mother, two daughters, grandmother and her sister — were huddled in someone else’s house on a farm in the Urals. The father of that family was also taken away as a kulak, and his family disowned him, so they could stay in their house” [3].

Ivan Diachok, a villager from Petevchytsi, Lviv region, recalls the dekulakisation in the West of Ukraine in 1939–1940: “Repressions affected our village as well. Some families were deported… Wealthy villagers were dekulakised and their families were deported. In the neighbouring village (Seredpiltsi), the entire tik (a place for grinding and drying grain) of wealthy villagers was burned, and all family members were sent from the village to Siberia” [4].

Dekulakisation of a peasant P. Masyuk. Udachne village, Donetsk region. 1934.
Photo from the funds: Central State Film and Photo Archive of Ukraine named after H.S. Pshenychnyy [5].

As noted above, the Soviet repressive authorities repressed not only Ukrainians, but also ethnic Poles, Germans and other peoples. Thus, ethnic Pole Maria Tarnawska recalls the deportation from the West of Ukraine: “It was 10.02.1940. My mother baked bread, and at dawn two pairs of sledges with drivers arrived: two Ukrainians and two NKVDists. At first, they announced the verdict (translated into Ukrainian) that we were some kind of enemies and gave us two hours to prepare. But it was winter, we had nothing to wear, and my younger brothers and sisters didn’t even have shoes, so they took what we had and put it in feathers and pillows… We were taken to Trembovlia (Ternopil region), loaded into freight cars with bunks, one family per bunk. There was a hole in the floor that served as a toilet. There were also two cast-iron stoves, and at the stations we were given coal and firewood, water and food, even bread” [6].

Yevheniia Smolnytska and her family were also deported from the West of Ukraine. She recalls: “Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, on 10 February 1940, at night, NKVD officers and Russian soldiers entered our house. They gave us an hour to pack and loaded us onto a sled. On the way, they stopped the sled near the house of the second owner of the grove, who lived nearby, and together they took us to the railway station in Baranovychy. There were trains at the station, and there were already many people in the carriages. The doors of the carriages were still open. My mother heard her younger sister’s voice and ran to the carriage, but a soldier closed the door. She never saw her sister again” [6].

“That year’s winter was harsh… — told Alfreda Ferschke in her testimony. — 30-degree frosts held this troubled land down, and the night of 10 February 1940 left a mark on my psyche and personality for life… The morning was already cold, the snow creaking and dead silent. No one said anything. Even the guards did not speak to us. That night, sledges, and cars came, they transported all the military prisoners from the Podryże colony and other colonies in Volyn. On the way, a woman gave us a cup of hot milk, it was the last cup of milk after a break of six years… Under escort, we were loaded into wagons, there were already many people we did not know. There were plank bunks on both sides of the carriage. In the middle there was an iron stove with a pipe out, in the corner there was a hole in the floor (it was a toilet). There were two windows on both sides of the carriage. We were assigned seats upstairs. There were already other families there, the carriage was cramped, dark and cold. Facing such a gloomy reality was terrifying, I was terrified of the darkness and everything around me… After the carriage was loaded, we heard the creak of the sliding door, which was fixed with an iron rod and locked. The train was moving so fast that some of us fell out of our beds. The wheels of the wagon were knocking rhythmically, it was already dark, and someone was chanting: ‘Dear mother, defender of people’ and everyone was singing. It was suffocating, singing mixed with crying. Our parents held us in their arms and cried too. No one knew where we were being taken, but they assumed it was to Siberia [6].”


Deported Polish children in Siberia, 1940. Alfreda Ferschke is marked in the circle.
Photo from the Alfreda Ferschke archive.[6].

It is noteworthy that even despite the active hostilities of the Soviet-German war, the communist authorities continued to carry out deportations. It is also notable that the main enemy in this regard was ethnic Germans living in the Soviet Union. Thus, in July–August 1941, they were collectively accused of aiding the Nazis and forcible deported to Siberia and Central Asia. The following testimonies about these events of 1941-1946 have been preserved:

Vira Kovaleva (Strom), the daughter of the deportee, recalls: “Deportations were already in progress in Crimea. On that day, my mother’s family left Kurman-Kemelcha (now Krasnogvardeiske) in a one-and-a-half (Soviet car), among hundreds of other Germans. At first, they were sent to Transcaucasia, the so-called Ordzhonikidze Krai (now Stavropol Krai, Russia). They lived there for some time, and then, in November 1941, they were sent to Northern Kazakhstan” [7].

Ewald Schultz, born in 1937, ethnic German, recalls that his family was deported from Kharkiv oblast to the Prisnogorsk district of the Kustanay oblast of the Kazakh SSR in 1942. “My father came home from work from his shift. He worked as a carpenter… He came to my cradle and looked at me. Most likely, he already knew something. As my mother said, he shed a few tears and then held me in his arms. Soon, a ‘voronok’ (a vehicle of the USSR security forces) arrived, and he was taken away. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember him and I don’t have a single photo of him” [7].

Elvira Pleska (Zebold), the daughter of the repressed man, told the story: “They took the whole family unexpectedly. They gave us very little time to gather. Even after deportation, in general, Germans were often used in hazardous industries. Although my parents worked hard, they were treated awfully, as enemies of the people, and they ate very poorly.”


One of the wagons in which deported Germans living in the USSR were transported.
Photo source: NV New Voice [8].

Despite huge demographic losses in World War II and in the postwar period, the Soviet regime continued to carry out mass deportations. In particular, upon reoccupying the West of Ukraine, the Soviets launched Operation “West” in 1947, during which about 78,000 people were deported for supporting the Ukrainian national resistance [9].

Anna Pidhirna recalls: “In 1945, people, who sympathized with me, told me that the NGB were after me, and I went into hiding. At that time, I secretly got married to Osyp Butryn, and later we were forced to hide under false names. My husband was actively fighting against the occupiers in the underground. I helped him as much as I could… Two of my husband’s brothers died in this unequal struggle against the Soviets… My husband and I continued to fight, but on 4 July 1952, my husband was arrested, and the next day, I was arrested. Our five-year-old daughter Zoryana was sent to an orphanage in Bryukhovychi, and my husband and I were sent to a prison on Lonskoho Street… There we were tortured and abused… In October, the tribunal of the Prykarpattia Military District announced our sentence: I was sentenced to 30 years of exile in Siberia, to a camp in Vorkuta, and my husband was sentenced to death by hanging [10].”

A wave of mass post-war deportations by the Soviet moloch also swept through the Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. For example, we find victims accounts of Operation “Priboi”, a deportation in 1949 during which 94,779 people were deported [11].

Tiina Margus (Liias) recalls: “1949 was the most terrible year. I remember my father was in the city before the deportation. He was declared a kulak… When he returned from the city, he was asked not to come home for a few days because he might be deported… That night he did not come home, and meanwhile armed men came to our yard. When my father returned, they gave us half an hour to get ready, put us on a cart and took us away. Then we were put on the train. My father was looking out the window of the carriage, thinking that maybe we were going to Kogtla-Järve (a city in north-eastern Estonia) or somewhere else. And suddenly, he told the children that we were deported to Siberia… [12]”.

Dzydra Mejdere (Latvia) was born in 1928 in Latvia. Together with her husband, Laimonis Lapa, she was a member of the Latvian partisan movement since 1945. On 11 March 1949, Dzydra’s husband Laimonis was killed, and she was arrested. During her arrest, she was shot in the right arm. Dzydra was held in Riga, in the NKVD building known as Stūra māja (Corner House)[13].

Her testimony about the horrors of imprisonment are preserved: “My interrogator was Migla, but he had assistants who were ‘tireless’ and ‘really wonderful’. No wonder they were given flowers in Soviet times. These monsters… One would come, finish, and another would come. For a person who did not see what was happening, who did not experience it, who does not know it, it seems simple — what you were asked, you answered, and what you do not want to answer, you can keep silent. No, it was not like that. For them, you were a nobody with whom they could do whatever they wanted. They threatened and tortured you. It was not easy. They used to beat me. I feel sick just thinking about it… [14]”.

Summing up all the above memories of the Soviet deportations, we see one common picture: the communist repressive machine tried to forcibly evict millions of people, inventing conventional reasons. Analysing the number of victims, the geographical scope of the events, the diversity of ethnicity, social status and occupation, one logical conclusion comes to mind. The USSR was destroying everyone who did not agree to live in a totalitarian dictatorship. And this history must not be repeated right now, as Russia forcibly deports Ukrainians from the temporarily occupied territories of sovereign Ukraine.



1. Anna Pidhirna autobiography with information about her deportation to Vorkuta in 1921-1985 [10].p.1.

2. Anna Pidhirna autobiography with information about her deportation to Vorkuta in 1921-1985 [10]. p.2.

Resettlement card of M.H. Styranets. 1951, who was evicted from the Drohobych region to the Stalin region of the Ukrainian SSR. (From the family archive of Mariia Lesyk (Stryranets)) [15].

A document issued to a deported Latvian citizen, Janis Remis, confirming his employment as a collective farm worker in the Tomsk region, Siberia, RSFSR.
Source: The funds of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.


Registration card of the forcibly deported Latvian citizen Janis Remis, a special settler, in the Tomsk region, Siberia, RSFSR.
Source: The funds of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.



  1. Forcible Deportations of the Ukrainian Germans in 1935-1941 URL:https://deportation.org.ua/forcible-deportations-of-the-ukrainian-germans-in-1935-1941/ 
  2. Павел Полян. Любимые игрушки диктатора. Размышления о советской депортационной политике URL: http://index.org.ru/journal/14/polyan1401.html 
  3. Розкуркулення на Поліссі – «землю забрали по самі двері хати». Дві історії з півночі та з півдня України. URL:https://www.radiosvoboda.org/a/rozkurkulennia-svidchennia/30959015.html 
  4. Інтерв’ю з жителем с.Петевчиці Дячком Іваном Григоровичем про радянську окупацію Західної України 1939-1941 років. Електронний архів українського визвольного руху. URL: http://avr.org.ua/viewDoc/24005
  5. Петренко І. Голодомор на фото Марка Залізняка URL:https://localhistory.org.ua/rubrics/photo/golodomor-na-foto-marka-zalizniaka/ 
  6.  Luty 1940. Deportacja Polaków na Sybir – relacje ofiar. URL:https://dzieje.pl/artykulyhistoryczne/luty-1940-deportacja-polakow-na-sybir-relacje-ofiar 
  7. Депортовані. UA version URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1H2X8lRu2U 
  8. Максим Бутченко. Депортація з ознаками геноциду. Як у 1941 році Сталін примусово вивіз 100 тис. українських німців з їх рідних земель.    URL:https://nv.ua/ukr/ukraine/events/deportaciya-nimciv-z-ukrajini-i-stalinski-chistki-1930-40-h-istoriya-ukrajini-50105422.html 
  9. Примаченко Я. Операція “Захід”.  URL:  https://www.jnsm.com.ua/h/1021Q/ 
  10. Автобіографія Підгірної Анни із відомостями про депортацію в Воркуту за 1921-1985 роки. Електронний архів українського визвольного руху. URL:http://avr.org.ua/viewDoc/24036 
  11. Mertelsmann, Olaf; Rahi-Tamm, Aigi. Soviet mass violence in Estonia revisited // Journal of Genocide Research. Volume 11, 2009 – Issue 2-3: New Perspectives on Soviet Mass Violence. 
  12. Интервью с Tiina Margus (Liias) о депортации отца и его детей в Сибирь в 1949 г. Sourse: Kogu Me Lugu Oral History Portal. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xa6EKFgEuDM 
  13. Гулаг онлайн. Свидетели депортаций в странах Балтии. Дзидра Мелдере.  URL: https://gulag.online/people/dzidra-meldere?locale=ru 
  14. Дзидра Мелдере – Меня пытали на допросе. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5ShMytS24c
  15. Доля родини – доля переселенців України. Музейні колекції Національного музею історії України у Другій світовій війні.  URL: https://collections.warmuseum.kyiv.ua/theme/Warmus/pages/dolya/ 


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