Russian Deportations: the Old New Crime

August 8, 2023
Russia has committed a significant amount of war crimes and genocidal practices against Ukrainians. Deportations of Ukrainians are a clear example of this.

Currently, 2.8 million Ukrainians have been deported. Due to the deportation of Ukrainian children, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Federation Commissioner for the Rights of Children M. Lvova-Belova in March 2023.

Can we claim, however, that this is a new tool Russia uses? UkraineWorld spoke with Vladyslav Havrylov, a historian, researcher, and writer at the Where Are Our People project and a research fellow at Georgetown University's Collaborative on Global Children's Issues.

Deportations of Ukrainians by Russians aren’t a new phenomenon. It dates back from the Soviet era and what is happening today is, in fact, a tracing of the crimes committed by the Soviet authorities.

It is widely documented that, during the Soviet era, about 6 million people were deported, including ethnic Ukrainians, Germans, Poles, Bulgarians, Crimean Tatars, and other nationalities.

In the case of Ukrainians, their deportations occurred in several waves. The initial two waves, spanning from 1930 to 1931, formed a significant aspect of the Soviet regime’s "dekulakization" drive (which included the expropriation, eviction, and deportation of numerous agrarian households).

These measures were primarily directed towards farmers. Ukrainians' reluctance to participate in collective farming initiatives, combined with their desire to retain individual landholdings, resulted in fervent opposition, including armed resistance. Consequently, the Soviet authorities executed large-scale deportations to crush this uprising.

Over 200,000 people were deported during that time period. They were transported to Russian Siberia, to the cities of Irkutsk and Tomsk, where life was close to what some claimed as hell.

In 1939-1941, the next four waves swept across Western Ukraine. 89,062 people were deported in the first wave, including Ukrainians and Poles. The following included approximately 30,000 more people who were sent to Kazakhstan. And the last two - each with over 80,000 people.

After the end of WWII, in 1947, the operation "West" was launched against people who supported the Ukrainian national movement and the resistance movement against Nazi occupation. As part of it, 78,000-80,000 people were deported.

In the places of deportation, attempts to “Sovietize” people, to re-educate them, also known as brainwashing, were taken. This 're-education' actually signified the "Russification" of a Soviet type.

Today, we are witnessing yet another wave of mass deportations of Ukrainians, occurring in territories occupied by Russians.

According to the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Dmytro Lubinets, around 2.8 million Ukrainians have already been deported, with UN data supporting these figures. However, some sources claim the true figure is closer to 4-4.5 million people.

As in the Soviet era, Russians are once again attempting to erase Ukrainians' national consciousness, identity, and independence.

Deportations of Ukrainian children are a tragedy in and of themselves.

Currently, 20,000 deported Ukrainian children have been identified. However, if we were to talk about the real number of abducted children, then this figure is in the hundreds of thousands.

Under their deportation, Ukrainian children are forcibly militarized and Russified, in particular with the assistance of Yunarmy (a Russian children's military-patriotic military organization).

The precedent of deportations of children was also a common theme during the USSR, with several waves of deportations in 1941 and 1949 in the Baltic States.

Experts from Estonia and Latvia spoke about the memories of eyewitnesses. Efforts were made in Siberia's so-called special settlements to Russify ethnic Estonians and Latvians.

Attempts were also made to brainwash them by spreading a false narrative about “Nazis”. They were also forbidden from singing national songs.

This mirrors the exact approach the Russians are carrying out in the present day, with those Ukrainian children who have been deported are subjected to an unapologetic amount of Russian propaganda.

Not only must we ensure the return of our Ukrainian citizens, but those responsible for these crimes must also be brought to justice. Sanctions must be continued and intensified at the very least on those involved in deportations.

Thus, we together with colleagues from the Independent Diplomats, Heroyam Slava projects, Where are Our People project by the PR Army, Razom for Ukraine, and Ms. Jaanika Merilo and Kateryna Pavlevich submitted persons for inclusion in the US and EU sanctions lists. So far, we have succeeded in imposing EU sanctions on ten people and US sanctions on eight.

Punishing criminals is necessary to ensure that such evildoings are never repeated. The Soviet authorities got away with it, and now Ukraine is face to face with this unpunished evil of the past. Unpunished crime only breeds another.

The war continues, as do the deportations, but every effort must be made to keep the Ukrainian people from being illegally deported.

Vladyslav Havrylov, a historian, researcher, and writer at Where Are Our People and a research fellow at Georgetown University's Collaborative on Global Children's Issues.