Today I continue fieldwork reports from the ORHELIA fieldwork in the Lena Delta in cooperation with Yakutsk University (NEFU).
During our first walk through the village of Bykov Mys we found out about the great proud but also sad history in Soviet times. Completely unexpected for us was the news of extensive Finnish resettlement to this far northern corner in the 1940s.
Just after the Finnish-Russian war, many Finnish people from the Leningrade and Karelia area were deported to the Lena Delta area. The other dominant resettler nation was Lithuanians. Both groups endured huge suffererings on their way to the North and were dropped off without any preparation on the cold Arctic shore. There they had to fish without any equipment and even footwear, so they stood barefoot in the icy water. As they did not have reindeer skins or other warm clothes, eye-witnesses tell they even put newspaper around their feet for protection against the cold.
Their daily food ration was one fish per family, which definitely was not enough. The local people were instructed by the NKVD guards not to help or give anything to the convicts, called “spetspereselentsy” (special resettlers). But as Evdokia Achekassova remembers, her parents felt sorry for the incomers, and hid additional food inside of the clothes of her as a little girl, and instructed her to play around outdoors, so that the NKWD guards would
get used to the little girl on the street and not pay attention anymore. At that point she would go in to the resettlers, the Finnish or Lithuanians would take the food out below her clothes, and would let her go back to play. Once a NKVD guard threatened her with a gun outdoors in the cold to take her clothes off to check, but fortunately she had already given the additional food to the Finns. Stories like this are excellent examples of how political decisions made far away affect people’s everyday life in detail on the ground.
The last Finnish survivor, Mrs Aine Lähti, recalls also incidents of anti-Finnish discrimination in the 1960s, which are plead into her complicated sad biography of hardship, domestic violence, alcoholism, death and bare survival.
Another group of resettlers were deported from central Yakutia to the Lena Delta area. They were called volnonaemnye and were free in the North to start their own life. More than 5000 people from more than 30 small farms in the Churabcha area were thrown to the North, because in 1942 there was a period of starvation where they lived. So they were told, go and fish for your life there in the North. Many of the current inhabitants of Bykov are descendants of these resettlers.
Nowadays there are monuments in many settlements in the Lena Delta area for these resettlers. The Churabcha and Lithuanians were rather active in caring for that historical heritage in the Arctic, whereas the Finnish so far did not display special interest. A Lithuanian association sent a delegation in 1989 to exhumate some of their relatives and ship them to their historical homeland. For the remaining people, monuments were set up. On the Lithuanian monument the Finnish resettlers are kindly mentioned, and the text is in three languages on three sides of the monument: Lithuanian, Russian and Sakha. Finnish is missing, and one side of the monument is free, and waits for a Finnish initiative that would result in an iron plate to commemorate their victims. Vasili Ivanovich Burtsev, a hobby historian who built a small museum in Bykov, wrote a touching letter to whom it may concern in Finland to raise awareness of this heritage (link here). Especially, the graveyard with resettlers’ graves falls victim to coastal erosion, and the remains are gradually washed way. Burtsev also collected an impressive list of Finnish persons who were working in the fish factories of the area in the 1940s. If any Finnish person is interested in this, please contact me and I will help with further information.