Finnish, Lithuanian and local resettlers in the 1940s to the Lena Delta

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.

Fieldwork partner Ulyana Prokopievna Koloddeznikova investigating old photographs from the glorious and sad past at Bykov Mys

Fieldwork partner Ulyana Prokopievna Koloddeznikova investigating old photographs from the glorious and sad past at Bykov Mys

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

Evdokia Nikolaevna Achekassova (centre) is one of those heroes who helped forced resettlers to survive in the war

Evdokia Nikolaevna Achekassova (centre) is one of those heroes who helped forced resettlers to survive in the war

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 survivor of Finnish forced resettlers. Aine Lähti Kärsä, Tiksi

The last survivor of Finnish forced resettlers. Aine Lähti Kärsä, Tiksi

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.

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3 Responses to Finnish, Lithuanian and local resettlers in the 1940s to the Lena Delta

  1. Hi Florian, you have very interesting information here. As Finland evacuated all its population from pre-war Finnish regions to the rest of the country is sounds likely that these people have never been Finnish citizens. I would guess they are Ingrian Finns (inkeriläiset) from Leningrad region or the from the Finnish minority of pre-war Carelian autonomic socialistic republic – which actually had a number of Finnish communist immigrants on 20´s. They had very hard time during the Stalin era and many or most of them were transported to distant places and work camps or executed directly. Also the original ethnic Finnish population in Soviet Carelia had a lot of difficulties, as all minorities on those days. This would somehow explain why Finland has not shown interest to these resettlers.

    • fstammle says:

      Hi Markku
      thank you for your comment and this background info. Yes indeed, these people were apparently mostly from the area around Vyborg and in southern Soviet Karelia. However, considering how much attention is paid to the peoples and cultures of Finno-Ugric people in Russia, I would still think it is appropriate to care for the heritage of these Finnish resettlers as well. Or why would we be interested in Finland in the history and heritage of the Mansi, Khanty, Komi, Mari, Sámi and all Finno-Ugric minorities, and forget about the ethnic Finns that ended up there on the cold shores of the Arctic Ocean in East Siberia, because they were Finns and partially fought on the Finnish side in the Finnish-Soviet war. I am happy to share the list of names of those Finnish people who fished in the Lena Delta with anybody who is trustworthy and respectful towards this difficult part of history.

  2. Hi Florian, the history of Ingrian Finns is a sad fact. It seems that 30 000 of them were deported 1942 from Leningrad region (during the siege of Leningrad, and this is another thing that Vyborg area which then was part of Finland) to Siberia, Lena river region. There also seems to be some literature on that period, after having a look at Finnish websites. One trauma in Finnish history is that after peace treaty with the Soviet Union those Ingrians who had came to Finland were sent back to the USSR, and nothing good followed to them. I would not say that the Ingrian Finns are forgotten as people, there are a lot of everyday contacts nowadays and they have had a simplified possibility to apply for Finnish citizenship. But obviously it is new information that some of them are still left in Siberia. I have not read the books but on websites there is nothing that relates to it.

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