Kalmyk deportations of 1943

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Deportation of the Kalmyks
Operation Ulusy
Part of Population transfer in the Soviet Union, Political repression in the Soviet Union and Soviet Union in World War II
Map of Kalmyk deportation.jpg
Map of the deportation of people from Kalmykia to Siberia in 1943
  Omsk Oblast, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Altai Krai, Novosibirsk Oblast (destination of the deportees)
Location Kalmykia
Date 28–31 December 1943
Target Kalmyks
Attack type
forced population transfer, ethnic cleansing
Deaths 16,017–16,594 people
(between ~17 and ~19 percent of their total population)
Perpetrators NKVD, the Soviet secret police

The Kalmyk deportations of 1943, codename Operation Ulusy (Russian: Операция «Улусы») was the deportation of 93,139 people of the Kalmyk nationality in the Soviet Union (USSR), as well as Russian women married to Kalmyks, on 28–31 December 1943. They were deported in cattle wagons to Siberia, where they were sent to special settlements for forced labor. Kalmyk women married to another nationality were exempted. They were accused of Axis collaboration during World War II, despite 23,540 Kalmyks serving in the Red Army, outnumbering around 5,000 Kalmyks who fought in the German-affiliated Kalmykian Cavalry Corps.

The expulsion was executed by the NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria and his Deputy Commissar Ivan Serov, on the orders of Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. Up to 10,000 servicemen from the NKVD-NKGB troops participated in the deportation. It was a part of the Soviet forced settlement program and population transfers that affected several million members of Soviet ethnic minorities between the 1930s and the 1950s. The deportation caused over 16,000 fatalities among the deported Kalmyks, a 17 percent mortality rate. The Kalmyks were rehabilitated in 1956 following Nikita Khrushchev's ascent to power and the process of de-Stalinization. Their exile, which began in 1943, ended in 1957. They were released from special settlements and allowed to return to their native land. Their autonomy was restored and the Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic established again. By 1959, 61.2 percent of all the deported Kalmyks returned to their corresponsive titular republic. On 14 November 1989 the Supreme Council of the Soviet Union declared all of Stalin's deportations illegal and criminal. This deportation left a permanent scar in the Kalmyk memory and the exile is regarded as a time of tragedy by most of its members.


A Kalmyk khurul (community hall), early 20th century

The Kalmyks are descendants of the Oirats, a west Mongolian group who were originally nomadic shepherds of Dzungaria. They speak a West Mongolian language, an Altaic language. They practice Lamaism, a form of Buddhism practiced also in Tibet. In the 1630s, several Oirat tribes migrated westwards and settled along the Volga river. They were consolidated into a new ethnic group, the Kalmyks.[1] While a part of their group went back to Dzungaria, others stayed and recognized the authority of the Russian Empire by the 18th century. During the Russian Civil War, a majority of Kalmyks actively participated in anti-communist Russian armies. When the Bolsheviks ultimately took power, numerous anti-communist people emigrated from Russia in 1920, including many Kalmyks who went to Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.[1] By one estimate, over 2,000 Kalmyks left Russia. [2]

Under the USSR, an anti-religious campaign was initiated against Kalmyk Buddhism in the 1930s.[3] 175 Buddhist temples were registered in the Russian Empire in 1917, serving 20,000 people. All were destroyed by 1940.[4] The Kalmyks also resisted the collectivization process of its herd in the 1920s, some of its guerilla groups fighting up until 1926.[5] Nonetheless, the Soviet authorities established the Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1935, Elista serving as its capital.[2] According to the 1939 Soviet census, 131,271 Kalmyks were registered in the USSR.[6] An alternative source lists 134,400 Kalmyks during that time.[7]

During World War II, Nazi Germany began an invasion of the USSR in June 1941. On 26 August 1942, the German forces captured Elista in Kalmykia. They quickly established the Kalmykian Cavalry Corps, which numbered around 5,000 men and was led by former intelligence officer Dr. Rudolf Otto Doll.[8] The Corps fought against the Soviet partisans and protected its livestock against the Soviet forces.[8] Nevertheless, 23,540 Kalmyks served in the Red Army.[9] Twenty-two Kalmyks were recognized as Heroes of the Soviet Union.[10] Therefore, some Kalmyks were battling each other, their soldiers divided between these two armies.[5] Around a quarter of the Kalmyk population, including their cattle, fled across the Volga river in order to escape the German occupation.[11] The German army destroyed many houses and buildings. It also looted the area. By one estimate, the damages inflicted on the occupied areas of Kalmykia amounted to 1,070,324,789 rubles.[12] When the German forces withdrew, numerous Kalmyks were evacuated with them.[8] The Red Army re-took Elista by 23:00 hours on the 31 December 1942. It also sweeped the area of German soldiers in January 1943.[13] Once back under Soviet control, the Kalmyks were accused of being disloyal: 4,500 of its men were said to have fought together with the Axis forces.[2]


During World War II, eight ethnic groups were deported from their native lands in their entirety by the Soviet forces: the Volga Germans, the Chechens, the Ingush, the Balkars, the Karachays, the Crimean Tatars, the Meskhetian Turks and the Kalmyks.[14] Throughout the Caucasus, about 650,000 people were deported in 1943 and 1944 by the Soviet forces,[15] and 3,332,589 people during the entire war.[16]

Lavrentiy Beria, head of the Soviet secret police, had the idea of the resettlement of the Kalmyks, claiming they were "unreliable". In October 1943, Joseph Stalin, the Premier of the Soviet Union, approved this decision of the State Defense Committee.[17] On 27 October 1943, NKVD deputy Ivan Serov arrived in Elista to check if the headquarters are ready for the deportation. He held a meeting with the party members of the republic in the "Red House" on the 4th floor of the office of the former First Secretary of the Kalmyk Communist Party. Serov announced that the Kalmyks are about to be deported. Upon that, one party member, D. Gakhaev, stood up and asked him: "Why is the whole nation to be deported?" Serov insisted that this is because they "left the front and joined the Germans".[18] That same month, the NKVD deputy V.V. Chernyshov held a meeting with NKVD representatives of Altai and Krasnoyarsk Krai, as well as Omsk and Novosibirsk Region, in Moscow, to discuss the upcoming arrival of the Kalmyks. In the deportation plans, the largest town, Elista, was divided into several operative districts, each run by a separate NKVD representative–each of whom had to envisage several plans to carry out the operation, including a path from each village and town to the nearest railway station, number of trucks and soldiers for each area.[19] On 27 December, the Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was abolished by the Soviet authorities.[20] Its territory was carved up between the Astrakhan, Stalingrad and Rostov Oblasts, as well as Stavropol Krai. 211 hectars of lands were also given to the Dagestan for administration. Elista was renamed into Stepnoy.[11] Resolution no. 1432 425 of the Soviet of People's Commissars, which determined that this ethnic group should be resettled, was adopted on 28 December and signed by Vyacheslav Molotov, but not made public.[21]

Cattle wagons used for the Soviet deportations

On 28 December 1943, at 6:00 am, NKVD agents entered the homes of the Kalmyks and announced the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, according to which all Kalmyks were supposed to be relocated to Siberia. They were officially accused of such acts as military Axis collaboration with the Nazi army, of providing the Germans with livestock, of dismantling kolkhozes and sovkhozes with the Germans, robbery, and of terrorizing the population.[22] The people were given 12 hours to pack their belongings and prepare for the trip.[17] They were allowed to carry up to 500 kilograms (1,100 lb) of property per family. 3-4 families had to place their property in one truck. The Soviet soldiers searched the houses beforehand, confiscating any firearms, anti-Soviet literature or foreign currency.[23] Every person of Kalmyk ethnicity, including women, children and the elderly, were loaded into trucks and sent to a nearby railway station.[17] Only Kalmyk women married to men of ethnic groups not subject to deportation were spared from this forced transfer. Russian women married to Kalmyk men were also rounded up and sent for resettlement. Soviet operatives encircled Kalmyk settlements and established ambushes before the start of this operation, in order to counter any potential resistance.[24] At the start of the deportation, 750 Kalmyks were arrested, alleged that they were "bandit gang members" and "anti-Soviet elements".[25] Initially, the NKVD approved 4,421 agents to carry out the operation; a further 1,226 soldiers were joined, as well. 1,355 trucks were sent to Kalmykia.[26] This number increased to 10,000 servicemen from the NKVD-NKGB troops, diverted from the Eastern Front.[27] Ivanovo Oblast regional NKVD Chief, State Security Major General Markeyev, was given the authority to oversee this operation.[28]

The deportation was given the code name Operation Ulusy.[28] In it, a total of 93,139 Kalmyks were uprooted,[29] divided into 26,359 families.[30] Only three Kalmyk families avoided the deportation.[5] The officials reported no incidents while carrying out the operation.[25] The exiled peoples were packed into cattle carts[31] and dispatched in some 46 trains.[32] One witness recalled that they traveled for two weeks. Many Kalmyks were dirty and unwashed upon arrival; upon exiting, the snow became black from their dirt.[31] The deportation was completed on 31 December.[33] A majority of them (91,919) were deported by the end of the year, though an additional 1,014 people were also evicted in January 1944.[28] The entire operation was guided by the NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria and his Deputy Commissar Ivan Serov. Other officials who participated in it included Victor Grigorievich Nasedkin, Head of the Gulag and Commissar of the State Security of the 3rd degree, and Dmitri Vasilevich Arkadiev, the Head of the Transport Department of the USSR NKVD.[34] The Kalmyks were sent to various locations in Siberia—by January 1944, 24,352 were sent to the Omsk Oblast, 21,164 to Krasnoyarsk Krai, 20,858 to Altai Krai, and 18,333 to Novosibirsk Oblast.[28] Alternative sources indicate that, beginning in 1944, 6,167 Kalmyk families were in the Altai, 7,525 in the Krasnoyarsk, 5,435 in Novosibirsk and 8,353 in the Omsk Region. 660 families were also located in the Tomsk Region, 648 in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, 522 in Tobolsk, 2,796 in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug and 1,760 in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug.[35]

Historian Nikolay Bugay divided the deportation into four steps: while the first step involved the eviction of the people in Kalmykia, the second step involved the transfer of Kalmyks in the Rostov Region in March 1944. In June, Kalmyks from Stalingrad were also deported, while the final step involved the deportation of the remaining Kalmyk officers and soldiers in the Red Army.[33] Between 1944 and 1948, all the Karaychs, Kalmyks, Meskhetian Turks, Crimean Tatars, Chechens, Ingush and Balkars were discharged from the Red Army and also sent in exile to the special settlements.[9] Russian and Slavic people were settled in their empty areas, colonizing them.[36]

The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet issued a decree of 26 November 1948, titled "On Criminal Accountability for Escapes from Places of Compulsory and Permanent Settlement by Persons Exiled to Remote Regions of the Soviet Union during the Period of the Great Patriotic War".[37] It ordered that all of the ethnic groups deported during the war had to stay in a permanent exile.[38]

Exile and Death toll

Like the other exiled people, the Kalmyks were placed under the administration of the special settlements.[39] The purpose of these settlements was to be a system of cheap labor for the economic progress of faraway and underdeveloped parts of the Soviet Union.[40] The exiled Kalmyks were sent to forced labor camps.[41] Special settlers routinely worked eleven to twelve hours a day, seven days a week. They suffered from exhaustion and frostbite, and were denied their food rations if they did not meet their work quota.[42] Upon arrival, the Kalmyks were divided between men and women and sent to a sauna with cold floors. They washed their bodies only with hot water, since no soap was given to them. After the bath, the Kalmyks were ordered to line up outside, even though it was winter. Some caught a cold.[31] 45,985 Kalmyk settlers were registered for work in several branches in the national economy; 28,107 in agriculture; 1,632 in mining and gold extraction industry; 784 in coal mining; 259 in the timber industry; 8,608 in other industries.[43] The authorities reported that a third of them could not work because they lacked shoes and proper clothing.[30]

Out of 93,139 deported Kalmyks, between 1,220[44] and 1,600 people had died during the transit, and the same number was infected by diseases upon arrival at their destination.[45] Hunger, cold and diseases in the remote areas caused fatalities among the exiled groups.[46] The Siberian climate in their exile was very different than the warm Caspian region of their land of origin.[47] They lived in mud huts or holes in the grounds.[30] Available Soviet sources indicate that 83,688 Kalmyks were registered in the special settlements by early 1945, meaning that over 13,000 people died by that time due to the deportation.[45] 3,735 Kalmyk children died in 1945 alone, a 9.3 percent mortality rate among the young ones. In contrast, only 351 children were born that same year.[45]

Official, but incomplete Soviet archives recorded between 16,017[48] and 16,594[49] fatalities among the deported Kalmyks, a 17.3 or 17.4 percent mortality rate.[48] Professor Michael Rywkin concluded that 16,000 died among the deported Kalmyks.[50] NKVD estimated that the mortality rate was 19 percent.[32]

High estimates claim that even up to a third[51] or a half of all Kalmyk people deported to Siberia had died.[52] Of all the deported ethnic groups in the Soviet Union, the Kalmyks suffered the greatest decline; the 1959 census listed 106,100 people of that nationality, down from 134,400 of the 1939 census, meaning that their number was only 78.9 percent of their population registered in 1939.[7]

Rehabilitation, return and legacy

On 13 December 1953 a rare example of Kalmyk protest was staged when a Kalmyk delegation headed by Djab Naminov-Burkhinov handed over a memorandum on the position of that ethnic group to the UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld.[7] After Stalin's death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev became the new Soviet leader and started a process of de-Stalinization, reversing many of previous Soviet policies.[53] In his secret speech on 24 February 1956, Khrushchev condemned the Stalinist deportations:

This was the first step towards Kalmyk rehabilitation. Their exile, which began in 1943, ended in 1957.[55] In August 1953, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union overturned the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet from 1948, which ordered that all the evicted ethnic groups are to stay in permanent exile.[38] The Kalmyks were officially released from special settlement supervision on 17 March 1956.[56] On 9 January 1957, a Soviet decree restored their autonomy and established the Kalmyk Autonomous Oblast. On 29 July 1958, it was raised in status, becoming the Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.[47]

Memorial "To the victims of Stalinist repression" from the Kalmyk people, in Tomsk

By 1959, 61.2 percent of all the deported Kalmyks returned to their corresponsive titular republic.[57] By 1989, 84.2 percent of all the Soviet Kalmyks were concentrated in Kalmykia.[58] The ethnic make-up of the Kalmyk Republic changed: in 1926, Kalmyks comprised 75.6 percent of the population; in 1989, their proportion was down to 45.4 percent.[59] Some Kalmyks are even today grateful to Khrushchev for allowing them to return to Kalmykia. He is sometimes nicknamed the "saviour of nation" and a street in Elista was named after him.[60]

On 14 November 1989 the Supreme Council of the Soviet Union declared all of Stalin's deportations "illegal and criminal".[61] On 26 April 1991 the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic, under its chairman Boris Yeltsin, followed suit and passed the law On the Rehabilitation of Repressed Peoples with Article 2 denouncing all mass deportations as "Stalin's policy of defamation and genocide".[62] Russian historian Pavel Polian considered all of the deportations of entire ethnic groups during Stalin's era, including those from the Caucasus, as a crime against humanity. [63]

Historian Alexander Nekrich concluded that, while there were some Kalmyk Axis collaborators, "the majority of Kalmyks not only remained loyal to the system but fought to defend it, arms in hands..."[20] Professor Brian Glyn Williams concluded that the deportation of the Meskhetian Turks, in spite of their lands never coming close to the scene of combat during World War II, and which coincided with the deportation of other ethnic groups from Caucasus and Crimea, lends the strongest evidence that all the deportations were a part of a larger concealed Soviet foreign policy rather than a response to any "universal mass treason" of these people.[64] Historian Hugo Service described the deportation as an example of Soviet 'ethnic cleansing' aimed to "stigmatize particular ethnic groups as posing a special danger to the Soviet state".[65]

In its 1991 report, Human Rights Watch described all the Soviet mass deportations as a form of collective punishment since the people were targeted according to their ethnic affiliation.[20] It also noted that not one of the 'punished' peoples in the Soviet Union were given any kind of compensation for the harm caused by the deportations.[46]

On 28 December 1996, sculptor Ernst Neizvestny unveiled his monument to the deported Kalmyks in Elista, titled Exile and Return, a bronze sculpture around 3 metres (120 in) high.[41] In 2012, over 1,800 Kalmyks filed a request for compensation from the government as victims of the deportation. The Elista City Court rejected their application.[66]

See also


  1. ^ a b Bormanshinov 1963, p. 149.
  2. ^ a b c Mongolia Society 1962, p. 6.
  3. ^ Sinclair 2008, p. 241.
  4. ^ Terentyev 1996, p. 60.
  5. ^ a b c Minahan 2000, p. 360.
  6. ^ Kreindler 1986, p. 387.
  7. ^ a b c Polian 2004, p. 194.
  8. ^ a b c Müller 2012, p. 246.
  9. ^ a b Buckley, Ruble & Hofmann 2008, p. 204.
  10. ^ Gouchinova 2013, p. 214.
  11. ^ a b Polian 2004, p. 144.
  12. ^ Maksimov 2008, p. 304.
  13. ^ Maslov 2016, p. 88.
  14. ^ Grannes 1991, p. 55.
  15. ^ Bugay 1996, p. 106; Pokalova 2015, p. 16; Mawdsley 1998, p. 71.
  16. ^ Parrish 1996, p. 107.
  17. ^ a b c Bugay 1996, p. 58.
  18. ^ Bugay 1996, pp. 65–66.
  19. ^ Bugay 1996, p. 67.
  20. ^ a b c Human Rights Watch 1991, p. 61.
  21. ^ Gouchinova 2013, p. 24.
  22. ^ Bugay 1996, p. 57.
  23. ^ Bugay 1996, p. 61.
  24. ^ Bugay 1996, p. 60.
  25. ^ a b Shearer & Khaustov 2014, p. 261.
  26. ^ Bugay 1996, p. 62.
  27. ^ Bugay 1996, p. 63.
  28. ^ a b c d Polian 2004, p. 145.
  29. ^ Human Rights Watch 1991, p. 8; Tolz 1993, p. 168; Buckley, Ruble & Hofmann 2008, p. 204; Nader, Dubrow & Stamm 1999, p. 159; Shearer & Khaustov 2014, p. 261.
  30. ^ a b c Gellately 2013, p. 197.
  31. ^ a b c Gedeeva & Babaev 2016.
  32. ^ a b Grin 2000, p. 5.
  33. ^ a b Bugay 1996, p. 68.
  34. ^ Bugay 1996, p. 64.
  35. ^ Gouchinova 2013, pp. 30–31.
  36. ^ Cohen 1998, p. 93.
  37. ^ Ivanova et al. 2015, p. 56.
  38. ^ a b Weiner 2013, p. 314.
  39. ^ Tolz 1993, p. 161.
  40. ^ Pohl 1999, p. 48.
  41. ^ a b Leong 2002, p. 281.
  42. ^ Viola 2007, p. 99.
  43. ^ Gouchinova 2013, p. 31.
  44. ^ Human Rights Watch 1991, p. 8.
  45. ^ a b c Maksimov 2008, p. 309.
  46. ^ a b Human Rights Watch 1991, p. 3.
  47. ^ a b Human Rights Watch 1991, p. 62.
  48. ^ a b Human Rights Watch 1991, p. 9; Tolz 1993, p. 168.
  49. ^ Pohl 2000, p. 267; Travis 2013, p. 82; Buckley, Ruble & Hofmann 2008, p. 207.
  50. ^ Rywkin 1994, p. 67.
  51. ^ Chetyrova 2011, p. 17.
  52. ^ "Regions and territories: Kalmykia". BBC News. 29 November 2011.
  53. ^ "Soviet policy in Eastern Europe". BBC. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  54. ^ Gross 1998, p. 37.
  55. ^ Tsomo 2016, p. 86.
  56. ^ Polian 2004, p. 184.
  57. ^ Polian 2004, p. 199.
  58. ^ Polian 2004, p. 198.
  59. ^ Mastyugina, Perepelkina & Perepelkin 1996, p. 86.
  60. ^ Gouchinova 2013, p. 18.
  61. ^ Statiev 2005, p. 285.
  62. ^ Perovic 2018, p. 320.
  63. ^ Polian 2004, pp. 125–126.
  64. ^ Williams 2001, p. 386.
  65. ^ Service 2013, p. 37.
  66. ^ "Kalmyk Victims of Stalin's Deportations Seek Compensation". The Moscow Times. 24 July 2012. Retrieved 4 November 2018.





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