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A Soviet Soldier's View

By A.L. Vesnin

At the end of 1943, right after the fascist German troops had been driven out, the 222nd independent battalion, twenty-fifth brigade of NKVD was developed in Meritopol. To fill it, sixty youths were mobilized. I was among them. After a month of training in an educational company, we were divided into subdivisions. I ended up in the second rifle company. This was how my service in the Cheka began.

In the morning on the 14th of May, we went out on a march and toward evening arrived at the raitsenter (regional center) Lenin. For a couple of days we were occupied with our usual training, but in the evening of the seventeenth, we were raised in arms and again went out on march. For a couple hours we went we knew not where, through endless steppes, but toward four in the morning, came up to a small village. And it was only there that they informed us: "This is the village of Osul, populated by Tatars who must all be deported today. Such an operation is taking place everywhere in Crimea, deportation applies to all Crimean Tatars without exception. They are guilty of active cooperation with the fascists at the time of occupation, in particular the participation of the Tatar-volunteers in battle with the partisans." At four in the morning we began the operation.

Now, up in years, having found out much and done rethinking, I often ask myself. How could I take part in that shameful act? Then of course it was interpreted differently. The entire situation of that time, the strong political training in the tradition of the Cheka, the complete certainty of the guilt of the Tatars, plus on top of that the greenness of youth. Although honestly speaking, all the same I was ill at ease. I foresaw terrible scenes, not without reason expecting that what was done with these people was only a little better than death. At the same time, those feelings had to be hidden deeper inside.

We went into the houses, got the owners out of bed and announced: "In the name of Soviet Authority, you are being exiled to other regions of the Soviet Union for betraying the homeland." People took the command with peaceful submissiveness. Two hours were given for getting ready and every family was allowed to take 200 kilograms of weight. Did the news really leak? Somehow? In any case, we soldiers did not guess about the operation until the very last mi nutes.

The operation itself was immoral but also on its basis arose repulsive scenes: An old woman, out of her mind with grief broke out running into the steppe and was cut down with a round of firing; a legless invalid recently returning home from the hospital was informed of his rights, was tied to a car with a rope and....

The operation on the scale of the whole Crimea was prepared brilliantly. Suffice it to say that so many new Fords and Studebakers were brought to Osul that the entire population of the village was taken to the nearby station of Seven Springs in one trip. There, a train of freight cars was ready. Toward midnight, all the exiled left the borders of Crimea behind.

After "work" in Osul, we returned to Kerch, where we carried out our usual service duties and studied. But after a little more than a month, the night of 24 of June, equipped for battle we again left Kerch and moved in the direction of Feodosia. Toward morning we came to a big settlement. We were informed: this is Marfovka, Bulgarians whom we must exile live here. In addition to Bulgarians, on that day Greeks and Armenians were also deported from Crimea. To the residents of the settlement, we must say that we arrived to help cut the grain. But when the cars drive into the settlement, the operation began at the signal of fire. As before, the areas were divided up.

People greeted us with joy: the "brothers" have come and on top of that to help with work. They treated us to white bread with sour cream and were not stingy with drink. There was a sense that they had no idea of the forthcoming tragedy. At the appointed time the cars entered the settlement, and by the signal we began the operation. And again "In the name of Soviet Authority...."

The Tatars, as it turns out, we deported "humanely." As I already said, two hours to prepare and 200 kilograms per family. At this time to get ready were let out only 20 minutes, and to take with - what you can carry in your arms. In addition to that they announced a competition: who can complete the "work" in his section first. People dashed about, grabbed unnecessary things and we rushed them and pushed them with the butt of the rifle toward the exit. It was a terrible picture, in Marfovka and in Osul earlier. After deportation, in the evening we heard the roar of unfed, unmilked and unwatered livestock and no one knew what to do with it. Deportation in this form, in which it was conducted - its infamy is incomparable with anything in terms of its physical and moral torture.

Those who were not subjected to it in their lives cannot imagine the scope of the tragedy. And in addition, now in the times of glasnost very little is written about it and very reserved at that, although you will not find an analog in history.

Translated into English by Greta Uehling.  
Source: Greta L. Uehling, "Having a Homeland: Recalling the Deportation, Exile, and Repatriation of Crimean Tatars to Their Historic Homeland," Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2000, pp. 246-48. The excerpt is from A.S. Vesnin, Krymskaya 1921-1945: voprosy i otvety. Simferopol: Tavria, 1990.

Return to: Surgun Stories Series (Personal Narratives by Survivors or Eye-witness Accounts)

Posted: 27 May 2009

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