December 28, 1943: Operation Ulusy, the Forgotten Genocide

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A Brief History

On December 28, 1943, the Soviet secret police, NKVD, under the direction of its commander Lavrentiy Beria, began a 3 day operation called Operation Ulusy to forcibly remove 93,139 people of the Kalmyk nationality to forced labor camps in the remote areas of Siberia.  The Soviets had accused the Kalmyks of being pro-German and anti-Soviet, even though 23,540 Kalmyks were serving in the Red Army against the Germans and only 5000 Kalmyks had sided with the Germans, forming the Kalmykian Cavalry Corps.  Soviet officials, ever paranoid and seeing sedition under every rock, overreacted to the Kalmyk nationalist collaborators by condemning the entire nationality and removing them from Russia.  Far from an isolated event, the Kalmyk Deportations of 1943 were only part of the enormous Soviet transfer of potentially hostile populations to Siberia during World War II, with a total of over 3.3 million Soviet citizens (mostly of non-Russian nationality) being deported.

Digging Deeper

Kalmykia is a section of European Russia (once the USSR) where Buddhism is the predominate religion, the only area in Europe where Buddhism is practiced by a large part of a population.  Kalmykia is located in the Southwest of Russia, bordering the Volgograd, Rostov and Astrakhan Oblasts, as well as Dagestan.  Kalmykia also borders the Caspian Sea to the south.  The current population of Kalmykia is around 282,000 people.  An arid land, Kalmykia is somewhat of a desert, hot in the summer and cold in the winter, though with little snow.  The main products of this land include coal, oil, and natural gas.

Kalmykia promotional tourism postcard.

Kalmyks came from Siberia in a Westward migration in the 16th and 17th Centuries, perhaps to find better grazing land for their animals or perhaps under pressure from hostile Mongols.  They displaced the Turkic and Mongol people that had previously populated the region (Nogai Horde).  The Kalmyks became part of the Russian Empire, being asked to defend Russia’s Southern border while enjoying an annual allowance as well as free travel and trade to Russian markets.  The Kalmyk Khanate, as it was called, served Russia well in defending the motherland against Turkic invaders and raiders.

Vladimir Lenin appealed to the Kalmyks for their support in the Russian Revolution of 1917, in exchange for promises of land and autonomy within a Soviet State.  The Kalmyks agreed and were given status as Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.  Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 and by 1942 occupied Kalmykia.  Although rounding up and killing Jews found in Kalmykia, the Germans otherwise waged a propaganda campaign to win the assistance of dissident Kalmyks to the German cause.  The aforementioned 5000 or so Kalmyks were recruited to work and fight for the German side against the Soviets, though this portion of the Kalmyk population was a small minority.  Other numbers of Kalmyks unsatisfied with Soviet authority stayed in Kalmykia and performed acts of sabotage and harassment against Soviet troops when the Germans were forced to retreat.  As the Kalmyk contingent fighting with the Germans became depleted by attrition, the Germans conducted some conscription to make up replacements, predictably not as enthusiastic as the original volunteers.  Under the onslaught of the victorious Soviet Red Army, remnants of the Kalmyks that fought with the Germans along with some of their family members found themselves in Austria as war refugees after World War II ended.

Map of the deportation of people from Kalmykia to Siberia in 1943

When Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin had the Kalmyks rounded up and deported to Siberia, he included those that had been fighting on behalf of the USSR in the Red Army.  Kalmyk territory was divvied up between neighboring oblasts.  The deported Kalmyks sent to Siberia suffered the usual mortality of forcibly exiled people, and at least 16,000 Kalmyks died en route to Siberia and during the harsh conditions there, largely children and old people.  Kalmyks were forced to work in agriculture, industry and mining for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The mortality rate ranged between 16% and 19% depending on the source.  Kalmyks in Siberia were scattered among other deported nationalities and suffered a loss of language and cultural identity while in exile.  Upon the conduct of Operation Ulusy, Kalmyk names of towns, streets and other places were changed to Russian names.  When Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev allowed the Kalmyks to return to their homeland in 1957, the Kalmyk Oblast was reconstituted, but the land had already been largely populated by Russians and Ukrainians, reducing the Kalmyk identity of the place.  About 61% of the deported Kalmyks had returned to Kalmykia by 1959.  As the Kalmyk Oblast was reconstituted, the former 75%+ Kalmyk portion of the population had dwindled to only about 45% by 1989, changing the nature of the region.  The deportations had included non-Kalmyk women married to Kalmyk men, but not Kalmyk women married to other nationalities.

The Soviet Union is responsible for an enormous litany of crimes against humanity during its existence from 1922 to 1991 (1917 to 1922 was the Russian Revolution and post-Revolution period that led to the formation of the USSR), especially under the monster Josef Stalin, one of the worst mass murderers in human history.  Many of the victims of Soviet crimes against humanity were their own Soviet citizens, most notably the Ukrainians that suffered as many as 11 million deaths during the intentional starvation of the Ukraine during the 1930’s known as the Holodomor.  Idealists that are inclined to lament the failed experiment in social equality known as communism are well advised to study the sorry history of the murder and repression of the original communist state.

Holodomor, 1933, photograph by Alexander Wienerberger

Questions for Students (and others): Have you previously ever heard of Kalmykia or the Kalmyk people?  Were you aware of the mass deportations to Siberia of Soviet citizens during World War II?  What other Soviet people were known for allying with the invading Germans?  Were you aware of the Holodomor?

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Guchinova, Elza-Bair. The Kalmyks. Routledge, 2006.

Pohl, J. Otto.  Ethnic Cleansing in the USSR, 1937-1949. Greenwood Press, 1999.

The featured image in this article, a photograph from 2004 by Kakaru of a memorial “To the victims of Stalinist repression” from the Kalmyk people, in Tomsk, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.  You are free:

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.