Repatriation. The act of returning people or restoring cultural objects or documents to their country of origin. People returning to their country of origin usually are those who have resided either temporarily or permanently in other countries (commonly in situations involving armed conflicts); they may be repatriated either by their own free will or forcibly by a political power.
In 1921 Poland broke off relations with the Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic and concluded the Peace Treaty of Riga with the Ukrainian SSR and the Russian SFSR. One of the provisions of the preliminary agreement in 1920, which later became part of the treaty, involved the repatriation of the former soldiers of the Army of the Ukrainian National Republic (then interned in internment camps in Poland) to the Ukrainian SSR. It was to be a voluntary repatriation, and most internees resisted it. Soviet representatives undertook intensive agitation in the camps to induce the internees to return home by promising them a pardon and the return of citizenship rights. A number of them did return.
The greatest repatriation of Ukrainians took place in the period immediately following the Second World War. It was part of a larger effort by the victorious Allies to return home the estimated 5.6 to 8.4 million Eastern Europeans who were displaced during the Nazi occupation or other phases of the war. Most found themselves in the various countries of central, northern, and western Europe, with the largest numbers in Germany and Austria. The total number included approximately 2.8 million persons taken by the Nazis from their homes as forced laborers to work in the German war industry (the so-called Ostarbeiter, or Eastern workers). The majority of them (2.2 million) were from Ukraine. Another category were the prisoners of war, including former soldiers of the Red Army who were captured by the Germans. Altogether they numbered around three million people. Other categories were survivors of the German concentration camps (totaling over 200,000) and refugees who fled their homes before the westward advance of the Red Army. The displaced persons represented a variety of Eastern European nationalities.
The main solution to the problem of displaced people offered by the Allies was repatriation. As the armies of the Allies advanced, they repatriated large numbers of persons on their conquered territories. In 1943 the Allies established the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA); it began its work in 1944. Its function was the repatriation of all persons displaced by the war. UNRRA worked under the direction of the American-controlled Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force, which provided an official definition of a displaced person. The legal basis for Eastern European repatriation was established in February 1945 at the Yalta Conference, when the Western Allies signed an agreement with the Soviet Union which guaranteed repatriation of all Soviet nationals. The term was understood, particularly by the Soviets, to mean (if necessary) forcible repatriation.
By mid-1945 the Soviets had repatriated approximately three million people from their areas of occupation. By the fall of 1945 an additional 2.2 (or more) million persons had been transferred to areas of Soviet control, when the Western Allies pulled back from German territory previously designated as part of the Soviet zone. Most of the people concerned had to be moved by force. Of the total number of approximately 5.2 million repatriates, around 3 million were former military personnel and 2 million were civilians. The civilians included many of the Ukrainians who had been brought to Germany and Austria by the Nazis as conscript laborers (Ostarbeiter).
The zeal with which the Soviet authorities pursued repatriation may be explained in several ways. One of the foremost reasons was a desire to punish those who had neglected their duty to the ‘Soviet homeland’ and assisted the Nazis, whether as actual collaborators, prisoners of war, or forced laborers (Ostarbeiter). That motivation involved not only retribution but also the upholding of the principle of mandatory service to the state on the part of Soviet citizens. The need for workers in the process of postwar reconstruction was also a factor. Finally, the Soviet authorities probably feared that their international reputation would be severely damaged by the revelations concerning life under the Soviet regime that would likely surface if a large number of their ex-nationals were living in the West, particularly Ukrainians; the Soviet authorities were especially vigilant in pursuing their repatriation. The apprehensions of refugees facing the prospect of returning to the Soviet Union were based in part on a distaste or even open disdain for the regime and in large measure on the fear of retribution by the Soviet authorities for crimes real or imagined. The worst fears of many repatriates were later realized: approximately 300,000 of them were executed upon their return to their homeland, and about 2.5 million were sentenced to labor camps for periods ranging from 3 to 25 years (a 10-year term being the most common). About half of those sentenced to labor camps did not survive their imprisonment. The attitude of the Allies in the entire affair was based on several things: ignorance, a desire not to antagonize the Soviet Union (especially at a time when not all Allied prisoners of war in Soviet-controlled territories had been repatriated), and a determination to clear up the refugee situation (which involved substantial expense and major logistical problems) as quickly as possible.
The repatriation process faced one of its major difficulties with the refusal of refugees in the zones occupied by the Western Allies to be returned. Initially the Soviets insisted on their mandatory repatriation in accord with the Yalta Agreement without regard to the wishes of the displaced persons involved. The Allies did not immediately question that interpretation of the agreement, and assisted the Soviets in the process. The Soviets established a number of repatriation mission teams in the zones occupied by the Allies. Those units engaged both in making appeals to the refugees to persuade them to go home and in organizing convoys to remove refugees from their camps, often by trickery and force. Few refugees had doubts about the treatment they would receive, as numerous incidents testify. Many committed suicide rather than leave. Some jumped off transport trucks or trains either in a bid to escape or in order to commit suicide. Incidents of violence occurred, as Soviet repatriation agents were attacked, or as designated returnees rioted. The most violent incidents took place in the camps of Hersfeld, Kempten, Hanau, Füssen, and Passau.
As the Americans became increasingly aware of the nature of Soviet repatriation and the reasons for the refugees’ resistance, they stopped assisting the Soviets in their efforts. A number of limitations on who should be repatriated were established. They specified that ‘Soviet citizens’ meant only those who were Soviet nationals before the outbreak of the war, and thus effectively excluded Ukrainians, Poles, and Balts from the regions annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939 or later. By the fall of 1945 most American generals were objecting to the use of force in repatriation, and in December 1945, soon after Gen D. Eisenhower was appointed the army chief of staff, the Americans exempted the remaining displaced Soviet civilians from forced repatriation altogether. The Americans also accepted the McNarney-Clark directive, which narrowly specified which former military personnel could be repatriated by force. The British remained more willing than the Americans to assist the Soviets with their repatriation efforts even though their top-level administrators and military were aware of the consequences of such actions. But half a year later they too refused to allow repatriation by force. Isolated incidents of forced repatriation by the Soviets still continued, however, until the middle of 1947, and, in spite of the US State Department’s declaration in that year that the Yalta Agreement was no longer in effect, the last Soviet repatriation team did not leave Western Europe until March 1949.
It has been estimated that in addition to the roughly two million Ukrainians who had been repatriated to the Soviet Union by mid-1945, 40,000 to 60,000 more refugees were repatriated after that. By the end of 1947, when the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration ceased its operation, and the International Refugee Organization came into existence with the mandate of resettling rather than repatriating refugees, there were close to one million refugees of all nationalities left in Western Europe (including approximately 250,000 Ukrainians).
Ukrainian-Canadian and Ukrainian-American organizations played a role in the effort to stop forcible repatriation of the refugees. Both the Ukrainian Canadian Committee (now Ukrainian Canadian Congress) and the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America conducted advocacy campaigns, and the London-based Ukrainian Canadian Servicemen's Association in England intervened on behalf of the Ukrainians stranded in Italy. Later those associations established relief organizations which provided substantial help for the resettlement of Ukrainian displaced persons to the United States, Canada, England, and Australia.
The term repatriation is also sometimes applied to the transfer of populations that took place in Western Ukraine at the end of the Second World War and in the immediate postwar period as a result of border adjustments between Poland and the Soviet Union. The settlement included provisions for a transfer of populations, and between 1944 and 1947 about one million Poles, including Jews and Ukrainians who presented themselves as Poles, were moved across the new border to Poland. In return about 520,000 Ukrainians were transferred, mostly by force, by the Soviet-directed Polish army from the Polish side of the border to the Ukrainian SSR. The process involved some violent incidents, most notably in the village of Zavadka Morokhivska, Sianik county, in 1946. Another postwar population transfer occurred in the 1950s, when 6,000 to 8,000 Ukrainians from the Prešov region of Czechoslovakia, who had been moved to the Ukrainian SSR immediately after the war, were allowed to return to Czechoslovakia.
Dushnyck, Walter; Gibbons, William Joseph. Refugees Are People: The Plight of Europe's Displaced Persons (New York 1947)
Dushnyck, Walter. Death and Devastation on the Curzon Line: The Story of the Deportations from Ukraine (New York 1948)
Proudfoot, Malcolm Jarvis. European Refugees, 1939–52: A Study in Forced Population Movement (London 1956)
Epstein, Julius. Operation Keelhaul: The Story of Forced Repatriation from 1944 to the Present (Old Greenwich, Conn 1973)
Tolstoy, Nicholas. Victims of Yalta (London 1978)
Elliott, Mark R. Pawns of Yalta: Soviet Refugees and America’s Role in Their Repatriation (Urbana 1982)
Maruniak, Volodymyr. Ukraïns’ka emigratsiia v Nimechchyni i Avstriï po druhii svitovii viini (Munich 1985)
Dyczok, Marta. ‘Ukrainian Refugees and Displaced People at the End of World War II,’ D Phil diss, Oxford University, 1995.
[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]