Virgin lands

Virgin lands (цілинні землі; tsilynni zemli). Uncultivated land suitable for agriculture. Except for official nature preserves and sanctuaries there are no virgin lands in Ukraine today. Until the second half of the 18th century virtually all of Southern Ukraine and the Kuban was virgin land. At the end of the 18th century 90 percent of the land in those regions was still untilled; by mid-19th-century, 50 percent; and by the beginning of the 20th century, 20 percent. Much of the virgin land was used for sheep and cattle grazing. By the 1940s the last tracts of virgin land in Ukraine and the Kuban had been brought under cultivation.

In the late 19th century Ukrainian peasants from Russian-ruled Ukraine settled and brought under cultivation virgin lands in Central Asia and the Far East. Peasants from Western Ukraine brought much of the prairie land in the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba in western Canada under the plow.

In 1953 Nikita Khrushchev initiated a major virgin lands campaign to increase agricultural production in the USSR. By 1964 almost 42 million ha had been brought under cultivation in Central Asia, the Volga and Ural regions, western Siberia, and the Far East. The campaign involved a massive propaganda effort and an unprecedented mobilization of labor and technical resources throughout the USSR. By 1956 some 80,000 young Ukrainians had ‘volunteered’ to work in Kazakhstan and Siberia. In addition two-thirds of all graduates of Ukrainian agricultural institutes were sent to work in the east, and tens of thousands of students worked there during summer vacations. The whole campaign was only a partial success: much of the land was of marginal quality, the climate was not always suited to agriculture, and some of the topsoil was blown away. The failure of the campaign was one of the pretexts for ousting Khrushchev from power in 1964, and the entire policy was abandoned soon afterward.

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

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