June 22, 2021

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Not everyone in the USSR supported the 1939 invasion of Finland, KGB archives showEuromaidan Press

Not everyone in the USSR supported the 1939 invasion of Finland, KGB archives showEuromaidan Press



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Editor’s Note

After partitioning Poland with Nazi Germany, the Soviets believed that conquering Finns would be easy. Yet, Finland fought fiercely during the 1939-1940 Winter War that lasted only around three months — the USSR lost almost 400,000 soldiers.

The recently-opened KGB archive records in Kyiv show that, while many Soviet citizens supported Stalin’s war against Finland, some people sympathized with the Finns and were against Soviet aggression.

“We must bring Finland to its knees.” These words of one of the inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine, along with dozens of others, ended up in an NKVD report dated 4 December 1939. Four days before this, the Red Army started a war against Finland.

Stalin wanted to move the border farther from Leningrad by capturing a part of the neighboring country and to turn Finland into a Soviet satellite state.

Damage from Soviet aerial bombardment of Helsinki, Finland, 1939-1940 (Photo: Finnish Army via Wikimedia Commons)

The USSR accused its victim of aggression and, using a puppet “Finnish government,” announced that it was going to liberate the Finnish people. Such a familiar style of the Soviet Union and its successor!

The forces were unequal, and the Soviet leadership had no doubt that the Red Army would sweep away the enemy’s resistance and would soon take Helsinki. But the Finns were not going to give up.

And what did ordinary people in the USSR think about that war? Did they believe in state propaganda or sympathize with the Finns? The documents of the Soviet secret service tell us about this.

Eduard Andryushchenko, the founder of the Youtube channel KGB Files found in the archives several dozen reports of the NKVD of Ukraine about the reaction of people to the invasion of Finland. Those reports were addressed to Lavrentiy Beria and Nikita Khrushchev. The most interesting parts of them have been included here.

As always in such documents, the NKVD assured that the majority of Soviet people supported Stalin’s policy,

“The mood of the working people reflects the strength and might of their state, fully approving of the dignified, calm and resolute response of the Great Soviet country to the aggressors and presumptuous provocateurs.”

Now, let’s take look at the statements of individuals quoted by the NKVD.

Finnish soldiers inspecting the Soviet light tanks BT-5, part of defeated convoy near Oulu, Finland. The Winter War, January 1940

Finnish soldiers inspecting the Soviet light tanks BT-5, part of defeated convoy near Oulu, Finland. The Winter War, January 1940

Early accounts repeating propaganda narratives

“We can’t take taunts anymore of a puny bug-like Finland with its stupid leaders… They forget that if the USSR stamp on it, nothing will be left of them” — Kovalenko, a foreman of Plant No 9, Shostka town.

“Our 183 million people are not afraid of the provocations of these bugs. We will defend our homeland as one. The party will complete its right policy and free the working people of Finland of the White Finns” — Symonenko, a worker from Odesa.

“We shouldn’t go easy on Finland. It needs to be taught a lesson. I’m surprised at the long patience of our government” — Kyiv professor, outstanding physician Max Gubergritz.

“…Finland must be brought to its knees and forced to accept our conditions” — professors Vasilenko, Rashba, Tatarinov, and doctor Muzychenko, Kyiv.

“The war starting in Finland will go faster than in Poland. The troops of only Leningrad and Moscow military districts are enough for this…” — Naumov, a researcher of the Institute of Mathematics of the Academy of Sciences.

A defeated Soviet convoy near Suomussalmi, Finland. The Winter War, January-February 1940

A defeated Soviet convoy near Suomussalmi, Finland. The Winter War, January-February 1940

Later not-so-sure opinions

Finnish troops fiercely resisted, and the Red Army was ill-prepared, so the invaders suffered heavy losses. People’s statements about this appear in documents in January 1940.

“The conditions are now unbearable for the Red Army. Wounded and frozen don’t get timely assistance and most of them die. Now comrades Timoshenko, Voroshilov, and even Stalin are on the Finnish front” — Kaganovich, An employee of the Kyiv telegraph.

“…Our people disgraced themselves on the Finnish front. It is not Poland, which was handed to them on a silver platter. Let them try to fight the Finns” — Kovalenko, a collective farmer from Vinnytsia Oblast.

“Samara run out even of mattresses when 2,000 wounded from the Finnish front were brought [to local hospitals]” — Karibov, a doctor from Voroshilovgrad.

“…Our troops, sent to the Finnish border, are in a terrible mood. They are not going to die for any homeland and Stalin, they just say that some restless person is sitting there in power, all he wants is foreign territories, as if our own are not enough. Let one of them go to the front himself, then, probably, there would be less fervor” — Nina Boyko.

A defeated Soviet tank T-26 in Finland. The Winter War, 1940

A defeated Soviet tank T-26 in Finland. The Winter War, 1940

Finland sympathizers

Even in the conditions of permanently ongoing brainwashing, the Soviet regime’s monopoly of information, and fear to be punished for “wrong” words, there were many Soviet people who spoke out in support of Finland.

“…I believe that the recent incident on the border with artillery fire is nothing but our staging. It could not happen that such a peaceful, tiny nation, like the Finns, would come to fight with us.”

“…They are wonderful people, I am proud that nowadays there is such a nation that really heroically fights for its independence” — Arkady Lyubchenko, a Ukrainian writer, nationalist.

“The Finns are wonderful shooters, they are good hunters, knowing their area they are in an advantageous position…” — Koval, Kyiv Telegraph employee.

“We are going like savage Huns, without popular sympathy” — Voskresensky, a technician from Vinnitsia.

“…Of course, by virtue of discipline, we are obliged to write protests, proclamations, and indignant verses. But to tell the truth, I feel sorry for the innocent Finns” — Maksym Rylsky, Ukrainian poet.

“Is there at least one sane person who would believe that in fact, Finland was the first to start attacking the USSR? I’m sure not. And it’s funny not only to assert but even to think about it. After announcing the termination of the treaty and recalling the embassy from Finland, I was sure that Finland would definitely start “attacking” us to provoke a war, and we, “the unfortunate victim of aggression,” would start to “defend” ourselves. This is how China “attacked” Japan, Czechoslovakia, and Poland “attacked” Germany and, finally, Finland “attacked” the USSR” — Antonyuk, an engineer from Kyiv.

“…The story with Finland clearly shows that we are aggressors and what is red imperialism” — Abramovich, Kyiv.

“…I believe that after an easy victory over Poland whetted our appetite too much. And the provocation on the Finnish border was caused by our side because it is inconvenient for us to battle the Finns openly” — Milamid, a worker of workshops of the Kharkiv Electrotechnical Institute.

“…When the Bolsheviks said ‘we will not give up our land and don’t want a foreign one,’ I sympathized with this. And now, the whole people says ‘why did the Bolsheviks break their word, why do we need conquests.’ This is a gamble that Hitler pushes us into” — Pischemukha, Doctor of Agricultural Sciences from Kharkiv.

“…Of course, a lot of our Red Army soldiers were killed there. It’s not Poland, the Finns know how to fight. Let them fight, and give us money for our stagings. Finland doesn’t bother me and I have nothing to fight with it for. Let the party members fight, and I don’t want to be the hero of the Union” — Lazar Frenkel, an employee of the Kyiv film studio.

“…I would like the Finns to beat ours, since they took Poland, which was ready to surrender, and started to rejoice. Soviet power will not exist for long. How long will the workers tolerate it? Everywhere you go there are queues, there is nothing anywhere [to buy].” — Raenko, a worker from Kharkiv.

Abandoned equipment and corpses of the Soviet 44th Infantry Division destroyed by the Finns near Suomussalmi, Finland. The Winter War, January 1940

Abandoned equipment and corpses of the Soviet 44th Infantry Division destroyed by the Finns near Suomussalmi, Finland. The Winter War, January 1940

Soviet citizens on the results of the Winter War

Despite everything, the Finnish David still could not defeat the Soviet Goliath. A peace treaty between the two states was signed in March 1940. A part of Finland’s territories passed to the USSR. Yes, it was Stalin’s victory, but the victory achieved through colossal efforts.

This is what the Soviet people thought about the treaty and the result of the war, according to KGB.

“…I’m very sorry that I didn’t manage to replace the tractor with a military vehicle and destroy the Finnish White Guards on it” — Krovisheev, a tractor driver.

“Still, the Finns are great, they hurt the Red Army badly, cause how many thousands were killed, it’s a horror. Of course, our government had to conclude a treaty sooner, because discontent among the people already has started” — Dulin, a design engineer of Voroshilovgrad Plant No. 60.

Some loyal citizens wondered why Stalin forgot about the so-called people’s government of Finland, which he supported earlier, and resigned himself to the fact that the old Finnish regime remained.

“…Entire Soviet people greeted with joy the news of peace with Finland, but it would be even better to totally finish with Mannerheim and leave the agreement with the people’s government in force” — Simaev, a worker from Odesa.

“Still, we must admit that the Finns were fighting well. Of course, we didn’t expect the resistance they put up” — Kopytsa, Deputy Director of the Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR.

“Still, the actions of the Soviet Union were not firm. They recognized the government of the People’s Republic, dissociated from the old government having called it a gang, and then entered into negotiations with the ‘gang,’ and simply forgot the recognized government” — Yasinsky, an economist.

“Why was it necessary to conclude a treaty, they should beat until victory, like in Poland, otherwise Finland remains as it was, we took only a piece. Where is your commitment and the agreement with the People’s Government?” — Trubnikov, a worker of the Voroshilovgrad plant.

“…It turns out that the USSR capitulated, the White Finns were not recognized, and now we have concluded a treaty with them. What will happen with the treaty with the People’s Government?” — Trubkin, a worker from Voroshilovgrad.

“I’m just ashamed of my homeland. After all, so many people died because of some insignificant piece of the Karelian Isthmus” — Linarev, the chief physician of Voroshilovgrad.

“The USSR has 60 people per one Finn and we could not do anything… Now we will shout less about the invincible Red Army” — Ermakov, an engineer from Mykolaiv.

“This is a big blow for Polish nationalists. The conclusion of this treaty dispelled hopes for the landing of British legionnaires. But there’s still the possibility that Germany will conclude a treaty with France and jointly begin a campaign against the USSR. In this case, the revival of Poland is possible” — Markowska, a writer.

“It’s a pity that so many of our soldiers died on the Finnish front, they were brutally persecuted by the Finns” … “About two million Red Army soldiers have died in Finland. Only my village has more than 100 people killed. These fools went into battle, they should turn their weapons back, then perhaps they would have achieved something better” — Lukyanenko, a worker of the 6th horse stud farm.

“The Finnish bourgeoisie felt the military strength of the Soviet Union and asked for peace at any price. They understood that the USSR is a country that is waging the just war against the aggressor” — Tarapata, a worker of the Lokhvitskiy distillery.

Soviet troops enter defeated Viipuri, Finland, ceded to the USSR as a result of Stalin's aggressive Winter War. The city now is called Vyborg. The Winter War, 1940

Soviet troops enter defeated Viipuri, Finland, ceded to the USSR as a result of Stalin’s aggressive Winter War. The city now is called Vyborg. The Winter War, 1940

During the war, the NKVD also closely followed what was happening among the Red Army soldiers who were to go to the Finnish front. There are tons of amazing documents on this which may later make up another episode of this series.

Read more:

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Tags: Finland, KGB archives, Soviet-Finnish Winter War (1939-1940)


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