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Separated from their parents and taken to camps: how and why children of "enemies of the people" were punished in the USSR

Yulia PoteriankoNews
The myth of a happy Soviet childhood was not even attempted to be extended to these children. Source: Created with the help of AI

During the Soviet era, the term "enemy of the people" was coined. It was used by the authorities to describe people who were inconvenient to the Stalinist regime for one reason or another. They were imprisoned en masse in camps and executed, but the punishment also applied to their family members.

OBOZ.UA tells what life was like for the children of "enemies of the people". Many eyewitness accounts allow us to reconstruct their lives in the smallest detail.

Stalin's ruthless repression

Targeted repressions not only against "traitors" and "spies," but also against their relatives in the USSR were initiated by an order of the People's Commissar of Internal Affairs Nikolai Yezhov on August 15, 1937, at the height of Stalin's Red Terror. According to this document, it was allowed to arrest and search the wives of those convicted on political charges. It was also allowed to repress everyone who lived with them under the same roof, including children. Only pregnant women and mothers with babies, the contagiously ill, and the elderly were given relief.

Moreover, the sons and daughters of "enemies of the family" over the age of 15 were declared potentially dangerous, as they could allegedly follow the example of their parents. This fact alone automatically opened an investigative case against the teenager and, depending on the decision of the Personal Meeting of the NKVD of the USSR, they could be sent to "correctional" institutions. In the best case, they ended up in exile. Then they were restricted in their freedom of movement and deprived of a whole list of basic rights.

Camps for children

For those children who were recognized as socially dangerous, the USSR created a whole network of institutions. These included camps, penal labor colonies, and special regime orphanages of the People's Commissariats of Education of the Union Republics. The staff of the latter, according to Ukraina Moderna, was checked by the local People's Commissariats for political trustworthiness.

Lists of children to be removed were compiled in such a way that children or relatives who knew each other did not end up in the same childcare facility. In addition, they tried to send them away from home for "upbringing." At least to another region, and ideally to another republic. The children of "enemies of the people" were placed far away from republican capitals and large cities or from the borders of the USSR. At the same time, documents, such as birth certificates, were confiscated. They were kept by the head of the children's institution.

Only babies under the age of 1-1.5 years were left with their mothers. After that, they were transferred to special nurseries, from where they were sent to special orphanages when they reached the age of 3. They were not allowed to stay with their families.

In such educational institutions, children were closely monitored, trying to identify their moods and political views. If something aroused suspicion, the child was sent to of the NKVD or through the labor colony department to a special meeting of the NKVD of the USSR.

It is known that the descendants of "enemies of the people" often had their names and surnames changed and were issued new documents. This was done so that the child could not be reunited with his or her family after reaching the age of majority.

Between July 1937 and May 10, 1938, 15,347 children of repressed parents were subjected to such repression. Very limited funds were allocated for their maintenance, so these people lived very poorly, often starving and sick.

Life of children of "enemies of the people"

The attitude of the society towards children from special institutions was appropriate. People were afraid that communicating with them would also brand them as "enemies of the people," so these children were subjected to additional social isolation even after their release from camps and orphanages.

Despite the absence of an actual ban on education, children of "enemies of the people" could not study normally. They were bullied at schools and not accepted to selected universities because of social and political stigma. Family members of "special settlers" could choose only the specialty that was available in their settlement. In the region or even in the district where there was no special settlement regime, such a child was not allowed to study. In higher education institutions, the decision was left to the members of the admission committee, but they were certainly in no hurry to show favor to such applicants, fearing to lose their place.

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