Poles in Russia – Most important things to know

poles in russia

Approximately 3 million Poles call the Russia their home, including 47,000 ethnic Poles living in the Russian Federation and those who were forcibly deported during or after World War II. The majority of Poles in Russia live in the North Caucasus region, where they are part of an ethnic minority. The largest concentrations can be found in the cities and environs of Stavropol Krai and Krasnodar Krai.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Holy Virgin Mary in Moscow was built in the years 1899–1911 by Polish architect Tomasz Bohdanowicz-Dworzecki. It holds Polish-language services.

History of Polish Migration

Poles in Russia have a long history dating back to the 16th century when the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was a major power in Eastern Europe. Following the partitions of Poland in the late 18th century, when Russia annexed much of modern-day Poland, thousands of Poles moved eastward to resettle within Russian borders. In addition, during and after World War II, many Poles were forcibly deported from areas under Soviet control to the Russian Federation.

Today, Poles living in Russia generally maintain their Polish culture and language and many people of Polish descent who were forcibly deported still long to return to Poland. They are a significant number of Poles living as a minority within the Russian Federation, making up around 1% of Russia total population.

Despite this, they have become an integral part of the multi-ethnic Russian society and culture. Poles have made significant contributions to the Russian economy, primarily in the fields of engineering, oil production and mining, as well as education and healthcare. They are also known for their renowned cuisine and hospitality which has become popular throughout Russia.

Polish students living in exile due to the influence of Russia

In the 18th century, those who opposed Russia’s growing power in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, such as members of the Bar Confederation, were banished to Siberia. This marked a devastating time for many Poles whose lives had been uprooted and moved thousands of miles away from their homes. Notable Polish scholars studied in Siberia, among them Aleksander Czekanowski, Jan Czerski, Benedykt Dybowski, Wiktor Godlewski and many more.

According to the 1897 Imperial Russian Census, people of Polish origins in the Russian Empire were exiled or sent as a punishment into labour camps (katorga) for taking part in national uprisings. As a result, an increasing number of Poles were forcefully exiled to Siberia for katorga and became known as Sybiraks. After their Russian exile, some decided to remain in Siberia, creating a Polish minority there.

A vast majority of these individuals were either participants or supporters of the 19th-century November Uprising and January Uprising, as well as those who were part of the 1905–1907 unrest. Additionally, hundreds of thousands were deported during the Soviet invasion in 1939.

At first, 148 people from Poland were living in the Orenburg province. But by June 1864, 278 people had been sent there to live under the supervision of the police. By mid-1865, 506 people were living there. In addition, 831 people were identified for living on the state lands of the Orenburg and Chelyabinsk districts, of which 754 people were allocated to live in Ufa.

Around the 1860s, there were around 20,000 Poles living in Siberia. In 1866, an uprising of Polish political exiles in Siberia broke out but it was not successful. In the late 19th century, a limited number of Polish voluntary settlers were attracted to the region because of its economic development.

Polish migrants and exiles, many of whom were forbidden to move away from the region even after finishing serving their sentences, formed a big Polish minority there. Hundreds of people from Poland took part in the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Poles in the Soviet Union

When the Russian Revolution of 1917 started, there were millions of Poles living within the Russian Empire. There were also Poles in Ukraine, Poles in Lithuania and other countries of the Soviet Union.  After the revolution, there was a civil war. Some Poles worked with the communists, but most Poles saw this as a betrayal of their country.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, followed by the Russian Civil War, the majority of the Polish population saw cooperation with the Bolshevik forces as betrayal and treachery to Polish national interests.

In 1918, the tragic and untimely deaths of Marian Lutosławski and his brother Józef (father to the acclaimed Polish composer Witold Lutosławski) occurred in Moscow at the hands of those deeming them “counter-revolutionaries”. Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz was alive when the Russian Revolution happened in St. Petersburg.

This event had a big impact on his writings, which often talked about how terrible social revolutions can be. Even if they look as a great patriotic war, a social revolution is always a danger to people’s lives.

Some famous revolutionaries who were born in eastern Poland include Konstantin Rokossovsky, Julian Marchlewski (communist politician), Karol Świerczewski (communist diplomat), and Felix Dzerzhinsky. Dzerzhinsky and Józef Unszlicht, the Bolshevik revolutionary activist, was one of the founders of the Cheka and Soviet government official of Polish descent, which later became the NKVD. Even though they lived in Poland, the members of the Communist movement did not think of themselves as Poles.

They saw themselves as Soviet pioneer without any national feelings. The Soviet Union also organized Polish units in the Red Army and a Polish Communist government-in-exile. Many of the Poles citizens participating in the Red Army were instilled with Russian idealism.

Polish citizens in Modern Russia

In 2002, the Russian Census reported that 73,000 Poles resided in Russia. This population encompassed both native Poles and immigrants as stated by the soviet diplomats. It is speculated that up to 3 million Polish people were dispersed throughout the former Soviet Union at one point in time. Remarkably, a decade later in 2010, there was still a large presence of 47,125 Poles living within Russia’s borders.

Today, Poland and Russia have a friendly relationship. The two countries are part of the same Council of Europe and NATO. In recent years, they have cooperated on issues such as energy resources and security. Additionally, both countries have come together to form an intergovernmental agreement that allows Polish citizens to live and work in Russia without any visa restrictions.

Polish citizens living in Russia today continue to play an important role in the country’s cultural and economic life. Polish culture, language, food and customs remain prevalent. The Polish national diaspora has also grown significantly over the years.

Fact 1: Soviet military officer Aniela Krzywoń, was the only woman in history who was not a citizen of the SU to be awarded the USSR’s highest honor for bravery, the title Hero of the USSR.

Fact 2: The Polish church in Steindamm was demolished by the Soviet administration in Kaliningrad in 1950.

Fact 3: The majority of Poles live in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and many other places around the country.

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