Staunton, August 18 – Many have observed that Khabarovsk and Belarus share much in common. For both, the physical and psychological distance to outside countries be it China or Japan for the former or Lithuania and Poland in the latter is far smaller than to the Russian capital in Moscow.
But there is a deeper historical connection that has attracted less attention: many Belarusians moved to what is now Khabarovsk Kray voluntarily at the end of Soviet times and by compulsion under Stalin and memory of those events continue to affect the thinking of people in both places.
The Ukrainian community in the Russian Far East, the so-called “Green Wedge,” is far better known, especially given Moscow’s anger that Kyiv is now paying attention to it (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/06/historical-memory-of-ukrainian-wedge-in.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/03/ukrainians-in-russian-far-east-aging.html).
Regionalist commentator Yury Moskalenko calls attention to this when he says that “Belarus and Khabarovsk are united by common historical roots” and that “present -day Khabarovsk residents are to a significant degree descendants of Belarusian and Ukrainian peasants who settled these lands more than 100 years ago” (region.expert/stereo/).
As a result, he continues, it is “no accident” that the Belarusians and Khabarovsk residents have “a mutual sympathy” or that “Khabarovsk protesters are carrying slogans in support of Belarus and Minsk protesters are carrying signs in support of the people of Khabarovsk.”
He points to an interview given earlier this year by Belarusian historian Igor Kuznetsov (gazetaby.com/post/lyudi-dobrovolno-pokidali-svoi-doma-v-belarusi-ne-/163456/). Before 1917, land hunger led hundreds of thousands of Belarusians to leave their native land. Most went to America, but some tens of thousands went to Siberia and the Far East.
That emigration is widely known, but much less known is the departure of more than 30,000 Belarusians in the first decade of Soviet power under a Bolshevik program to resettle landless peasants outside of their home areas. Most of these people voluntarily went to the Far East, including to the Khabarovsk region.
Had it not been for collectivization which led to the forcible dispatch of more Belarusians to the east, some of them might have returned. But the Soviets blocked that path back and so they remained and remain to this day. Most were forcibly reidentified as Russians, but many continue to feel themselves Belarusians or at least tied to the Belarusian land.
That is likely to intensify once Lukashenka passes from the scene.