Siberian Exile Nightmare

At first Russian authorities believed that exile would be very good for Siberia from the economic point of view

The people of Siberia know a lot of folklore songs about the exiled and convicts. Siberians sing songs about fugitives escaping across Baikal Lake in tiny boats. There are many touching songs about this, although they are far from being true. The exiled and tramps have symbolized the curse of Siberia for several ages. Native Siberians are very hard to find today.

The first people exiled to Siberia came from the town of Uglich - convicted of rebellion after Tsar Godunov's people assassinated the young prince Dmitry. In 1593, the tsar forced these people to resettle to the Siberian town of Pelym. In 1653, the death penalty for thieves and robbers was revoked and exile to Siberia instead became an alternative punishment.  

Even in the 19th century many liberal politicians were saying that exile was much more humane than an imprisonment. In addition, they believed that criminals would start leading new lives in a new place; they would build their new homes and have new families, as well as improve the economic well-being of Siberia.

About 500,000 people were exiled in Siberia during the first half of the last century. However, the population increase was not registered in the region.  There were 40,000 exiled registered in the Irkutsk region in 1873, but only one-fifth actually lived there, others either escaped or went to make live in other towns. Local Siberian officials reported that more than two-thirds of the exiled did not live in their homes. For example, only 300 people stayed to live in the Manzur district, although official documents had 2,400 setters registered. Thus, about 500,000 people were exiled to Siberia, though 400,000 seemed to have disappeared.

The exiled could not increase the population of Siberia as the correlation of men to women was 1:6. There were only 18 females for a hundred of males. Furthermore, those women were not "family women." On top of this, the exiled were not allowed to marry during the first five years of living in Siberia. The majority of criminals did not wish to start a family. 

Native Siberians did not want to become relatives to robbers and murderers either. The majority of the exiled were sick with syphilis, consumption, and other diseases. Almost all female exiled were prostitutes. Children could not be born or raised under such conditions. 

Irkutsk city inspectors divided exiles into two categories: homeowners and homeless. Homeowners had their own small farms, but they were in the minority. They were the people who were exiled in Siberia with their families. They lived in small houses farming for their own needs only. The homeless exiled were hired as workers.

The poor were the largest category of the Siberian population. As a rule, they originated from fugitive soldiers who tried to conceal their origins. These people enjoyed a nomadic lifestyle and hated any form of labor. Nothing in the world could make them work. If they were in jail, they would usually hide underneath plank beds to avoid work details. 

If some of the exiled were at one time hardworking people, they lost such qualities in a criminal environment very quickly. They would become vagabonds and go to work at gold mines. Old Siberian residents sometimes housed the exiled until they settled in a new place. Many of the exiled died in the severe Siberian cold, hunger and diseases. In addition, Siberian farmers would kill them in the woods.

The exiled perpetrated more than a half of all crimes in Siberia. Murder was the most common crime, it was followed by robbery, arsons and counterfeit. The exiled were the first who started counterfeiting money. Fake money was then distributed among newcomers and peasants. A criminal environment reigned in Siberia, with 20,000 criminals arriving every year.

The newspaper Irkutsk Regional News published numerous stories about horrible crimes perpetrated by the exiled. "Two men of 22 and 50 years old broke the windows in the tavern belonging to peasant Yakov Cherkashin late at night. They entered the room where the owner and his family - the wife and two daughters - were sleeping. The criminals stabbed a five-year-old girl Avdotya and then started torturing the other girl, trying to find out where her father was keeping money. They were intended to kill the girl, when she saw someone passing by. The girl started screaming at the top of her lungs and the criminals ran away."

On October 5th 1873, Irkutsk was struck with the horrible crime committed in the merchant house. Five people were killed in the house that day: the merchant woman, her daughter, the kitchen maid, a worker and a janitor. The bodies of the worker and the janitor were thrown in the Angara river (the house was located on Angara's bank). One of the criminals raped the maid and then choked her with a rope. The girl was lucky to live and she was the only witness of the massacre. The criminal gang consisted of three exiled men and three vagabonds. The criminals were very composed at the trial, they pleaded guilty - they told the story as it is was an absolutely normal event. Three murderers of the group were sentenced to death. 

In Siberia, criminals did not hesitate to kill with axes - they did not need to be sly or inventive to fool someone. The local police could not handle the permanently growing number of crimes. It was extremely dangerous to go out during winter nights. Siberia was like the battlefield, people were used to living under such conditions - crime talks were as common as weather chats. 

Needless to mention that the moral situation in Siberia became disastrous. Prostitution and illegal cohabitation became presumably concentrated in Siberia. In the 1870s, the Irkutsk region ranked second with the number of illegitimate children after Peterburg. In Moscow, there were only 237 illegitimate children per 100,000 people, whereas in Irkutsk the figure was 391.

Criminality was everywhere in Siberia: among the authorities, in the industry, it was even part of the local culture. Writer Grigory Maksimov said that Siberian variants of Russian fairytales had their own characters - vagabonds and fugitives. Siberian children played criminal games. The exiled started to play an important role in the society, becaming even heads of industrial enterprises.

The Russian authorities started thinking about the mess in Siberia during the second half of the 19th century. Emperor Alexander III temporarily cancelled the Siberian exile, but Nikolas II reinstated it very quickly. Comrade Stalin continued the tradition too.

Igor Podshivalov

Subscribe to Pravda.Ru Telegram channel, Facebook, RSS!

Author`s name Olga Savka