Why is the deportation of Mariupol citizens a repeating of history?

According to the latest data, about 45,000 Mariupol citizens have been deported to the occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and Russia. The Russian occupiers continue to terrorize the civilian population of Mariupol and destroy the traces of their crimes. However, during its history, Mariupol had already experienced an imperial colonial approach forcing entire nations to change their regions of residence.

The history of Mariupol should start with the founding of Cossack settlement Kalmiuska Palanka. However, like most cities in Southern Ukraine, the official history of the city dates back to 1778, when the Russian imperial authorities founded the county town of Pavlovsk on the banks of the Kalmius river. The next year, Pavlovsk was renamed by the order of Prince Grigoriy Potemkin into Marianopol or, more usual, Mariupol.

At that time, the Russian Empire was preparing for the annexation of the Crimean Khanate and wanted to create a favourable basis for that by organising various political actions. After the conclusion of the Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji in 1774, the religious and ethnic confrontation between the Christians (Greeks and Armenians) and the Muslims (Tatars) intensified on the territory of the Crimean Khanate. Even the decree of Shahin Khan Girai in 1777, which equalized the rights of the representatives of both religions, did not help. In such circumstances, the local Greeks sought protection from the Russians. The Russian authorities decided to take advantage of the moment: the mass resettlement of the Christians from Crimea should significantly undermine the economy of the Khanate forcing local authorities to accept the annexation of the peninsula to Russia.

The letters of the spiritual leader of the Crimean Christians, Metropolitan Ignatius of Gothia and Kafa, to the Russian Empress Catherine II, which he sent in 1771–1772 asking for help, were used as a formal reason for this deportation. On March 9, 1778, the Empress signed two rescripts with an order to resettle all the Christians (Greeks, Georgians, Armenians and Wallachians) living in Crimea to the free lands of Novorossiisk and Azov provinces.

The resettlement campaign lasted from July to September 1778, but it took more than a year until the Armenians and Greeks finally received the promised lands. The Greeks settled in the area of modern Mariupol becoming the ethnic basis of the new city. At the end of 1778, 31,386 Christians left the Crimean Khanate: 18,395 Greeks, 12,612 Armenians, 218 Georgians and 161 Wallachians. The immigrants were provided with socio-economic benefits including increased land holdings, long-term exemptions from taxes and conscription. At the same time, as of 1781, 14,483 Greeks lived in Mariupol County, which is a decrease of almost 4,000 compared to the year of resettlement. Any attempts by the Greeks to return to Crimea were suppressed in every possible way by the Russian imperial authorities.

The ultimate goal set by Russian colonialism was finally achieved in 1783 when the lands of the Crimean Khanate eventually became a part of the Russian Empire.

In the war with Ukraine, modern Russia uses the tools of imperial policy, including the forcible deportation of civilians, which seemed to have disappeared with the fall of Europe's last quasi-empire, the Soviet Union.

Mariupol Mayor's Adviser Petro Andriushchenko claims: “This is a real forced deportation. Because, no matter how it happens, if a person is not even asked where he or she wants to go and all opportunities to get to the part controlled by Ukraine are blocked, this is definitely not an evacuation. [...] The biggest part of people are registered as "refugees" and deported to the economically depressed areas of Russia. We now know about Tomsk, Vladimir, and Yaroslavl, we already have information about the planned deportation to the Samara region. It reminds me more of the situation of the Second World War and those Ostarbeiters who were deported by the Germans.”

This crime of Russia will not go unpunished, and Ukraine will make efforts to return forcibly deported Mariupol citizens to their country.

Historian Vitalii Baka

Українська версія