Unknown Belarus: Exiles

2017

The summer of 1915. The Tsar’s army retreats losing scorched earth of the Russian Empire’s western provinces to the Germans. The authorities evict peasant families, some flee by their own choice, villages are on fire. Hundreds of thousands of carts head for the east. They fill the roads, pushing their way through military columns. There is a living hell: epidemic of typhoid and cholera, heat, lack of drinking water, starvation, shelling and bombing by the Germans.

The vast territory of present-day Podlasie, great spaces around Lublin and Hełm, other western regions of the Russian Empire and to a lesser extent Central Poland become deswerted. Exiles are mainly Orthodox Belarusians, Ukrainians and Russians (appr. 70%) as well as Poles (12%), Jews, Lithuanians, Latvians and Armenians.

According to historians’ estimates, nearly 3 mln people had to leave their homes then. It was the most large-scale forced migration in the 20th century in this part of Europe. Those who preserved their existence in the terrible journey, reached the Don, Siberia, Caucasus and Central Asia. There they lived through two revolutions and a bloody civil war. 57 years later, they returned to their villages which were part of the restored Poland…

director Yury Kalina (Jerzy Kalina), 2017, Poland

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