To Evacuate the Soviet Union: How the NKVD Was Saving the Country Under the Onslaught of Fascists

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The website of the TV channel “Tvzvezda” has published a series of articles on the great Patriotic war of 1941-1945 by writer Leonid Maslovsky, based on his book “Russkaya Pravda”, published in 2011.

In his opinion articles, Maslovsky reveals “the myths of the imaginary foe, Russia, and the events of the great Patriotic war, showing the greatness of our Victory.” The author notes that in his articles he is going to “show the US’ unhelpful role in West Germany’s preparations for war with the USSR”.

The evacuation of people and enterprises at the rapid onset of Nazi troops and their allies is one of the feats accomplished during the great Patriotic war. Without this feat of the Soviet people, I.V Stalin’s government, privates and officers of the NKVD troops and the leaders of the Soviet enterprises could not have claimed victory in 1945.


On June 24th 1941, the Council for the evacuation was created. On July 3rd 1941, the President of the Council for the evacuation (June 1942 – the Commission for the evacuation) was N.M Shvernik. The brunt of the management of the evacuation of industrial enterprises fell on his Deputy A.N Kosygin.

From the beginning the organisational structure of the Council was carefully considered. Decisions were binding on all party, Soviet and economic bodies. The evacuation was subject not only to people and businesses, but also material goods, including food.

Until 3rd July 1941, decisions were already made about the evacuation to the rear from the front line for aviation plants, Mariupol armor mill, and 26 plants of the people’s Commissariat of arms of Leningrad and Central areas. Even  Belarus, where the onset of the enemy hordes had been particularly fast, managed to evacuate 109 large enterprises.

“Zaporizhstal” needed 8,000 cars just for export. Not only the military was removed, but also equipment necessary for life after the war, like units of the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station. The property of collective and state farms were evacuated: cars, tractors, harvesters, grain, cattle etc.


The cultural value of museums, libraries, palaces of culture, clubs, including museums of Moscow, Leningrad, Novgorod, Pskov, Smolensk, Tula, Feodosia, were all exported east to the cities of Ukraine and Belarus. 18,430 exhibits  from the Tretyakov gallery of Moscow, 300,000 exhibits from the Russian Museum in Leningrad, and 1,117,000 exhibits of the Hermitage were evacuated.

Recovering half of the wagon fleet of the railways of the country was the most stressful period of the evacuation. In 6 months they transported about 1.5 million cars with such goods. People and goods were also transported by sea and river. In the second half of 1941, as scheduled, 2,593 industrial enterprises, including 1,523 of large size were moved to the East.

In 1942, a further 150 large enterprises were evacuated. According to incomplete data from the front line in Eastern regions, 2.4 million cattle, 5.1 million sheep and goats, 0.2 million pigs, 0.8 million horses, a lot of agricultural machinery, stocks of grain and other foodstuffs were moved.

The enterprise had not only to carry, but also to restore and run the operation. Many evacuated companies were merged into the related existing companies in the Urals, Siberia, Volga region and Central Asia. But many production areas were rebuilt. In July of 1941 a special construction and parts company was created, characterized by mobility. Many enterprises were put into operation within 1.5–2 months of arrival at their new location. For example, 3/4 of the aviation factories were restored by the end of 1941, and 9 by this time were already operating at full capacity. Likewise, the factories of the tank industry were recovered.

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The restoration of all arrivals in connection with the evacuation of factories was completed in mid-1942. Together with the removal of material assets, the huge task of evacuating the population from the front line was carried out. On 5th July 1941, the Council of People’s Commissars (SNK) of the USSR (since 1946 the Council of Ministers) adopted a special resolution “On the procedure for evacuating the population in time of war” and “regulations on evacuation”. In the autumn of 1941, in the Council for evacuation, a special Office for the evacuation of the population, headed by the Deputy Chairman of the SNK of the RSFSR K.D Pamfilova,  authorized all major areas to host evacuees.

On the ground, the Executive committees of the Soviets created the relevant departments. First from the front line were the trains with the children. Within one month 300,000 from Leningrad were shipped, and 500,000 children from Moscow and the suburbs. The evacuation of children continued into the future. The evacuation of the adult population was carried out. In difficult conditions, in the first days of the war 120,000 people from the Baltic republics were evacuated, 300,000 from Moldova, more than 1 million from Belarus, 350,00 from Kiev and all Ukraine with 3.5 million people, from Leningrad – 1.7 million, Moscow – 2 million people.

In the period from June 1941 to 1st February 1942, 10.4 million people were evacuated by rail to the rear regions of the country, 2 million were transported by water. A total of 12.4 million people were transported during this period. Another 8 million people were evacuated during the second wave of evacuation in the summer of 1942. The Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR on September 13th 1941 adopted a resolution “On the construction of living quarters for evacuees”. The erected buildings were of a simplified type, and standard houses were built. The bulk of evacuated people were satisfied with the housing due to the security of the local population. Nobody remained without a roof over their head. The 12.4 million people evacuated in 1941, and 8 million people evacuated in 1942, were provided with accommodation, food, and medical care.


In the conditions of conducting a largest-scale war, especially during the most difficult first period, the solution to these issues was associated with giant difficulties, the resolution of which was under force only by the Soviet state. World history had not known anything like it. Only the Soviet state and the restorative work in new places evacuated more than 2,500 enterprises.

To accomplish such a feat, it was necessary to have an outstanding government and intelligent working people, because such feats are accomplished only through the heroic work of millions of people living in the name of one common goal – victory over the enemy. The Soviet Union during the war had such a government and such people.

Not only did home front workers and soldiers and officers of the army do everything possible to win, but also soldiers and officers of the NKVD. They fought on the fronts of the great Patriotic war, putting their life on the altar of Victory, obtained intelligence, opposed German military counterintelligence, provided order in cities liberated by the Soviet troops that were swarming with German agents, fought in the rear with German agents, saboteurs and reined in war criminals. As well as thousands of others, it was very important for the country’s security affairs.

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In 1941 a completely different kind of people from regular folk appeared in military units of People Commissariat of Internal Affairs. These people as all our heroes merit us to erect the monument for them. And the image of the military structures of the NKVD, which exists today in our society, is largely untrue. The fact that we persevered and, ultimately, defeated the German fascist hordes, was due to the huge contribution made by the soldiers and officers of the NKVD troops.


In fact, the officers and privates of the troops of the NKVD soldiers defended the army from the tyranny of the commanders. The commanders of the front, for example, Meretskov, had at their disposal several hundred thousand armed men, who were obliged to obey their orders. But what if he became conceited, started to drink, to walk, to make destructive decisions for subordinates? To prevent this, the supervisors of this magnitude needed to be controlled. And how to control them? The control was carried out by employees of People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs.

The importance of complaints received by NKVD wasn’t the only thing in the exercise of control over the commander’s staff of army. It’s not a secret that dozens or sometimes even hundreds of complaints were received by NKVD, concerning the commander’s of the front of the army, accusing their activities. The time came when it was indispensable to check what was really going on with these commanders, to point out their deficiencies and at the same time to explain to them that the power of commander of any level is limited by those of the state.

To do this, the commander was summoned to the NKVD and it was assessed whether they could continue to be trusted, for example, Meretskov, to command the front. If no reason was given to distrust them, then the commander returned to the front in the same position and rank. But if the commander was de-ranked, they were reported to senior management, and there the question of admissibility of their further service in the army as a commander of large military units would be decided. And if the NKVD established that the military commander has committed a crime by his actions, he was put on trial. But, as we know from the history of the war, such cases were very few. Military leaders responsible for large losses of subordinate soldiers in carrying out military operations were prosecuted.

Only the presence of senior control of the soldiers guaranteed the neutralisation of tyranny from the commanders. The slender, deep and thoroughly thought-out system of management and control was directed towards the common cause of justice and victory. Much was done by the NKVD to identify refugees. Imagine the summer and autumn of 1941. Hundreds of thousands of people went to the East. Here there were military units who were exiting encirclement, stragglers, deserters, German’s agents, refugees with children, goods, livestock and animals.

Most of these people had to find shelter, food, work and place of service. The West did not have borders as such, as the front was constantly moving, but the detachments of border guards still stood at the front line, who were called defensive squads. Every person heading East talked to the staff of special departments and defensive units. They checked and saved many lives from starvation, sending them to the corresponding public authorities, finding housing and jobs for refugees. They directed the formation of soldiers. They identified among the refugees, deserters, enemy agents and saboteurs, thereby protecting our rear from fresh casualties and destruction. The titanic work of employees of the NKVD was carried out conscientiously and selflessly.

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The efficiency of particular departments is confirmed by the return of hundreds of thousands of troops in the Red Army and refugees. For example, on 10th October 1941 the Deputy chief of Management of special departments, S. Milshtein reported: “Special departments of the NKVD and defensive squads of the NKVD, for the protection of the rear, detained 657,364 soldiers, stragglers from their units and those fleeing from the front.

These operational barriers special departments arrested 249,969 people, and defensive squads of the NKVD troops for the protection of rear – 407,395 military personnel. From among the detainees of Special departments, 25,878 people were arrested, the rest of the 486,632 formed into squads and sent back to the front.”

This number does not include the soldiers who had escaped from captivity or were released from the environment, because on the day of reporting the NKVD did not record these categories of the military. It should be noted that at the time there were no penal battalions, but even if they existed, then they would only be composed of individuals from the 25,878 people arrested. And 632,486 persons had been directed to the formation of new or the replenishment of the fighting divisions.

In December 1941 the decision was made on the compulsory inspection of soldiers who escaped from captivity or out of the environment. They were sent to the applicable collection and transit points. These points were established in each army. And that decision was reasonable. A traitor could lead to the deaths of hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of Soviet people.

Thus, for a period of less than 4 months, the NKVD returned, not counting those released from the environment or who had escaped from captivity, 632,486 people to the army. If those who left encirclement and escaped from captivity are added, the number of soldiers who returned to the army, at the end of 1941, were not less than one million people. Our historians think all of the counted were taken captive by Germans. There is reason to believe that these soldiers were counted twice: as captured and as killed in combat.

It is obvious that the data about our losses during the war, requires careful, honest, qualified and objective examination and counting. K.K Rokossovsky, in his book, asserts that in the hard time for our army of the Summer-Autumn in 1941, the military formation was completed by the fighters and commanders who had escaped, POWs and those who left encirclement.

From these facts it is obvious that hundreds of thousands of people, military and civilian, were saying thank you to the officers and soldiers of the NKVD. It can also be seen that the number of Soviet prisoners of war and those killed was much less than commonly believed. Without the activities of the NKVD victory in the war would have cost us significantly heavier losses or even would not have been possible.

The people of the USSR did everything possible to win. During the war our Soviet people had given the state money and jewellery, surrendered voluntarily and gratuitously, to fund the manufacture of weapons to the amount of 16 billion rubles.

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