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ost of the events that are occurring today, had occurred in the past to an extended similarity. What is for sure is that this isn’t the first time Ukraine is forced by oppressors to leave and find refuge in neighboring countries. It all started in the early 1920s after the Bolshevik revolution.

Chronologically, we resume the thread of events from the beginning of 1922, the year that marked the height of the first great Soviet famine — one of the main causes of the refuge from Soviet Ukraine in Romania and Bessarabia. In the autumn of 1921, according to official statistics, over 20 million USSR (including Ukraine) residents were suffering from hunger. Dozens of starving regions and districts were affected by drought, epidemics, civil war, and terror with widespread food demand being the most “effective” means of Bolshevik rule.

On February 17, 1922, the Prefecture of Tighina informed that the refugees continued to come from over the Dniester, bringing “elements dangerous to the safety and, in any case, public health and safety of the local region”, with the proposal of sorting the fugitives by a local joint commission. The Ministry of Interior approved the report and, on February 21, 1922, communicated the decision of the Ministry of War, the General Staff, and the General Directorate of Internal Affairs of Chisinau. The registration of refugees was still carried out by the civil and military commissions.

It is important to mention that at this time Big Romania has been formed which means that at that time Bessarabia was part of Romania and not of the Soviet Union.

The Ministry War

The Ministry of War sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs notice of the newspaper “Jewish Chronicle”, published on January 20, 1922, in London. Under the title “Romania. Atrocities committed to refugees “, the publication called for” barbaric treatment “applied to Jewish refugees from Ukraine, including the case of two officers accused of” dishonoring and killing Jewish women “and that of families who” died at the border. “ Underlining “the tendency of international Jews to discredit us in the eyes of foreigners”, the General Staff informed diplomats “the situation created in Bessarabia by invading foreign elements from across the Dniester”.

The total number of Ukrainien refugees hosted in Bessarabia, at the time of writing the material, exceeded 120,000, most of them entering the country fraudulently. According to the ministry, “a very large number of these refugees are emissaries of the Soviet Government, sent to Bessarabia to organize Bolshevik propaganda, to set up local revolutionary committees, to spy on the Red Army, to carry out terrorist acts aimed at keeping the spirit of the population. — it continues insecurity ”. The opinion was motivated by the findings of Security in Bessarabia.

Ukrainian refugees from Crimea at the border of Moldova in 1922 (Source: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

The authorities maintained their view that the situation in Bessarabia had become extremely tense because of the subversive activity of Jewish organizations. The “Bund” Association, which maintained links with various communist committees in the province, but also from Odessa, whose members held and spread communist publications and manifests, was considered.

The Jewish Cultural League of the Bessarabian Jews also had relations with the Communist Party. One problem from the perspective of legality was the financing of Jewish organizations: some received support from Soviet Russia, others from the “Universal Israelite Alliance” in London, some American committees or missionaries, considered “a side of communism” in the province.

Military authorities had information that the Joint Distribution Committee had among its communist or propagandist members who supported the annexation of Bessarabia to Russia. One of the missionaries was trapped while trying to go underground in Soviet Russia, and an American delegate had links with “revolutionaries” expelled over the Dniester for subversive activity.

Portrait of Fridtjof Nansen, New York, 1929 (Source: UNHCR)

On April 19, 1922, the President of the Council of Ministers was informed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of a memorandum of the High Commissioner of the League of Nations, Fridtjof Nansen, on the starvation of the population of Ukraine and of the danger to the neighboring countries of Russia, coming from the migration as well as potential casualties.

According to Nansen, the Norwegian researcher who dedicated himself to organizing the European action to help tens of millions of hungry people in Russia and Ukraine:

“these masses of migrants, stopped by the traffic difficulties created by winter, have resumed their movement today. west and creates a serious and immediate threat to Romania ”. (Quote by Fridtjof Nansen)

The conclusions of the Warsaw Epidemiological Conference confirmed the evaluation. Massive waves of populations stormed not only the internal borders of the regions but also the external ones.

In addition to the international political developments, the “invasion of foreigners, especially the Ukrainians” motivated the emergence of the Circular of the Foreign Control Service and of the Population Office, no. 46761S of July 5, 1922. The territorial structures of the Security were requested to grant authorization to stay in the country to certain categories of refugees under the following conditions: “Russian and Ukrainian suspects who came to the country after 1916 or refugees will be allowed to stay in the country only with the authorization of the Ministry of Interior, the Directorate of Police and General Security.

To this end, it was urgent to check these foreigners whose situation had not yet been settled, by submitting the documents of these foreigners to the Ministry (General Security), together with all the necessary relations on the links they have in society, occupation, livelihoods, etc., based on which relations the Ministry can decide if they were deemed “clean” to stay in the country.

The Disintegration of local Committees

On November 14, 1922, the Military Command in Chisinau asked the Ministry of Interior to abolish the committees in the province, regardless of nationality, they still presented a clear danger to the Romanian State.

This invasion of foreign elements, with ideas contrary to the national and political interests, is largely supported by the actions of the various aid committees, in particular, the American and the British. These committees, being sheltered from the authority given by the quality of foreigners and, often invested with forms of recognition by the respective governments, exceeded the scope of the activity for which they had been sent to Bessarabia by their central offices, becoming refugees, especially Jews, across the Dniester.

The Military Command of Bessarabia and the General Security Inspectorate of Chisinau saw the moral danger resulting from the attempts of corruption of the administrative bodies, to tolerate the bringing of refugees from Ukraine, and on the other hand, understanding the national danger. Through the establishment of such a large number of foreigners in Bessarabia and through the propaganda action contrary to our interests, carried, largely, with the support of these foreign committees, insisted that all committees, irrespective of nationality, to be definitively abolished, as some that present a clear danger to the Romanian State.

This allowed more Ukrainian refugees to enter Moldova and Romania.

Running out of options

The fact that the problem of Ukrainian Jewish refugees came to the attention of international organizations is attested by several sources. A letter from the delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of Nations in Romania, Bacilieri, of October 4, 1922, regarding the authorization requested by Joseph Mirkin, the delegate of the Jewish Colonization Association in Paris, to visit and study the situation of Jewish refugees in Bessarabia in order to organize emigration to Argentina and Brazil, but also the memory of the “Universal Israelite Alliance”. The Romanian Minister in Paris appreciated the humanity of the Romanian Government, manifested by the provisional acceptance of the refugees.

Ukrainian refugees waiting to cross into Romania via Dnister river (Source: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

The alliance cited war and famine as the main reasons for the exodus from Soviet Ukraine to neighboring states and estimated the number of ethnic Jews hosted by Romania to 30,000, and those who had not yet been targeted to final destinations — to 10,000, stressing that their immediate expulsion from the country would have aggravated their situation, however precarious. It was requested that the evacuation action in Romania be delayed until the Jewish organizations identified a systematic and regular evacuation solution for all the Ukrainian refugees. It is imperative to mention that at the time most of the people within Ukraine were Jewish.

The year 1923 is marked by the intention of the Romanian authorities to complete the evacuation process of refugees, a complex objective because they could not influence the financing of the evacuation nor the availability of the states where the refugees were to be permanently settled.

From this period dates a series of materials regarding the decision of the Military Command of Bessarabia that the refugees from the 30 km zone of the Dniester be evacuated inside the province and those suspected of activities directed against national security to be removed over the Dniester. The Bolshevik revolution put all neighboring countries on high alert, so no surprise why the Romanian government was looking after national security.

Following the letter of I. Johnson, representative of the League of Nations on refugee issues, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, of March 5, 1923, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I.G. Duke, urgently asked the Commander of the Army of Bessarabia to confirm or deny the information according to which, on February 21, two groups of Ukrainian Jews, one of 30, and the other 25, were expelled over the Dniester and for no reason. The answer, transmitted by the telegram no. 3613 of the Chisinau Police Prefect, was negative: “The General Popovici Military Command communicated that there have never been, through any number, 35 or 25 persons at one time over the Dniester.”

The shout of hope from the Jewish population of Ukraine

The call, probably written between 1921–1922, entitled “Jewish merciful leaders from Vad Rascov, Rezina, in other localities”, documents the desperate cry of Ukrainian Jews which must be known:

“We write this letter to you with the blood of so many thousands of massacred Jews from Ukraine, with the blood of so many thousands of innocent women and girls who have been mocked, along with the tears of hundreds of thousands of orphans and widows. Brothers and sisters! Open your hearts and let our tears come in, do not stop your ears and listen to our cries and cries, we are in great company, there has been no bargain in Ukraine that has not been devastated and burned.

The fire spreads nearer and nearer and only the barges that are near the Dniester, only they alone remained untouched. Last week and the bargains were devastated: Pesciansk, Grigoriopol, Neskivski, Braşlov (M.) Nemisov, Balta, Bogopol and others. In these parts the best heads of our people have been massacred, all their houses destroyed, broken and broken everything in them, even the little Janitkov was also devastated. They murdered a lot of Jews. The victims buried them here in Rashcov, and we think you heard our cries, which we think have reached the sky.

These words cannot better describe the desperate attempt of these refugees to find comfort and safety within a land. It is imperative to remember that immigration in the 1920s wasn’t the easiest especially when most of these refugees were only poor peasants. Not so different from the current crisis of 2022.

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