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News of the weekWeek 49 / 2004: Finnish POWs in the Soviet Union
Soviet Union was ill prepared to receive prisoners of war in the Winter and Continuation Wars against Finland. It had wrongly estimated the progress of war as well as the potential number of POWs. Therefore setting up prison camps was still underway when the prisoners arrived. These findings are presented in Dmitri Frolov’s doctoral dissertation Prisoners of War in the Soviet Union: Finnish prisoners in NKVD camps during the Winter and Continuation Wars.
Frolov discusses the establishment and operations of UPVI, the administration of prisoner of war affairs, a unit under NKVD, People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, that is, the secret police.
“UPVI was in charge of the reception and maintenance of all prisoners of war captured by the Red Army and their use as a workforce. The POW administration drew up an array of normative judicial documents, regulating the relations between the Soviet state and the prisoners of war,” Frolov says.
The mortality of Finnish POWs was highest in 1942 and the autumn of 1944. During the Continuation War, 997 Finnish POWs died in Soviet Union, so the mortality rate was 32 percent, including those shot whilst being captured.
The Soviet government and authorities in charge of Finnish POWs made several mistakes, according to Frolov. They broke many norms of international law. For example, instead of international regulations on the treatment of POWs, the Soviet Union applied their own national laws.
“On the other hand, the Soviet Union tried not to make the difficult situation of POWs any worse. Finnish POWs were never targets of systematic genocide. The Germans, for example, had it much worse,” Frolov concludes.
Text: Tapio Nurminen
Photo: Dokumenttitoimitus / TV1 / YLE. Reijo Nikkilä.
Translation: Valtasana Oy