Bielastok

Bielastok is a small village in Russia located North-West of Tomsk. It was founded by Polish settlers from the Podlasie region, who came to Siberia voluntarily at the turn of the 20th century. Today, Bielastok has several dozen wooden and brick houses, a few shops, a community centre and a Roman Catholic church built in the early 20th century.

In the beginning Polish settlers were doing fairly well and the village developed quickly, but the situation changed when the new authority came to power. At the time of the Soviet rule the residents of Bielastok resisted compulsory collectivisation for a long time, refused to join the kolkhoz, fought for the right to keep their identity and religion. Between 1936–1938, Poles were affected by mass repressions on the part of the NKVD: attempts were made to ban the use of the Polish language at school, orders undermining everyday life were sent, severe punishments were imposed, and matters of faith and tradition were interfered into. Finally, the residents of Bielastok gave in, and the village was collectivized. Soon afterwards the NKVD, as part of the scheduled “Polish operation” carried out in the entire USSR, arrested more than one hundred men from Bielastok. During fast and faked trials they were sentenced to death, and, then, murdered in the nearby Krivosheino; their bodies were sunk in the Ob River. Their families were not officially informed about their fate and waited sometimes for many years for their grandparents, parents, and sons. The truth about the NKVD crime was published only in 1993 by Vasily Khanevich, the researcher of the history of Poles in the Tomsk Oblast, who came from Bielastok and published the book Białostocka tragedia[The Bielastok Tragedy] based on archival documents and eyewitness accounts. At present, Bielastok is inhabited chiefly by Russians, and people with Polish roots account for only 25 percent of its residents. The descendants of Polish settlers seldom use the language of their grandparents. The Polish language can still be heard in prayers which have survived in the memory of subsequent generations. The Church building, seized by the authorities in the Stalinist period and falling into ruin, was returned and refurbished after the transformations of the early 1990s.

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