Chkalov is a small place located in the northern part of Kazakhstan far away from major cities in the district. It is one of the places with the largest population of Poles who were deported to Kazakhstan in the 1930s and a major centre of activity of Polish organizations supporting the Polish community in Kazakhstan.
The place came into being as a result of steppe areas being settled with exiles from the Zhytomyr Oblast in Ukraine and from the Marchlewszczyzna and Dzierżyńszczyzna Polish Autonomous Districts. Many of the displaced persons deported to Kazakhstan in the 1930s were Poles and Germans who were put in points called “tochkas” (dots). Closed settlements formed in this way were built by the deportees from scratch. Chkalov, once Tochka No. 12, is one of many places in the region which shares its origin with others, starting from the numerical name given to it. Its present name comes from the name of Valery Chkalov, a known Russian pilot, who was the first one to fly over the North Pole while making a flight from the USSR to the USA in 1937. Chkalov’s intensive development in the post-war period contributed to it becoming the capital of the Kokchetav Oblast which no longer exists. The place kept its administrative function between 1965 and 1997. At present, it remains a regional centre but without any major significance. Chkalov has some 4,000 inhabitants. Poles deported from the Ukrainian SSR or their descendants account for nearly 35 percent of its population. The remaining group is composed of Kazakhs, Russians, and few Germans who started mixed families and did not leave Kazakhstan on the repatriation wave which seized the German minority in the mid-1990s. In Chkalov, there is a large Roman Catholic church which is a centre of religious life for the Poles. The local mosque attracts a considerably smaller number of the faithful, almost only the Kazakhs. Sts Peter and Paul Parish extends to 11 villages, including a few inhabited almost entirely by the Poles. A total of several thousand people of Polish descent are the Parish’s members. The Polish Culture Community Centre operates as a unit separate from the Parish. It is located in a building bought with the Parish funds. It has two classrooms, a library of more than 8,000 volumes with access to the Internet, staffrooms, and guestrooms. The centre is operated by Polish teachers who offered themselves to work in Kazakhstan through the National In-Service Teacher Training Centre in Warsaw. They conduct classes in Polish, history and Polish culture meant for both the local youth and adults. Free classes are regularly attended by about 60 people. There is also a special interests group, “Steppe Eagles” scout pack, and a parish choir active at the school. The Polish Culture Community Centre also houses the editorial office of the Głos Polski [Polish Voice] quarterly of the Polish community in Kazakhstan. The periodical is distributed to local Unions of Poles and, thus, reaches many Polish community centres located far away from Chkalov. Its circulation is small, but it has an electronic version on the web, which makes it easier for Poles from large Kazakh towns to read it. Chkalov, as an example of a well-functioning organization of the Polish minority in Kazakhstan, is an object of many initiatives coming from Poland, including ethnographic studies, historical projects and assistance for local Poles extended by cultural organizations.