Skip to content

A press conference in Moscow on April 1, 2021, marked the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Jehovah’s Witnesses by train to Siberia

APRIL 30, 2021

SUMMARY | Series of Conferences in Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine Dedicated to the 70th Anniversary of the Soviet Deportation of Jehovah’s Witnesses to Siberia

SUMMARY | Series of Conferences in Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine Dedicated to the 70th Anniversary of the Soviet Deportation of Jehovah’s Witnesses to Siberia

A series of virtual academic and press events in Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine were held to mark the 70th anniversary of Operation North—the 1951 Soviet deportation of 9,793 Jehovah’s Witnesses by train to Siberia.

At certain events, attendees were directed to the website, dedicated to Operation North. The website, developed by Jehovah’s Witnesses, is available in English, Russian, and Ukrainian. It provides a wealth of historical information and analyses.

April 1 | Moldova Academic Conference

Dr. Lidia Padureac of the Alecu Russo State University of Balti stated: “The USSR carried out the 1951 deportation as an act of public punishment in order to prevent the spread of ideologies other than Communism.”

Brother Victor Dornicenco (top left) speaks during a virtual conference hosted by three academic institutes in Moldova on April 1, 2021

However, according to Dr. Nicolae Fustei, scientific researcher for the Institute of History: “Operation North did not achieve its goal. . . . The organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses was not destroyed, and its members did not stop promoting their faith but instead began to do it with even more boldness.”

Dr. Virgiliu Birladeanu, scientific researcher at the Institute of History and the conference moderator, commented on the remarkable character of the exiled Witnesses whom he interviewed as part of his research. He stated: “I was amazed at the optimism I saw in their eyes; they had no resentment for what they had endured from the Soviet State.”

Brother Victor Dornicenco, who serves at the Moldova branch, noted how the history of Soviet repression is repeating itself in Russia. He comments: “Sadly, lessons have not been learned. In the summer of 2017, without any legal grounds, the Religious Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, namely 175,000 people, was banned. Prejudice and misinformation about the practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses have led to the loss of fundamental rights, such as the right to thought, conscience, and freedom of religion.”

April 1 | Moscow Press Conference

As previously reported, five scholars and human rights experts, along with Brother Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a representative of the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, spoke to the media about Operation North and the current persecution in Russia. The entire conference was broadcast live online in English and Russian.

April 6 | Academic Roundtable Hosted by the International Memorial Society in Moscow

As previously reported, this event was broadcast live online in Russian only.

April 8 | Kyiv Academic Conference

Fourteen scholars from six countries, along with Brother Ivan Riher from the Ukraine branch, gave brief lectures. As part of their research, some scholars conducted extensive interviews with deportation survivors. Video excerpts from these interviews were shown to attendees.

Dr. Tomasz Bugaj, historian and researcher at the Institute of Culture Sciences at the University of Silesia in Poland, stated: “Despite the terrible living and working conditions, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ moral and ethical values as well as their convictions remained unchanged. They did not even have the slightest idea to compromise their position for better work and life conditions or for food.” Dr. Bugaj referred to the Witnesses as “a phenomenon” for succeeding in preserving and cultivating their religion under the Communist regime.

Professor Liudmyla Fylypovych, vice-president of the Ukrainian Association of Religious Studies, highlighted that Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine currently distribute Bible-based literature in 36 languages. She also emphasized how their ministry work benefits more than just the Witness community. She states: “The Witnesses solve a great number of social problems that Ukrainians face.” For example, she noted that the Witnesses reach out to those with hearing and visual impairments in order to teach them the Bible and make them feel a valued part of the community.

The event was broadcast live online in English, Russian, and Ukrainian.

April 9 | Kyiv Press Conference

Professor Fylypovych told the press: “Jehovah’s Witnesses demonstrated how well they can adapt to different circumstances. Moreover, they turned these negative conditions to advantage and managed to spread their religious values. . . . In Soviet times, Jehovah’s Witnesses earned the respect of people around them for the faithfulness to their principles.”

Professor Igor Kozlovskyy, president of the Center of Religious Science Research and International Spiritual Relations in Ukraine, stated: “To understand who we are, we need to remember our past. . . . Mention of the deportation of Jehovah’s Witnesses should not be episodic. It should be included in the general history of Ukraine.” He added: “It is the responsibility of religious experts to try to eliminate hate speech and negative myths regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as other religious communities.”

The event was broadcast live online in English and Ukrainian.