View Full Version : Gammalsvenskby, Swedes of the Ukraine

Sunday, January 9th, 2005, 02:22 PM
Swedes in the Ukraine hail their distant roots

"Du gamla, Du fria, Du fjällhöga Nord..." The Swedish national anthem rings beautifully over the land when eight old women sing together with the Ukrainian evening-sun in the background. It is emotional, suggestive, and a bit weird. Here, at the bank of the river Dnepr in southern Ukraine, 222 years ago more than 700 Swedes landed after being banished from their homes in Estonia.

The eight women are the core in a group of about 30-40 persons who are still fighting to keep the Swedish tradition alive in Zwielka, which is the Ukrainian name of Gammalsvenskby (Old Swedishvillage). In many cases their Swedish is pure.

According to one story, after disputes with the landlord Magnus Stenbock on Dagö in Estonia the Swedes were sold to Chaterine II, who wanted to populate southern Ukraine with good farmers. More probable is that they were simply banished. In 1781 close to 1000 people left Dagö, for a 2000 kilometres long trek, called the March of Death by some historians. After ten months, close to 700 of the banished reached their goal, further to the south than the soldiers of Charles XII ever reached. There, Gammalsvenskby was founded.

After almost 150 years, a journey in the opposite direction was made. Gammalsvenskby had been hard-hit by WWI and the Russian Revolution. By the end of the 1920's life was made even harder by Stalin's regime of terror, and starvation struck. After a referendum in the village, they asked Moscow for permission to return to Sweden.

In Sweden the feelings were mixed. The Right thought it a matter of honor that they should be received, while the Communists meant that Swedish propaganda were luring them away from the world utopia.

Anyway, 731 Swedes returned home. They were disappointed, in Gammalsvenskby they had run their lives themselves, but in Sweden they became farm-laborers for other people. Many of them had wanted to form a new village in the motherland and live together, but they were dispersed as agrarian proletarians instead (-Oskorei)

So 243 of them, with cheering Communists in the front, returned two years later to the Soviet Union. But in 1930 the purges of Stalin began in earnest. In 1937 the Secret Police came to the village. They were given food and vodka, but took 21 men with them. The men were killed.

In 1941 the village was taken by the Germans, and at the retreat two years later the village was completely evacuated. Women and children were moved to Poland and Germany and put to work, the men into the army. In some cases the men were later punished for fighting for Germany.

Emil Norberg ends the interview with the words: "I am glad and proud that I am Swedish, you might as well write that, lad".

This is an attempt at a summary and translation of the article from:

As an interesting endnote, the people of Gammalsvenskby are not welcome in Sweden today, the way Volk-Germans are in Germany. (-Oskorei)