Soviet refugees in Finland: No escape to freedom

by , under Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

I met Aleksandr Shatravka in 2009 thanks to Migrant Tales after searching for over twenty years for such a person. He was one of twelve former Soviet citizens documented by Amnesty International who was forcibly returned in 1974 to the USSR after being caught by Finnish Border Patrol authorities. 

Shatravka sent me by email a video clip documenting that ordeal with his brother Mikhail and two friends, Boris Sivkov and Anatoly Romanchuk.

After they were caught by Finnish Border Guard Antti Leivo they were soon sent back to the Soviet Union, where they ended up at a special psychiatric hospital.

While Shatravka holds no grudges against the Finnish authorities for sending him back, Finland was not during the cold war a place to seek political asylum especially if you were from the Soviet Union.

Aleksander and Irina in Mikkeli in October 2011.

I wrote in February 2010 a feature in Apu magazine about Shatravka. I met him and his second wife, Irina, for the first time in Finland last year.

  1. Mary Mekko

    That’s interesting. But what kind of refugee,what was he fleeing with his brother and friends? Just the regular Communist radical left totalitarian dictatorship that ALL Soviets could have used to claim political asylum, or was he gay, or Pentecostal, or a gypsy minority? If they put him in a psychiatric hospital, what treatments did he receive? Why not prison,a s was the usual punishment in Communist countries if one tried to “escape paradise”?

    One can understand that Finland had to cooperate with the Soviet dictatorship in the matters of returning escapees,but Sweden was the safe haven if they could make it across Finland. Your poor Alexander just had bad luck with those super-efficient Finnish border authorities.

    On the other hand, one can also imagine the top leadership of Finland having their coffee and cigarettes and realizing what could happen if they were a refugee haven for Soviet dictatorship’s so-called “victims” (all 250 million????). Poor small Finland would be swamped. Finland did not want any trouble with the big brown Bear next door. They were once part of that lovely empire and had done with it.

    But now, old USSR has become a free place. No need for Russians to come over as Refugees – hey, they can come in a Mercedes and buy a nice big house, eh???

    Tell us more about Alexander, what the horrible Russkis did to him, why he escaped, and did he ever get out of that hospital, ever go to a prison, get tortured, lose everything, get a job or did he just live as a bum on the outskirts of Soviet society, perhaps cleaning the streets? Isn’t that why the old women were condemned to sweeping the streets – they’d tried earlier in life to escape and the Finnish authorities had turned them back???

    Please investigate further. We love hearing about horrible leftwing dictatorships’ nastiness. Tell us more about the USSR’s millions of gulag victims. Thanks, Enrique!!!

  2. Migrant Tales

    Hi Karel, we have met before. I liked what you wrote. We wrote a big story in the Finnish media about your ordeal in Finland.