Kari Kantola, Winter War Evacuation of Kuusamo through the Eyes of the Evacuees
The inhabitants of Kuusamo were evacuated to the west during the Winter War in 1939-40. The population of Kuusamo, living in the north-east part of Oulu province, were moved to a distance of 150-220 kilometres to the parishes of Iijoki and Kiiminkijoki river valleys: 1,800 to Haukipudas, 2,400 to Ii, 600 to Kiiminki, 2,500 to Pudasjärvi, 1,000 to Yli-Ii and 600 to Ylikiiminki. The cattle was shepherded through the wilderness to the same sites where the people were relocated. It was the duty of young women and elderly men to shepherd and take care of the cattle. For the young generation it was a remarkable experience which they have kept recalling during their whole lifetime.
During the evacuation the people lived in private homes and on public premises like schools and the estates of associations. The living was confined, but the conditions varied a lot depending on the random place of relocation. There was enough food because the previous summer had been very productive. The evacuees also got milk and meat from their own cattle. The age and social status influenced the duties an individual was responsible for during the evacuation and the way how they experienced life in those days. The families of each village were placed in the same area and that helped people to adapt themselves to the deviant situation they were in. The cultural similarity between their home region and their temporary place of living also enhanced the adaptation. Sometimes local people expressed hate and envy partly because of the provisions the evacuees got from authorities as they considered themselves in need of aid, as well.
Infant mortality among the children of Kuusamo evacuees was strikingly high due to poor health care. The infant mortality rate rose to 36.2 percent among Kuusamo children in 1940. The figure is high in comparison with the 13.3 percent, which was the infant mortality rate of the whole province in the same period. During the evacuation 245 inhabitants of Kuusamo died and almost 50 percent of them were in the age group under 2 years. The reason for the high infant mortality was an epidemic of whooping-cough and measles which were spreading among the children of Kuusamo when the Winter War started. The dense living in the collective housing boosted the spreading of the diseases.
According to the peace treaty of Moscow on 13 Mar 1940, Finland was obliged to cede a fifth of the area of Kuusamo to the Soviet Union among other areas. In that area 2,100 Finns had their homestead and in addition 900 inhabitants lost their homes because of the new border zone. Kuusamo people were allowed to return home to a larger extent in May-June 1940 when the theatre of operations was called off and the nation needed the contribution of farmers in food production.