| At the beginning of the reference period (1800) there were
not so many Russians in the Baltic provinces of the Russia Empire. In Riga
at that time lived about 5000 Russians (15%), mainly merchants who migrated
to the city for business needs. The most numerous Russian population of
the region of Latvia resided in the Latgale part of Vitebskas province.
Here lived about 25,000 Old-believers whose ancestors had fled to Poland
about the end of the 17th century.
As the trade and manufacture developed, the need in labor force grew up. Some of the employers found it profitable to hire workers in the inner provinces of the Empire where the serfdom existed up to 1861, and some landowners agreed to send their serfs to work in cities. Of course, their salary went to the landowners. When the serfdom was abolished, many of these serfs went back but not all of them.
This was one of the main reasons for the growth of Russian population in Riga - in 1867 there were 25,800 Russians (25%). The migration of this type also existed for other places of the region of Latvia but was not very pronounced, however. I was rather surprised when found in the documents from the archive of Valmiera Orthodox church several documents concerning persons that migrated from Russian provinces in the middle of the 19th century. The documents allowed to conclude that in some cases the soldiers of the Army married local maids, and local landowners invited skilled workers from non-Baltic provinces. I am going to discuss the documents later, but now I could refer only to the document related to the marriage of Anna Zilvers.
The further industrial development needed more workers, and they were frequently hired in the inner provinces of Russia. The need for educated persons from Russia arose at the end of the 19th century when several laws were issued about the exceptional use of the Russian language in the official documents.
At the beginning of the 1900s some migration of Russian peasants to Latgale region was initiated by the economical measures of the Tzar government. Here Agrarian Credit bank was created that helped peasants of Vitebskas province and of other provinces to move to the Latgale part of Vitebskas province and to buy land there. V.Volkovs in his book /Volkovs/ calculated that in this way some 100 Russian families migrated to the region of Latvia. Another author F.Kemps /Kemps/ spoke about thousands of Russians that were settled in Latgale by Tzar's government.
The military operations during the WW1, the Revolution 1917 and the Civil War in Russia caused some migration of Russians to Latvia. Mostly they migrated further westward. Maybe several thousands stayed in Latvia. For example, 3000 of 12,000 nansenists in Latvia in 1935 were Russians. (see more statistics in another Page).
Russians were the most numerous national minority in independent Latvia and comprised more than 200,000 persons. Most of them lived in Latgale and were the Old-believers or descendants of the Old believers. During the Soviet time in 1940/1941 an unknown number of Russians migrated to Latvia to form the new system of bureaucracy. At the end of this period 500 local Russians were deported to Siberia on June 14, 1941.
As soon as the WW2 began, some Russians fled eastward but primarily those who were engaged in the Soviet system. The most part of the former Russian citizens of Latvia remained in the region of Latvia. Some of them also joined various Police units, which is easy to discover by studying the lists of persons arrested by Soviet officials /Prāvas/. The orders concerning the conscription into the Waffen SS division, usually called the Latvian Legion, were obligatory for all former Latvia citizens without regard to their ethnicity (except Jews, of course), therefore I think that Russians also joined the Waffen SS, however I do not know how many of them. The fates of those who did were similar of the fates of Latvians. It seems that some smaller units of the Armed forces of Nazi Germany were also created for former Russian citizens of Latvia.
© Bruno Martuzāns. 1995-2002