Valikko Sulje

The subversives

A drawn picture, where Finnish soldiers stand by the door of a barn and Russian soldiers are inside.

During the Winter and Continuation Wars, motley gangs of saboteurs and spies were active in the Finnish border area, working for the Russians. Some were professional soldiers dispatched to the area by the Russians, but there were also individuals who had fled from Finland to Russia during the Civil War, as well as their descendants. The activities of these ‘desants’ escalated in the summer 1943, reaching a peak just before the massive Soviet Union offensive in 1944. At that time, many of them were also captured on both sides of the border. With few written resources, details of the desants’ fates are scant, but a few proven cases are known to have happened in Rautjärvi.

Yes, I was there too. As a young man, just a half-grown lad. No particular knowledge of the world or anything else, really.

It was rumoured around the villages that at Rautjärvi, some of their own and a few other boys had been seen up to no good. With ugly looks, they had scarpered, pointed hats swaying and evil rags swinging, when our gang approached. “Subversives,” they said. The rag-tags had spouted forth in a mixture of Russian and Finnish, evidently learned from the revolutionists and traitors of the fatherland.

Yes, they were eventually caught before managing to do more mischief. One was shot where he stood, another ran off through the rustling willows, but he, too, was finally cornered around Kymälahti. Three bearded men were then carted off to the municipal hall, where they were grilled by numerous interrogators.

Sweat running down my face, I watched through a crack in the door the wild-looking chaps being questioned. One of them, Pekka or Pedja by name, said he had come across the border with others to liberate the Finns. He had blown up bits of railway and road in the region. Another, Koski the driver, tried to get intelligence on the strengths and movements of Finnish troops. Apparently, the intention had been to blow up the arms depot to smithereens and burn the forests in the flames of hell.

Death was the certain reward for such tales for both men. A brief court-martial was held, after which both were taken to the vicinity of the vicarage potato cellar and shot there.

Picture: Kirsi Pääskyvuori

The third man was a Russian lieutenant whose language nobody could fathom. The thin-faced Russki was temporarily locked up in the cow house cellar to think about his sins, but tried to escape in the night. As luck would have it, a capable man happened to be on guard at the time: he sent such a barrage of bullets through the man that he was almost cut in two.

They were buried on Ryöppäänmäki hill. The same place also concealed the remains of the spies found in the canteen grub line and shot, one of them with the badge missing from his cap and the other with boots that looked like they had come from another world, which indeed they had.

That was a time when many kinds of folks slunk around the region, on land and in the air. One time, when the truce had already begun, Russian planes flew over, evidently searching for their war heroes. Soldiers moving in an odd manner had been spotted in the Hiidenniemi area. My father, who had been ordered to search for subversives, later told me that when, led by Sergeant Häyhä, they trapped the gang in a barn at the edge of a field and told them to surrender, they refused. Assurances of the coming peace made no difference. Three of the men were killed, and a woman in the group blew herself up with a hand grenade.

Pekka Vartiainen
Picture on the top of the page: Anni Jokitalo
Transl. Annira Silver
Location on map

The story and the pictures are a part of Tarinajoki book (River of Stories), made in Rural Explorer project. As part of a culture tourism project, stories arising from the body of folk narratives and history also have a function in relation to the productisation of tourism. The stories are linked to real locations.