Niños de Rusia (Children of Russia)

The Niños de Rusia (Children of Russia) were the 2,895 children evacuated to the Soviet Union by the Republican authorities during the Spanish civil war. Between 1937-8 the children were sent from the Republican zone to the Soviet Union, to avoid the rigours of war. Spanish children were sent to several other countries as well as Russia during this period and they are more widely referred to as Niños de la Guerra (Children of War).[1]

Announcement of an exhibition with posters supporting the Spanish Republic in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.

At first, the Niños enjoyed a warm welcome and decent treatment from the Soviet authorities, as the Spanish civil war raged on. However, when the Soviet Union entered into World War II and the Nazi's invaded the areas where the Niños children had been housed, they had to endure the harsh reality and deprivations of the war once more. The Niños were not able to leave the USSR during the war, and due to the political differences between the countries, the right wing dictatorship in Spain treated those who finally succeeded in returning with suspicion.

The first of the Niños to be repatriated was Celestino Fernández-Miranda Tuñón, who arrived in Spain on January 7, 1942. He had fought in the Soviet army[2] and been taken prisoner by the Finns in Karelia.

Some of the Niños de Rusia returned to Spain between 1956 and 1959 and others moved to Cuba during the 1960s, although an significant number remained in Russia.

According to the archives of the Centro Español de Moscú (Spanish Center in Moscow), 239 Niños de Rusia of Spanish origin were still resident in the territories of the former Soviet Union in February 2004.[3]

The evacuationsEdit

As the Spanish civil war (1936 - 1939) progressed, conditions became very harsh in the Republican controlled areas, so children at risk from the conflict were evacuated to other countries. The evacuations were organised through the National Council for Evacuated Children, created for this purpose by the Popular Front government. France took c. 20,000 children, Belgium 5,000. The United Kingdom took 4,000, Switzerland took 800, Mexico took 455 and Denmark took 100 evacuee children.[4]

Four transports of evacuees (Niños), totalling 2,895 children were sent to the Soviet Union between 1937 and 1938, 1,197 girls and 1,676 boys.[5] The evacuations from Valencia and Barcelona were made up of children or relatives of pilots or the military.[6] The evacuations were organised through the government of the Spanish Republic, the Soviet Union and the International Red Cross, with the selection of the children and their adult companions made through calls to the public. The evacuations were sometimes undertaken with great urgency because of the proximity of Francoist Nationalist troops. This led to a number of cases of confusion and loss of children (lost on the journey from one province to another, or where parents who thought that their children were going to France and not to the Soviet Union).

Spanish children evacuated to the USSR between 1937 and 1939 *

Sources: Russian Red Cross / Fundación Francisco Largo Caballero
Number of children Departure date Origin Port of departure
72 March de 1937 / 21/03/37 Madrid and Valencia Valencia
1765 / 1495 12/06/37 / 13/06/37 País Vasco (Basque Country) Bilbao (Santurce).
800 / 1100 23/09/37 / 24/09/37 Asturias Gijón (El Musel).
76 / approx. 300 October 1938 / end of 1938 Barcelona Barcelona
130 1939 n/a n/a
52 Post war n/a n/a

* The data in black is confirmed by both sources, otherwise they differ or only appear in the source in which they are coloured. The total number of 2895 children is that given by the Red Cross, endorsed by historians Alted Vigil, Nicolás Marín and González Martell[7]

Most of the child evacuees came from the Basque Country, Asturias and Cantabria, areas that had been isolated from the rest of the Republic by the Francoist advance.[8] Several of the transfers were made on merchant ships, in which the children travelled crowded in the holds. According to the agreement with the Soviet Union, the children were to be between five and twelve years old, although there is evidence of cases of concealment or falsification of some of the Niños children's real ages, with some sources indicating that the actual ages ranged from 3 to 14 years.[9][10] A small group of adults (aged between 19 and 50) accompanied them to take care of them and to continue their education.

Las Casas de Niños (The Children's Houses)Edit

The reception given to some of the evacuees in Leningrad was akin to a party. The Niños children were seen as demonstrating Soviet support for the fight against fascism in Spain. The Soviet authorities were concerned with children's hygiene, food and health. They were distributed to different reception centers, the "Casas de Niños" (Children's Houses) or "Casas Infantiles para Niños Españoles" (Children's Houses for Spanish Children), some of which were small palaces that had been expropriated during the October Revolution. In these houses, the Niños were cared for and educated, taught mostly in Spanish, and by Spanish teachers (mostly women), but following the Soviet educational model. Communist propaganda portrayed them as the future political elite in a Spanish socialist republic which would emerge from victory in the Civil War. The children and their families believed that their time in Russia would be short, and in their later testimonies they confirm that they were happy with the adventure of travelling to a foreign country.

At the end of 1938 there were a total of sixteen Niños houses in the Soviet Union. Eleven of them were located in the current Russian Federation: one in the center of Moscow (known as Pirogóvskaya),[11] two in the Leningrad area (one in Pushkin, current Tsárskoye Seló, 24 kilometers south of the city ; one in Óbninsk) and 5 in Ukraine (including one in Odessa, one in Kiev and one in Yevpatoria). Life in the Children's Houses is generally remembered by the surviving Niños as a happy interlude during which they received a decent education.

Second World WarEdit

The Niños's fate changed with the start of the Second World War. Soviet interest in the Niños decreased after the end of the Spanish Civil War, and with the signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in August 1939, which assured non aggression between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Soon after Germany, and then the Soviet Union invaded Poland, creating a new boundary between the two powers. The pact was fully terminated in June 1941. The Niños houses were dismantled due to the dangers of Nazi invasion. When the German army besieged Leningrad, and moved towards Moscow, and into Ukraine in the south, all the areas where the Spanish children had been placed were compromised. The Niños children in the two houses of Leningrad endured the blockade of the city by the German army during the harsh winter of 1941 to 1942.[8] 300 Niños children were evacuated once the fence could be opened, crossing the frozen lake Ladoga in trucks.[12] Gradually, and with the agreement of the Communist Party of Spain, the different Niños houses were evacuated to areas considered safer, in some cases quite remote, near the Ural Mountains and Central Asia.

Living conditions in the "second exile" worsened markedly. Many children died or fell ill. Tuberculosis and typhus, together with the extreme temperatures of the Soviet winter and a poor diet, claimed numerous victims. Many of the older boys enlisted in the Red Army. Many chose to fight against fascism in Russia just as their parents did in Spain, and to repay the people who had received them and cared for them until the arrival of war. However, there were also cases of retaliation by the Soviet Union itself when there were challenges to communism. Dr. Juan Bote García, who had accompanied the children as a teacher, was arrested and was interned in the Karagandá concentration camp for refusing to educate the children in a Soviet way, wanting "less Marxism and more mathematics".[13]

Nazi incursion on the Eastern Front. A group of Spanish children was captured in the town of Krasnoarmeysk in the Saratov Oblast.

130 Niños enlisted in the Red Army and served in the defense of the main cities of the country, especially in the battles for the defense of Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad, some were decorated for their military service. Seventy Spaniards died in the Siege of Leningrad, 46 were children or teenagers.

The rest of the Niños were no luckier. The transfers across the Soviet Union took them to remote places such as Samarkand or Kokand (present-day Uzbekistan), Tbilisi (present-day Georgia), or Krasnoarmeysk (in present-day Saratov Oblast, Russia). In August 1942 the Nazi army captured sixteen (or fourteen, according to some sources) Spanish children in Krasnoarmeysk. They were handed over to the Falange for repatriation to Francoist Spain in December, where they were used for propaganda purposes.

Dolores Ibárruri, Known as "La Pasionaria" (Passionflower) originator of the famous slogan ¡No Pasarán! and a leader in the PCE in Russia (1895-1989).

The most shocking testimonies come from this period: hunger, disease, crime, rape and prostitution.[14] Various sources refer to the existence of Niños gangs dedicated to stealing. The Republican military commander Valentín González El Campesino refers to the existence of a gang of Spanish children in Kokand, who refused to mix with Russian children, and who used the flag of the Spanish Republic as an emblem. González said that when one of those children was captured and executed, it was not in his role as a bandit, but as a supposed "Falangist".[15]

The children's settlements where the Niños had been transferred to began to suffer the rigours of war. Although the Niños were still, at least nominally, under the protection of the Communist Party of Spain (PCE), the Red Cross and other Soviet institutions and unions, the then leader of the PCE Jesús Hernández, himself exiled in the Soviet Union, often had to pressure the authorities to provide the most basic items for the Niños's survival: food, medicine, heating.[16] Those who did survive managed to do so by enduring harsh living conditions, living in peasant houses and working the fields to secure a livelihood.

When Hernández left the Soviet Union in 1943 on his way to Mexico, nearly 40% of the Niños had died. In 1947, on the anniversary of their arrival in Russia, an event was organised where fewer than 2000 of the children were present.[17] There was significant criticism of the PCE, for not returning the children to Spain. Hernández claimed that Dolores Ibárruri stated that: "No podemos devolverlos a sus padres convertidos en golfos y prostitutas, ni permitir que salgan de aquí como furibundos antisoviéticos." (We cannot return them to their parents turned gullies and prostitutes, nor allow them to leave here as angry anti-Soviets.) The memories the Niños had of the behavior of the PCE, and particularly that of Ibárruri, was often negative.

The deprivation suffered by the Niños was reflected by the similar experiences of the wider Soviet population during the Second World War.

Attempts to retrieve the Niños children by the Spanish stateEdit

The return of the Niños evacuees, especially those in the Soviet Union, was something which the Franco regime in Spain continued to pursue. Even before the end of the Second World War, the Falange took control of the repatriation project. Manuel Hedilla, head of the organisation, sent a letter to The Times in 1937 asking for help in reversing what he described as "inhumane export of children" to the Soviet Union,[18] offering to defray the costs of maintaining the children. The Servicio Exterior de Falange (the Falange Foreign Service) was placed in charge of the project. The records are held in the Alcalá de Henares archives, including a 1949 document describing some of the methods used.[19]

"Nuestros delegados en el extranjero solicitan su devolución a España; en un 99 por ciento de los casos esa solicitud es denegada. Se recurre entonces sin miramientos a los medios extraordinarios, con los que, de una forma u otra, casi siempre se logra al fin obtener al menor." (Our delegates abroad request their return to Spain; but in 99 percent of cases that request is denied. Extraordinary means are then used without regard, with which, in one way or another, it is almost always possible to finally obtain the minor.)

The first returnee under this policy was one of the Niños who become a soldier in the Red Army, and was taken prisoner during the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland in 1939-40. Information obtained from him convinced the Falange that the Niños were being trained as communist activists. This was enhanced by the Nazi capture of a group of Niños in 1942, allegedly members of an "activist cell". The regime was always suspicious that the repatriated Niños could be communist agents. In 1952, the Falangist writer and poet Federico de Urrutia railled against "the minor expatriates of 1937" sent to the Soviet Union, who he claimed "dada la infrahumana educación recibida [...] ya habrían dejado de ser criaturas humanas, para convertirse en desalmados entes sovietizados."[18] (Given the subhuman education they received, [...] they would have ceased to be human creatures, to become soulless Soviet entities.)

Under this policy, once the child was repatriated, they were not returned to their family, "por no ofrecer [...] ninguna garantía sobre su educación" (for not being able to offer [...] any guarantee on their education), but were handed over to the Auxilio Social (a Francoist era humanitarian relief organisation much used for state propaganda).

After the war: Spain, Mexico, Cuba, the Soviet UnionEdit

After the end of the Second World War, most of the surviving Niños returned to the original area they has been settled in within the Soviet Union. Many ended up settling in Moscow, although some did settle elsewhere.[10] Eventually, holidays in Spain were permitted for those who had spent twenty years in the Soviet Union.[20]

In 1946, a small group of about 150 of the original Niños had obtained permission to go to Mexico to be reunited with their relatives.[4]

After Stalin's death in 1953, a period of slow diplomatic thaw began between Spain and the Soviet Union. Spain joined the UN in 1955 and in 1957 an agreement was reached for the return of the Niños who wished to go back to Spain. The transfer was organised quietly, although the Spanish government was keen to paint the exercise as rescuing the former child evacuees from the dangers of the Soviets. On January 21, as part of an agreement between both countries and with the assistance of the Red Cross, the Soviet ship Crimea arrived at the port of Castellón de la Plana with 412 Spaniards on board.[21] Between that year and the next, nearly half of the Niños sent to the Soviet Union would arrive in Spain.[8]

The Niños encountered hostility on their return. Some authorities mistrusted them, suspecting that they now held communist beliefs. For many families the reunion was difficult. They had sent children away for their safety, but were now being reunited with adults after almost twenty years, some now parents themselves, and with very different life experiences. A significant number of the Niños ultimately decided to return to the Soviet Union.

Knowledge of the Spanish language led another group of about 200 Niños to move to Castro's Cuba from 1961 to the mid-1970s, as Soviet specialists sent by the Communist Party of Spain. They worked as translators, teachers, in construction or even for Cuban intelligence.[10][22][19][23][24] In Cuba they received the nickname of "hispano-soviéticos" (Hispano-Soviets).[8]

Since the 1960s, some individuals have chosen to return to Spain, and after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a considerable number returned. Those who stayed permanently in the Soviet Union, specifically in Moscow, used to meet in the halls of a factory, in the Chkálov Club or in the Spanish Center itself (also known as the House of Spain).[25]

Diplomatic relations were not revived between Spain and the Soviet Union until the last months of the Francoist dictatorship in 1977. With the crumbling of the Soviet regime in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Niños remained in legal limbo until 1990, when the Spanish courts made it possible for them to recover their "lost" nationality.[26] In 1994, the Niños were granted the right to receive retirement, disability and survival pensions from Spain and in 2005, the rights to economic benefits was recognised for Niños still living abroad and for returnees who had spent most of their lives outside of Spain.[27]

In December 2003, the surviving Niños received the gold Medalla de Honor a la Emigración (the Emigration Medal of Honour).

Notable NiñosEdit

Araceli Sánchez Urquijo, the first woman to work as a Civil Engineer in Spain.

Angel Gutierrez, (in Russian, Гутьеррес, Анхель), former student of the Russian Institute of Theatre Arts (GITIS), theater director and actor, founder of Chekhov Chambre Theatre in Madrid, specialist of Chekhov, who personally knew Andrei Tarkovsky, Peter Fomenko, Andrei Lobanov, Oleg Efremov, Vladimir Vysotsky….[28][29]

Carmen Orive-Abad, the mother of the legendary Soviet hockey player Valeri Kharlamov.[30]

Agustín Gómez Pagóla, footballer and captain of Torpedo Moscow.


  1. ^ Por ejemplo, en CUADRIELLO, Juan Domingo (2009). El exilio republicano español en Cuba. España: Siglo XXI de España. ISBN 978-84-323-1387-5, pág. 45.

    Poco tiempo después, también desde territorio soviético, se trasladaron a la Isla con el fin de impartir clases en la Universidad de La Habana varios profesores de origen español e igualmente con nombres supuestos, pero que en realidad no eran exiliados, sino los llamados «Niños de la Guerra», que habían sido evacuados a la Unión Soviética durante la contienda y se habían formado en ese país.

  2. ^ Prados, Luis (2005-04-21). "Los niños de Leningrado". El País (in Spanish). ISSN 1134-6582. Retrieved 2020-06-05.
  3. ^ Colomina Limonero, Immaculada (2005). Breve historia de los niños de la guerra de España en Rusia. Biblioteca del Instituto Cervantes de Moscú.
  4. ^ a b Alted Vigil, Alicia (2005). «El “instante congelado” del exilio de los niños de la guerra civil española», revista Deportate, Esuli, Prófughe, n.º 3, págs. 263-281.
  5. ^ Devillard, María José; Pazos, Álvaro; Castillo, Susana; y Medina, Nuria (2001). Los niños españoles en la URSS (1937-1977): narración y memoria. Barcelona: Ariel. ISBN 84-344-1229-2; pág. 12.
  6. ^ Castillo Rodríguez, Susana (1999). Memoria, educación e historia: el caso de los niños españoles evacuados a la Unión Soviética durante la Guerra Civil Española. Tesis doctoral. Madrid, pág. 43.
  7. ^ Alted Vigil, A. Nicolás Marín, E. González Martell, R. (1999): Los Niños de España en la Unión Soviética; De la evacuación al retorno, 1937-1999. Fundación Francisco Largo Caballero Archived 2008-06-13 at the Wayback Machine, Madrid, 1999.

    La diferencia en las cifras podría deberse a la confusión reinante los días previos al embarque en los diferentes transportes. Así, en Castillo Rodríguez, Susana. Memoria, Educación e Historia: el caso de los niños españoles evacuados a la Unión Soviética durante la Guerra Civil Española. Tesis doctoral. Madrid, 1999. Página 85, se lee:

    A la confusión generalizada, se unió el retraso de la salida que provocó alteraciones en las listas de evacuados, ya que los padres, familiares, miembros de la organización y expedición, anotaban y desapuntaban a sus hijos y a los niños; una educadora comenta al respecto, refiriéndose a la expedición que partía de Gijón:
    ...en Asturias se tomó como norma sacar a los niños que estaban en el orfanato minero (...) nosotros llegamos organizados en grupos, con las listas, parte de los que se recogieron, parte de occidental de Asturias y Galicia que venían huyendo, también se recogieron y vinieron, a última hora como tardamos mucho en salir porque teníamos bloqueado el puerto de Gijón por un guardacostas... el crucero ‘España” de los franquistas, y no podía entrar el barco de la Cruz Roja Francesa que nos sacaba hasta Francia, pues estuvimos concentrados 15 días y Odón bombardeándose, entonces muchos los padres los recogieron y al contrario, otros los metieron y ésos son los que no teníamos nosotros controlados, que nos faltaban datos...

  8. ^ a b c d Exposición: El exilio español de la Guerra Civil: Los niños de la guerra. Fundación Francisco Largo Caballero.
  9. ^ Colomina Molinero, Inmaculada. El Rusiñol. Adaptación cultural y lingüística de los exiliados españoles en la antigua Unión Soviética. En Congreso Internacional "La Guerra Civil Española". Sociedad Estatal de Conmemoraciones Culturales.
  10. ^ a b c Informe de la Dirección General de Inmigración de 11/05/06. Ministerio de Trabajo e Inmigración, Gobierno de España.
  11. ^ Castillo Rodríguez, Susana. Memoria, Educación e Historia: el caso de los niños españoles evacuados a la Unión Soviética durante la Guerra Civil Española. Tesis doctoral. Madrid, 1999. Página 40.
  12. ^ Testimonio de dos 'niñas de Rusia' en Jaca El sueño igualitario. Boletín del Coloquio "El republicanismo en la historia de Teruel n.º 13. Grupo de Estudios Masinos. Ayuntamiento de Mas de las Matas. Ed. Cuadernos de Cazarabet, pág 21 (Fuente: Diario del Altoaragón).
  13. ^ The tragedy or Karaganda De (en inglés).
  14. ^ Vidal, César. Los juguetes rotos de Stalin [1] y [2]. Artículo en la "Revista del Domingo" del Diario La Vanguardia. 14/06/98:

    Enfrentados al hambre y los malos tratos, no pocos se vieron obligados a someterse o delinquir. En Tashkent constituyeron bandas dedicadas a perpetrar hurtos. En Samarcanda y Tiflis, las niñas prostitutas españolas - de las que no pocas se quedaron embarazadas - llegaron a hacerse célebres entre los jerarcas del partido.

  15. ^ González González, Valentín. Vida y muerte en la URSS (1939-1949). Texto completo (en inglés) de la edición de International Press Alliance Corporation. Nueva York, 1952. Páginas 95-96.
  16. ^ Hernández Sánchez, Fernando (1950). Pistolero, ministro, espía y renegado, citando desde Vanni, E: Yo, comunista en Rusia. Barcelona: Destino, págs. 206-207.
  17. ^ Hernández Tomás, Jesús (1974). En el país de la gran mentira. Madrid: G. del Toro. ISBN 84-312-0188-6
  18. ^ a b Blanco Moral, Francisco A. «Los "niños de la guerra": expatriación y repatriación», revista El Rastro de la Historia, n.º 2.
  19. ^ a b Artículo, en El Comercio Digital, 7 de octubre de 2007.
  20. ^ Castillo Rodríguez, Susana. Memoria, Educación e Historia: el caso de los niños españoles evacuados a la Unión Soviética durante la Guerra Civil Española. Tesis doctoral. Madrid, 1999. Página 22.
  21. ^ Diversos calendarios de efemérides: p. ej. o Hispanó
  22. ^ «65 años como “niño de la guerra” en Rusia», reportaje en El País sobre la vida de Alberto Fernández, presidente del Centro Español de Moscú.
  23. ^ En Cuadriello, Juan Domingo (2009). El exilio republicano español en Cuba. España: Siglo XXI de España. ISBN 978-84-323-1387-5, pág. 45, se hace referencia a la llegada de un grupo de niños de Rusia para impartir clases en la Universidad, y al hecho de que usaban "nombres supuestos" al igual que otros agentes enviados por Moscú,

    para no poner al descubierto la colaboración que ya entonces le brindaba el régimen de Moscú al Gobierno revolucionario cubano.

  24. ^ «Desde Santurce a Leningrado», El Correo Digital Archived 2008-11-01 at the Wayback Machine, 15 de junio de 2008.
  25. ^ Castillo Rodríguez, Susana. Memoria, Educación e Historia: el caso de los niños españoles evacuados a la Unión Soviética durante la Guerra Civil Española. Tesis doctoral. Madrid, 1999. Páginas 38-39.
  26. ^ Ley 18/1990, de 17 de diciembre (BOE 18 de diciembre), sobre reforma del Código Civil en materia de nacionalidad.
  27. ^ por Ley 3/2005, de 18 de marzo (BOE 21 de marzo), cumpliendo lo establecido en la disposición adicional quincuagésima quinta de la Ley 2/2004, de 27 de diciembre (BOE 28 de diciembre), de Presupuestos Generales del Estado para 2005.
  28. ^ "Angel Gutierrez". 2 April 2017. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
  29. ^ "Chekhov and Angel Gutierrez". doi:10.1080/14753820.2016.1248354. S2CID 193657586. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  30. ^ "Film brings Soviet hockey legend to life". Russia Beyond. 11 May 2013.


External linksEdit

Capítulo VI - Evacuaciones de niños al extranjero durante la guerra. Unión Soviética. Con abundante material fotográfico.