Residents of Purovskiy district research heroic deeds and paths of the reindeer army

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In the years of the Great Patriotic War not only people were participants of battles, animals also played an important role. Reindeer-team drivers helped on paths, where heavy transport was not able to pass. Reindeer were irreplaceable helpers both on the battlefront line and on the home front.

During the war years the unique reindeer army participated in the defense of the Soviet polar region. Forming of unusual, but very reliable transport battalions was started in autumn of 1941. According to the author of the project “Ethnos and time”, the chairperson of the Council of indigenous ethnic minorities of the North in Purovsky district Irina Kheno, the first echelons were from Murmansk Oblast.

“Combatants were recruited directly from reindeer herding camps, fishing camps and villages. The best young reindeer herders – the mainstay of the Nenets tundra - went to the battlefront. This is how the history of the hitherto-unseen reindeer army began, the army consisted of ten thousand reindeer, cargo and passenger sleighs with harnesses, choums and herding dogs”, Irina Kheno said. (The note: a choum is nomadic dwelling similar to a tepee).

On the battlefront the reindeer transport battalions were known as uncatchable enemies of the Nazis. They evacuated wounded soldiers and rescued crews of downed planes and combat vehicles, delivered cargoes: military equipment, ammunition and food, warm clothing. In off-road conditions reindeer were used for communication and sending mail.

“During the war in the Arctic reindeer herders evacuated hundreds of downed planes from tundra, took thousands of wounded soldiers from the battlefront line and transported tens of tonnes of ammunition. Our soldiers, loving, called the reindeer “Arctic tank”, they said: “Where no combat vehicle will pass, the reindeer will pass”, said Dina Lopushanskaya, a guide at the Purovsky district museum of local history.

Reindeer-team drivers appeared suddenly, destroying bridges and roads on the battlefront line, and then disappeared like ghosts. None of the soldiers, who had fought within the reindeer battalions and went through the military paths of the Karelian front, were left alive today. For the combat reindeer the war ended in November of 1944, after the liberation of Karelia and Murmansk Oblast.

“A little more than a thousand of the herd of ten thousand reindeer survived. According to the archival sources, in 1947 seven riding reindeer bulls returned to the herd of the collective farm “Nyaryana Ty” in the Nenets tundra. After walking 1.5 thousand kilometers, they, like birds, found their way back to their homeland, to choums in their native tundra, and majority of the surviving reindeer remained on the territory of Finland and Norway”, Irina Kheno said.

Documents of the Great Patriotic War mention that reindeer also saved inhabitants of besieged Leningrad. Food and medicaments were delivered on the animals, and women and children were transported out of the besieged city. No records have been found yet in the military annals about participation of residents of Yamal in the reindeer transport battalions. During the Great Patriotic War the reindeer was an irreplaceable assistant on the home front. Indigenous people used reindeer sleighs to hunt, to fish and to deliver cargoes to settlements. Reindeer transport travelled around the expanses of the Yamal forest tundra, starting from the southern outskirts, ending with northern territories, and their path was called the “mail” road.

“On the way of the mail road there were special camps, where drivers of argish, who carried products, had the opportunity to stop, stay overnight and change reindeer. (The note: “argish” means a caravan of reindeer sleighs). If to look at the mail road, it branches off somewhere beyond the Yagenetta River: towards Samburg and towards Nadymskiy district. Most likely, through the settlement Stary Nadym, and then through Salekhard they went to the battlefront”, said Sergey Aivasedo, a deputy of Purovskiy district parliament.

The first monument in Russia in the honor of the heroic deed of the reindeer during the Great Patriotic War was installed in Naryan-Mar, and since the 20th of November of 2013 Nenets Autonomous Okrug has been celebrating the Day of remembrance of the reindeer transport battalions. Research on participation of reindeer teams in battles and on the home front is continued, and perhaps the history of those sad years will be filled with more than one page and more than one name of the hero.