White émigré

Russians who do not support the Soviet Union

White émigré is a political term used to describe Russian people who left Russia because of the Russian Revolution or Civil War. The term is used in France, the United States and the United Kingdom. Sometimes the term is used to describe everyone who left the country because of changes in the government.

Evacuation Russian Army of General Baron P. N. Vrangel from Crimea
Evacuation Russian Army of General Baron [1]P. N. Vrangel from Crimea



The words White émigré had a very negative meaning in the Soviet Union between 1920 and 1980. After 1980, those people who left during that time are called first wave émigrés.

Many White émigrés thought the White movement was something good. Some of them, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, did not like the Bolsheviks but did not like the White movement either. Others were just not interested in politics. Many of those who left are still part of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Most White émigrés left Russia between 1917 and 1920. Between 900,000 and two million people left. Many different classes of people left. These included military soldiers and officers, Cossacks, intellectuals, businessmen and landowners. Officials of the Russian Imperial Government and anti-Bolshevik governments of the Russian Civil War also left.


Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois Russian Cemetery near Paris, a necropolis of White Russians

Many émigrés left Southern Russia and Ukraine and went to Turkey. They then moved to eastern European Slavic countries, for example the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. A large number also went to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Germany and France. Berlin and Paris had large émigré communities.

Many civilians and military officers in Siberia and the Far East moved to Shanghai and other surrounding areas of China, Central Asia, and Eastern Turkestan. Some moved to Japan.

During and after World War II, many Russian émigrés moved to the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and Australia.

What the people believed


White émigrés often did not like Communism. They did not believe the Soviet Union was properly Russian. They believed the period of time from 1917 until 1991 was a time of occupation by the Soviet government which was internationalist and anti-Christian. Some White émigrés believed that Russia should be governed by a monarch. Others thought that the government should be chosen by popular plebiscite. Many White émigrés believed that their mission was to keep the culture and way of life from the time before the revolution while living in other countries. They believe that by doing this, they could return Russia to this culture when the Soviet Union was no longer in control of the country. A religious mission to the outside world was another idea used by the émigrés. Bishop John of Shanghai and San Francisco (canonized as a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad) said at the 1938 All-Diaspora Council:

"To the Russians abroad it has been granted to shine in the whole world with the light of Orthodoxy, so that other peoples, seeing their good deeds, might glorify our Father Who is in Heaven, and thus obtain salvation for themselves."[1]
(simplified) "To the Russian people living in other countries, spread Orthodoxy to the world. By doing good things, show the people of other countries that God is good and bring them salvation."

Many White émigrés believed that they should still fight against the Soviet dictatorship. They hoped this would help free Russia. This idea was largely inspired by General Pyotr Wrangel. When the White army was defeated, he said, "The battle for Russia has not ceased, it has merely taken on new forms". ("We are not done trying to free Russia. We just have to use different ways to do so.")

White army veteran Captain Vasili Orekhov, publisher of the "Sentry" journal, wrote about this idea of responsibility with the following words:

"There will be an hour – believe it – there will be, when the liberated Russia will ask each of us: "What have you done to accelerate my rebirth." Let us earn the right not to blush, but be proud of our existence abroad. As being temporarily deprived of our Motherland let us save in our ranks not only faith in her, but an unbending desire towards feats, sacrifice, and the establishment of a united friendly family of those who did not let down their hands in the fight for her liberation."[source?]
(simplified) "In the future, when Russia is free, each of us will be asked "What did you do to help free Russia?" Let us be able to be proud of what we did to free Russia while we were living in other countries. During the time we cannot live in Russia, we must believe in Russia and join together with those people who will always fight for the freedom of Russia."

Organizations and activities


The émigrés formed organisations to fight against the Soviet regime. Examples of such organisations are the Russian All-Military Union, the Brotherhood of Russian Truth, and the NTS. This made the White émigrés a target for infiltration by the Soviet secret police (i.e. operation TREST and the Inner Line). Seventy-five White army veterans served as volunteers supporting Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War.

Some White émigrés adopted pro-Soviet sympathies, for which they were labelled "Soviet patriots". These people formed organizations such as the Mladorossi, the Evraziitsi, and the Smenovekhovtsi.

During World War II, many White émigrés took part in the Russian Liberation Movement. On the other hand, a significant number participated in anti-Nazi movements such as the French Resistance. During the war, the White émigrés came into contact with former Soviet citizens from German-occupied territories who used the German retreat as an opportunity to flee from the Soviet Union or were in Germany and Austria as POWs and forced labourers and preferred to stay in the West. They are often referred to as the second wave of émigrés (often also called displaced persons). This smaller second wave fairly quickly began to assimilate into the White émigré community.

After the war, active anti-Soviet combat was almost exclusively continued by NTS: other organizations either dissolved, or began concentrating exclusively on self-preservation and/or educating the youth. Various youth organizations, such as the Russian scouts in exile became functional in raising children with a background in pre-Soviet Russian culture and heritage.

The White émigrés, acting to preserve their church from Soviet influence, formed the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 1924. The church continues its existence to this day, acting as both the spiritual and cultural center of the Russian Orthodox community abroad. On May 17, 2007, the Act of Canonical Communion with the Moscow Patriarchate reestablished canonical ties between the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and the Russian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, after more than eighty years of separation.


  • M.V. Nazarov, The Mission of the Russian Emigration, Moscow: Rodnik, 1994. ISBN 5-86231-172-6
  1. "The Meaning of the Russian Diaspora". The Orthodox Word, Vol IX. pp. 91–94. Retrieved 2008-12-06.

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