Why Did the White Russians Settle in Tubabao Is., Guiuan?
By Lope Coles Robredillo, SThD
THE evacuation of more than 5,800 emigres to the island of Tubabao, Guiuan, Eastern Samar in 1949-1951 sprang from the relentless efforts of the in Communist China to flesh out their aspiration to live as a free people.
It should be recalled that during and after the 1917 Bolshevic revolution in Russia under Vladimir Lenin against the Tsar and the that ensued, the White Russians, who were opposed to the Communist regime, fled the country. Emigres from Southern Russia and Ukraine, for instance, went to eastern Europe. But those in Siberia and in the Russian Far East settled in Harbin, Hankow and Shanghai, among other cities in China, where they felt safe from the clutches of Communism.
Their stay in these Chinese cities was not for long, however. After World War II, when China was freed from the Japanese, the Chinese civil war between the Communists under Mao-Tse Tung and the Nationalists under Chiang Kai Shek resumed. By 1948, the Communists, who were supported by Russia, took control of northern China, forcing hundreds of Russian émigrés in Peking, Hankow, Tiensin and nearby cities to transfer to Shanghai. But it was clear to them that Mao’s army would eventually overrun the whole of China and place it under a Communist rule.
Meanwhile, it came also to their knowledge that, as a result of the Yalta Conference, the White Russians in Europe were being repatriated by force to Russia. It was claimed, for instance, that in Austria, around 40,000 Cossacks were deported to Russian labor camps. In Harbin itself, the Russian Army and the (KGB) were already arresting and deporting Russian emigrants to forced labor camps. Indeed, all White Russians living in China were advised to leave.
Alarmed by these developments, Gregory Bologoff, a Cossack, formerly a colonel in the Russian Imperial Army (which opposed Communism), became involved in organizing the White Russians in China into the Russian Emigrants’ Association. As President, he rallied the Russian émigrés to organize the evacuation of their fellow White Russians to a safe and secure place.
Thousands supported him, declaring their irreconcilability with Communism. Rather than having themselves subjected to a communist dictatorship either in Russia or in China, they decided to leave Shanghai. Col. Bologoff appealed to the United Nations, to the International Refugees Organization (IRO) and to all countries in the free world to save them and give them asylum.
The Philippines , under Pres. Elpidio Quirino responded—actually, ours was the only country that did—to the appeal, and offered to the refugees the island of Tubabao , Guiuan. And, through an arrangement made and facilitated by the IRO, to the island they did come. (Later on, Quirino himself, as well as Senator Noland and Orthodox Archbishop John Maximovitch, visited the camp to express his concern and solidarity to the refugees.)
Though almost uninhabited when the first batch of refugees came, Tubabao, a triangular-shaped island south of Guiuan, was, as described in HyperWar, formerly a Quonset “city” with mess halls, recreation facilities, churches, and utilities for 10,000 men. It was chosen by the American forces as a navy receiving station. It was connected to Guiuan by a 515-ft long bridge of timber, 22 ft wide.
However, save for the bridge, a few Quonset huts, a rusty pontoon serving as pier, a nonfunctioning walk-in refrigerator, an abandoned large mechanized laundry, and a dilapidated church, there was hardly any trace of the “city” when the first White Russians arrived in January 1949, 49 of them (the “advance echelon”) by air on the 12th, and 492 by sea on the 23rd, on board S.S. Hwa Lien.
As refugees poured in, the practically uninhabited island of Tubabao was transformed into what was known as Russian Refugee Camp. It was divided into 14 districts, each district taking care of its own needs. Eventually, electricity, hospital, sanatorium, supply office, cemetery and churches of every denomination were set up. After almost three years of refuge in the island and of waiting for immigration officers, they were eventually admitted to France, Chile and other South American countries, the United States and Australia, but the great majority was finally settled in the U.S.
However unpleasant may have been their life in the island, especially for the elderly, the White Russians were freed from the power of Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung. Indeed, their very lives were saved from pogrom and certain death. Obviously, their plight was better than of those who chose to remain in China , for whom life in the 1950s was almost intolerable.*