Repatriation refers to the return of people to their country of origin. After WWII many millions of people found themselves outside their homelands; it is estimated that between six and eight million people were displaced from Eastern Europe alone. In addition to those who fled zones of occupation, the German government forcibly transported approximately three million people from the eastern occupied territories to work as ostarbeiters. About 2.2 million of these were Ukrainians.

At the Yalta Conference in February 1945 the Allied powers agreed that all Soviet nationals in Western Allied zones of occupation were to be repatriated to the USSR. The USSR pursued this policy with zeal. There were several reasons for this – first, there was a desire to punish the so-called “traitors to the Fatherland” – the fact that ostarbeiters were forced to work in Germany did not augment their guilt. Second, the USSR was suffering from a manpower shortage due to the terrible losses of the war. Reconstruction would require large amounts of manpower. Lastly, the USSR feared that the Soviet reputation would be damaged by the presence in the West of large numbers of people who had experienced Soviet power first-hand. For this reason they pursued the repatriation of Ukrainians most enthusiastically.

Soviet repatriation teams traveled the POW and Displaced Persons Camps attempting to convince Soviet nationals to return home. Despite the fact that Soviet authorities promised those who were to be repatriated that “the Fatherland has forgiven you” (for what offense they were being forgiven is unclear) and that they would be welcomed back into the Soviet brotherhood of nations, most flatly refused to return. Those who were repatriated were, in some cases, executed upon return to Soviet territory. The majority of those repatriated were given lengthy sentences in the Siberian labor camps of the Gulag. Some committed suicide rather than return. Those who refused to go willingly were forcibly repatriated. Forced repatriation from American zones did not last long; in December 1945 forced repatriation was stopped. The British, to their discredit, cooperated with the policy of forced repatriation much longer. In mid-1946 they stopped allowing repatriation by force. But isolated incidents of forced repatriation took place until the middle of 1947.

Americans and Canadians of Ukrainian descent serving in their respective country’s armed forces played a large part in stopping the forced repatriation of Soviet Ukrainian nationals. All told, it is estimated that some two million Ukrainians were repatriated by late 1945. Because the Western Allies never recognized the annexation of Western Ukraine by the USSR in 1939, Ukrainians from Western Ukrainian territories were not considered Soviet nationals, and thus were not subject to forced repatriation.