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Gammalsvenskby is located in Ukraine
Location of Staroshvedske
The former Swedish church in Gammalsvenskby. St John's Lutheran parish church has been rebuilt and serves as an Orthodox church today.

Verbivka (Standard Swedish: Gammalsvenskby, local Swedish dialect: Gammölsvänskbi; literally: "Old Swedish Village"; Ukrainian Старошведське, Staroshvedske; German Alt-Schwedendorf ) is a former village that is now a neighbourhood in the village of Zmiivka (Ukrainian: Зміївка) in Beryslav Raion of Kherson Oblast, Ukraine. It is known for being closely related to the Swedish cultural heritage.

The village of Zmiyivka also includes three former villages settled by ethnic Germans. These were the two Lutheran villages of Schlangendorf and Mühlhausendorf and the Roman Catholic village of Klosterdorf. In the nineteenth century, the whole region, and large parts of southern Russia, contained villages settled by Germans belonging to various Protestant faiths, particularly Lutherans and Mennonites, as well as Roman Catholics. Askania-Nova biosphere reserve is nearby.

Resettlement of Estonian Swedes and founding of Alt-Schwedendorf[edit]

Dagö, Estonia

The population of Gammalsvenskby traces its origins to Hiiumaa (Dagö) in present-day Estonia, once a part of the Duchy of Estonia.[1] According to the Treaty of Nystad, the island was ceded to the Russian Empire. The part of the peasant population who were in conflict with the local aristocracy petitioned the Russian Empress to accept them as their subjects.[1] Catherine II of Russia accepted the petition under the condition that the peasants resettle in the newly conquered territories from the Ottoman Empire that were named New Russia (today in the Southern Ukraine).[1] Enticed by promises of new fertile land, they trekked overland to southern Ukraine, as colonists for the new territories. While some sources call the Estonian Swedes' migration an outright expulsion from their Estonian homeland, other accounts stress the fact that these poor and oppressed serf farmers were given what may have seemed like a generous offer.

Regardless of the impetus, the outcome of this mass migration was disastrous.[1] Almost half of the nearly 1,000 villagers died on the march to their new home[1] which they were required to get to on their own resources.[1] On arrival, there was no trace of the houses they had expected to find. Moreover, in their first year in Ukraine, an even larger portion of the settlers died. According to the records of the Swedish congregation, of the original thousand who had set out for Ukraine 18 months earlier, only 135 people remained alive by March 1783.

Maintaining the Swedish heritage[edit]

From 1803 to 1805, German colonists founded three neighbouring villages: Schlangendorf (Zmi'ivka), Mühlhausendorf (Mikhailovka), and Klosterdorf (Kostirka). As a consequence of the later arrival of the Germans and their own losses during the migration, the Swedes were soon outnumbered by the German newcomers. As a result, in later years, many of the pastors and teachers serving the area were German-speakers who did not know Swedish. Combined with a growing shortage of arable land, this strained relations between Gammalsvenskby's Swedes and the nearby German population, though, not infrequently, intermarriages did occur as is evidenced by the parish register duplicates for both the relevant Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches.

The people of Gammalsvenskby maintained their traditions, their Lutheran (Church of Sweden) faith, and their old Swedish dialect. At the end of the 19th century, some ties with Sweden were re-established. Considerable funds were raised in Sweden and Finland to build a new Swedish church (a previous wooden church given by Prince Potemkin burned in the mid-19th century). The resulting parish church of St John was opened in 1885. For a time, before the revolutions following World War I, visits from Sweden became frequent, and some villagers subscribed to Swedish newspapers.

Relocation attempt to Sweden[edit]

Caricature on the Gammalsvenskby returnees published in the Communist newspaper Folkets Dagblad Politiken, August 1929. The picture portrays the settlers as entertainers, being put to display at a community fair in Ljungby.

World War I cut the communication channels with Sweden. After the Russian Civil War, the Government of Sweden, worrying about the fate of its compatriots, in 1921 petitioned Moscow to allow residents of Swedendorf to leave for their historical homeland.[1] This movement was also supported by Archbishop Nathan Söderblom. The Kremlin decided to negotiate the terms.[1] However, the Ukrainian Swedes who already adopted to the Kherson Region started to grumble against it, because in Ukraine they owned their houses, land and farms.[1] Emissaries were sent from Stockholm to Alt-Swedendorf to convince the compatriots to leave the unstable Ukraine.[1] Negotiations with the Bolshevik regime and the Ukrainian Swedes stretched for almost eight years.[1] In 1929, Moscow allowed for the Alt-Swedendorf residents to leave, but under the condition that they only take what they could pack on a passenger train.[1] On August 1, 1929, Swedes left the Kherson land[1] and around 900 villagers arrived in Sweden. They were received by Prince Carl, Duke of Västergötland in a restaurant.[1] Only a handful had opted to remain in Gammalsvenskby. Nearly a hundred soon moved on to Canada, a country to which earlier emigrants from Gammalsvenskby had gone. Most of these settled in Manitoba; some later returned to Sweden.

The majority of the villagers stayed in Sweden, many of them settling in Gotland. Despite their common origins, they were not allowed to stay in a single, common settlement.[citation needed] Considered immigrants in a country in the middle of a severe economic crisis, they were sometimes met with hostility.[citation needed] About four months after arriving in Sweden, some emigrants requested to return to Ukraine.[1] Peter Knutas and Waldemar Utas wrote to the Government of Ukraine that the move was a thoughtless step.[1] On the behalf of three families they were asking the Soviet authorities to allow them return to Ukraine.[1] Some emigrants joined the Communist Party of Sweden in hope to reflect their loyalty to the Soviet authorities.[1]

Soviet repressions and Holodomor[edit]

In total, around 250 villagers chose to return to the Soviet Union.[clarification needed] Together with members of the Communist Party of Sweden, they established a minor collective farm called Svedkompartiya – the Swedish Communist Party.[clarification needed]

In 1929, the church was closed by the Soviet government. Life in the Soviet Union turned out to be hard. The famine of 1932–1933 renewed interest in the idea of returning to Sweden – some villagers signed a list stating that they wanted to leave the country. This led to the arrest of 20 people by the secret police, the GPU. Five of them were sent to prison. Several villagers were killed in the Stalinist purge of the following years. In 1930s, the majority of the 3,500 Scandinavian descendants who lived in the Southern Ukraine were accused of spying and sent along with their families to katorga in Siberia and Karelia.[1]

When the German army marched into the village on August 25, 1941, the soldiers were welcomed as liberators. With the retreat of the German army in 1943, the Swedes were evacuated along with the Germans of the area. Many ended up in the town of Krotoschyn, in the German Warthegau which had been annexed from Poland, and nearly 150 were caught by Soviet authorities at the end of the war and sent to labor camps – but were allowed to return to Ukraine as early as 1947. Others managed to go to Sweden or directly back to Gammalsvenskby. After World War II, Schlagendorf became Zmiivka (Snake-village), Mühlhausendorf became Mykhailivka (Michael's village), and Klosterdorf became Kostirka. Gammalsvenskby was renamed Verbivka (Willow-village). In 1951, the church (locally: kircha) became first a club, and later an agricultural storehouse. In 1951, after the exchange of territories by Poland and the Soviet Union, around 2,500 people were relocated to the area from the Drohobych Oblast villages of Lodyna, Dolyshni Berehy, and Naniv. Due to the resulting increase in population, the four villages were united into one combined village under the name Zmiivka. The village became home to the largest Boykos (Ukrainian Highlander) diaspora in Kherson Oblast (constituting approximately 80% of villagers). The newly relocated populace was officially prohibited from celebrating their traditional holidays, such as Vertep during Christmas. To make matters worse, the locals among whom they were settled considered the newcomers to be Nazi collaborators.

Gammalsvenskby today[edit]

Tre Kronor (original Three Crowns)
Tre Kronor in Zmiyivka
Tre Kronor in Beryslav Raion

After the fall of the Soviet Union, contacts with Sweden and Canada were re-established, and the Church of Sweden and Gotland Municipality lent economic support. In 1996, Chumak, a Swedish-owned producer of oil, ketchup and canned food, was established in the nearby town of Kakhovka. Today, the village has only around 108 people who share a Swedish cultural heritage. Only a few of them still speak the Old-Swedish dialect fluently and German is often used instead. Zmiivka's emblem consists of three crowns, the Swedish national symbol (Tre Kronor), as well as a blue cross on a yellow field (the Swedish flag has a yellow cross on blue; see also nordic cross flag).

The whole Beryslav Raion is heavily Ukrainianized because many people from western Ukraine were resettled there. Local villages include Lvivski Otruby, Lvove, Tarasa Shevchenka, which reflect the resettlement of the west-Ukrainian residents. In 2008, the Swedish King and Queen visited Gammalsvenskby.

Gammalsvenskby dialect[edit]

The Swedish dialect spoken in Gammalsvenskby derives from the Estonian Swedish dialect of the late 1700s as spoken on the island of Dagö. Since the 1950s a Russian-Ukrainian surzhyk has been the dominant language in the village, and some Standard Swedish is taught in schooling. Use of Gammalsvenskby dialect is restricted mostly to older ethnic Swedes born in the 1920s or 1930s.[2] As of 2014 only about 10 fluent dialect speakers, all elderly women, were known.[3] While rooted in Swedish, the dialect shows influence and borrows from Estonian, German, Russian, and Ukranian.[2]

Example of Gammalsvenskby dialect[2][3]
Gammalsvenskby dialect Pattana Katüflar Boklezane[a] Pürkan Kärpsar Himmäl Knjüt Stövla Düllje
Estonian Pardid Kartulid Tomatid Porgandid Kõrvitsad Taevas Sõlm Saapad Pirn
Swedish Ankor Potatisar Tomater Morötter Pumpor Himmel Knut Stövlar Päron
English Ducks Potatoes Tomatoes Carrots Pumpkins Sky Knot Boots Pear
  1. ^ From regional Russian or Ukrainian баклажaн (baklazan)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Shama, O. How the Swedes of Ukraine were saving themselves from the Soviet regime back in 1930s (Как шведы Украины спасались от советской власти еще в 1930-х годах). Argumentua. 6 October 2016
  2. ^ a b c Mankov, Alexander E. (2018). "The dialect of Gammalsvenskby: Scandinavian-Slavonic language contact" (PDF). In Drude, Sebastian; Ostler, Nicholas; Moser, Marielle (eds.). Endangered languages and the land: Mapping landscapes of multilingualism. 22nd Annual Conference of the Foundation for Endangered Languages (FEL XXII/2018). London, England: FEL & EL Publishing. ISBN 978-1-9160726-0-2.
  3. ^ a b Mankov, Alexander E. (2014). "A Scandinavian Island in a Slavonic Linguistic Environment. The Dialect of Gammalsvenskby: Nouns (Paper 2)". Slověne: International Journal of Slavic Studies. 3 (1): 120–170.

External links and further reading[edit]

Coordinates: 46°52′29″N 33°35′16″E / 46.874675°N 33.587664°E / 46.874675; 33.587664