The word which is used in the title of this article doesn`t exist in any other language because it describes aspects of history and culture which were specific for the Soviet time. The title of this article sounds odd and unclear for almost everyone whose ancestry come neither from the Soviet Union nor from the post-Soviet territories. Further we will try to explain this phenomenon and provide new information about it.

The Soviet Union and the emigration process

Let us start with a short historical overview in order to understand the Nevozvrashchentsy-phenomenon. After the Bolsheviks began to rule the country in 1917, a lot of people of the former Russian empire decided to emigrate because they didn`t support the new communists’ ideology. Bolsheviks didn`t stop them and, according to different historical sources, more than one million people left the country between 1917 and 1929. But in 1929 the Bolsheviks decided to bring all the emigration processes under control and to cut them down. The boarders of the Soviet Union were closed, and the people lost any chance to go abroad. The Bolsheviks expanded the Soviet law all over the Union and imposed punishment of outlawry for attempts to leave the country. It meant that people who illegally left the Soviet Union were declared convict and could be sentenced to death or confiscation of their property. From this moment on, the ordinary Soviet citizens weren`t allowed to visit their relatives abroad, to go for a business trip etc. If a person intended to go somewhere, he had to apply for a special permission but usually the applications would be declined.

Notwithstanding, it wouldn`t be correct to claim that nobody could leave the country or emigrate. The young country needed new technologies and experience, which is why some professionals, artists and politicians used to undertake trips abroad. However, before the journey they had to prove their «reliability» as communists and get some references. It meant that people who went abroad were obliged to come back to the Soviet Union.

Nevozvrashchentsy: who were they and what does this word mean?

As this word doesn`t have any equivalent in other languages, let us consider why it is so unique. The word «nevozvrashchentsy» originates from the Russian verb возвращаться (to come back), and was composed of its root, a negative particle -не (no/not), suffixes -ен and -н and a plural ending -ы. Taking in account these morphemes, we understand that the word nevozvrashchentsy defines people who don`t come back to their homeland. But why is this word or the very phenomenon so peculiar?As it was said above, everyone who left the country, had to come back. The KGB officers (the security agency) supervised all the delegations traveling abroad in order to prevent any contacts between soviet citizens and foreigners. As for the ordinary people, they didn`t have any opportunity to leave the Soviet Union. But in 1961 something happened, which confused and shocked everybody.

In 1961, the ballet troupe of Kirov Theater (now Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg) went on tour to Paris accompanied by the officers of KGB. The star of Kirov`s troupe was legendary Rudolf Nureyev who delivered a brilliant performance in Paris and who got acquainted with some French dancers and famous individuals. Although the officers of KGB found Rudolf Nureyev suspicious even before the trip began, they had no choice but to allow him to go on the tour. During the time in Paris they closely monitored him and decided to send him back to Moscow earlier. However, at the airport Rudolf Nureyev managed to escape from the officers of KGB with help of his friend Clara Saint and the French police and asked for the asylum. This made Rudolf Nureyev the first representative of Nevozvrashchentsy – people, who left the country and decided not to come back to the Soviet Union due to their disagreement with the communist ideology. For them, it was an escape from a totalitarian country where they didn’t feel safe and couldn’t fulfill their potential as they desired.. TheRudolf Nureyev’s act differs from regular emigration where people usually prepare their departure and have all the necessary documents. But Rudolf Nureyev wasn’t prepared for the emigration, he decided to stay in France while he was on tour . Nobody could expect that somebody from the soviet delegation would undertake such an act. At home Rudolf Nureyev was sentenced to 7 years of prison, and his property was confiscated. Rudolf Nureyev died in Paris in 1993, never coming back.

The Soviet press published numerous articles labeling Rudolf Nureyevas a «traitor» but his actions inspired other people to find courage to flee, so the process of never-returning went on . Almost all the Nevozvrashchentsy successfully built careers abroad. They were happy to escape but still missed their homeland and the families staying in the Soviet Union. For each of them it was a personal drama.

Among the Nevozvrashchentsy there were many talented and famous personalities. If you are interested in learning more about them, please let us know in comments!Formularende

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