List of Atrocities committed by the Soviet Union

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A mass grave dug following the Katyn massacre

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) (1922 - 1991) committed numerous atrocities during its 69-year lifespan, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Most of them were covered up by the Soviet government, but some of them were common knowledge at the time.

Red Terror

The Red Terror was a period of violence carried out by the secret police force known as the Cheka during the Russian Civil War. It consisted of the mass killing of Russian civilians by shooting, hanging, starving and whatever other means were immediately possible. The purpose was to frighten people into not joining the rebelling faction known as the White Army, which was easily crushed in 1922.


From 1917 until 1933, the ethnic group known as the Cossacks were systematically exterminated or deported in what is considered to be a genocide by today's standards. The process was overseen by Soviet officials and was started by Vladimir Lenin to get rid of what was seen as an undesirable social group.

Anti-religious campaign

The Soviet Union followed an unofficial policy of forced atheism throughout the entirety of its existence. Earlier examples of this included laws passed in the 1920s depriving religious believers of voting rights and the prolonged imprisonment or execution of religious believers from the 1920s to the 1940s, whereas later examples include the arrest and imprisonment of Muslims as late as the 1970s.


As part of the first Five-Year Plan, local Soviet authorities would force people to work at the steel refinery in the newly-constructed city of Magnitogorsk. The working conditions in the factory, which was used to manufacture steel and pig iron, were so horrible that people were killed daily in scaffolding collapses and many died of hunger and cold. In order to discourage failure, anyone who accidently damaged machinery would be accused of sabotage and sent to a prison camp. This ended when the factory fell into disrepair.

Great Ukrainian Famine

For two years, the Soviet government deliberately starved the people of Ukraine in what is now known as the Holodomor. While there is still debate on how intentional this was, the causes of the famine definitely included the requisitioning of grain by Soviet forces. Around 3.5 million people were starved to death, and many more were killed as an indirect result of the famine (from causes ranging from cannibalism to infections contracted by those who were forced to prostitute themselves for food).

Murder of Zinaida Reich

In mid-1939 two agents of the NKVD broke into the home of popular Russian actress Zinaida Reich and stabbed her to death before setting the scene to look like a burglary. The motive behind the attack was that she had acted at a theatre owned by Vsevolod Meyerhold, whose work had ben deemed as being against the Soviet Union. Meyerhold himself was later executed after being tortured into confessing to treason.

Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

On August 23 1939 the Soviet Union signed a treaty with Nazi Party that agreed peace and cooperation between the two countries. This agreement resulted in the Soviets aiding Nazi Germany in their unprovoked invasion of Poland (a country that they planned to divide up between them after conquest). The cooperation of the two governments only ended when Germany reneged on the agreement and invaded Russia.

Katyn Massacre

During World War II, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin personally ordered the NKVD to eliminate a Soviet POW camp located in the Katyn forest. Nearly 22,000 Polish prisoners were executed by or on the orders of chief executioner Vasily Blokhin, and their bodies dumped in mass graves. The atrocity was blamed on the invading forces of Nazi Germany and used as a propaganda tool, while the Nazis correctly claimed that the Soviets were responsible.

East German uprising of 1953

On June 16, 1953, a group of workers began a strike in East Berlin due to work qoutas imposed by their superiors, which later spread to the rest of East Germany, in large demonstrations demanding better life quality and threatened to overthrow the pro-Soviet East German government. In that scenario, Soviet soldiers in East Germany repressed protesters very violently, with tanks rolling down the streets and firing into crowds. As a result, between 55 and 125 civilians died, and another 17 were left as missing.

Hungarian Revolution of 1956

After a series of protests in Hungary generated by the murder of unarmed protesters by the ÁVH led to a revolution that overthrew the government of András Hegedüs and installed a new government led by Imre Nagy, he instituted reforms that he did not like many to the Soviet Union, reason why the Red Army invades Hungary and overthrows the government of Nagy. This invasion resulted in between 2,500 and 3,000 Hungarians being killed, apart from the destruction of various parts of Budaepst and multiple Hungarians had to flee the country as refugees or were arrested as political prisoners.

Novocherkassk massacre

In 1962, workers from the city of Novocherkassk organized a labor strike due to the increase in production quotas, which led to a protest which was violently repressed by the Soviet Army and the KGB. As a result, 26 people were killed and others were imprisoned.

Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia

After Communist Party of Czechoslovakia General Secretary Alexander Dubček instituted liberal reforms to give Czechoslovak citizens more rights, in an event known as the "Prague Spring", the Soviet Union-led Warsaw Pact invaded the country to stop these reforms and not lose control in Czechoslovakia. As a result, Alexander Dubček was overthrown and 108 civilians were killed, while another 500 were injured.

Assassination of Sultan Ibraimov

The Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan, Sultan Ibraimov, was murdered in his home by an unidentified person in 1980. The murder was never officially solved, but the consensus is that the Soviet secret police known as the KGB killed him because he was getting too popular.

Korean Air Lines Flight 007

Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down by Soviet forces in 1983, killing 269 people. It is believed that the commercial flight was mistaken for an American spy plane and was shot down for that reason.

Black January

After the Popular Front of Azerbaijan rioted against Soviet control of the country in 1990, the local authorities responded (acting under direct orders from Minister of Defence Dmitry Yazov) by attacking and killing protestors in the city of Baku. Hundreds were left dead, with even the most conservative estimates topping at 131 fatalities and 700 injuries. The Soviet government later admitted that this was an act of aggression.

War Crimes

Winter War

  • The Winter War itself could be considered a war crime, as it was waged by the Russian government against Finland in order to make Finland part of the Soviet Union and force communism onto the people.
  • While the Red Army did mostly attack military targets, the same can not be said of the Soviet partisans who often deliberately attacked civilian targets and killed unarmed Finns.
  • Three hours after the beginning of the Winter War, the Red Air Force bombed Helsinki and killed 97 people.