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Shugaevsky Family

Part 12 Sent to Siberia!

The 1905 Russian Revolution 

The story about Leonid being arrested in the 1905 Russian Revolution is confusing.  First there is Leonid’s presence in a family portrait, supposedly from 1906 or 1907. Then I discovered that he graduated from the Nikolaev Engineering Academy in 1907.

The history of this period in Russia is complex. I will include only the barest details of the 1905 revolution here. Political unrest had been brewing for many years but by 1905 the government was loosing control. Early in 1906, the Tsar was forced to accept the creation of an elected legislative body, the Duma. He then proceeded to take away its powers in the following years. After 1906, assassinations, strikes and political organizing continued and the government response included arrests, death sentences, and execution. I think the story of Leonid being arrested for political activity is true, but he could not have been arrested till at least 1907. The center of political dissent was in St. Petersburg where Leonid had been attending school. 

Click on images to enlarge.

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Leonid from the family portrait taken ca.1906

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My grandfather's notes from the backs of two copies of the family portrait taken ca. 1906.

This photo is dated "1906-1907?" Leonid is to the left of his two brothers. They are all dressed informally, so it does not show whether he was in the military at the time.

The story continues that Leonid was sent to Siberia and was going to be executed but escaped with others and made his way to China. If he was to be executed it doesn’t make sense to send him all the way to Siberia. If he was in the military he may have been in Siberia already. Anyway, according to the story, he was a political prisoner in Siberia and he escaped. 

He made his way to Harbin, and eventually Shanghai. I'm not sure about Harbin. Either my mother or I may have made this up, but it would have been a likely escape route. Harbin is a city in northern China that had a very large Russian population. The town was built by the Russians that came to build the Chinese Eastern Railway. 

The story of Harbin is fascinating. Besides having a very large population of Russians, many other nationalities were represented and it was a thriving, cosmopolitan city. During the Bolshevik Revolution many more Russians came to stay.

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Old postcard of an Orthodox cathedral in Harbin, China

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Harbin street scene with Russian, Japanese, and Chinese people. Signs are in both Russian and Chinese.

Siberia, a really BIG place

Today, by modern train, it takes seven days to travel from Moscow to Vladivostok. In 1907 the trip would have been twice as long.

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This map is from 1909 and shows the Trans-Siberian Railway. Siberia extends from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and had timber, minerals, animals, some arable land and access to the ocean for fishing boats and the Imperial Russian Navy.  Unfortunately Vladivostok wasn’t always free of ice which is why the Russians were so interested in using Port Arthur in China (more on this later). 

I assume that Leonid wasn’t too far from China when he escaped. Harbin is marked with a red star. The port of Shanghai is at the bottom of the map towards the right and is marked with a red circle. A road trip between the two would be about 1400 miles. There was also ferry service between Vladivostok and Shanghai.

Japan (right side of map) competed with Russia for land and influence in the area. The countries were vying for control of Korea. The defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) precipitated the 1905 Russian Revolution. 

Lenin was sent to Siberia. Stalin was sent to Siberia. Even Dostoyevsky was sent to Siberia.  We don’t know if Leonid was sent to Siberia after he was arrested or was already there. My guess is that he was sent there after he was arrested. If he was being sent to Siberia it makes more sense that he would be sent there to a forced labor camp, not to be executed. Alternatively, if he was in the military he may have already been stationed near (or even in) China when he was arrested. We may never know the exact circumstances.  Anyway, we will take a very quick historical side trip to consider forced labor camps. 

One way to extract Siberia’s riches (and provide much needed income for the government) was to send prisoners to work in forced labor (katorga) camps. The Bolsheviks made use of the older camps and greatly expanded the system (in 1953 alone they may have held over 2 million prisoners). I have no maps of the katorga system, but below is one of the Soviet Gulag system which used many of the older Siberian camps. Harbin, China is below the Soviet Union to the right. Besides being remote places to send prisoners, the Siberian camps provided labor for industries like mining and lumber which generated income for the  government.

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A map that shows Soviet Gulags. Harbin, a Russian city in China is marked by a red star.

A Little (too much) History

To me, much of the interest of my family history has to do with the times my ancestors lived through. Traveling through a land torn apart by war (as Leonid will do later on) is a different story than traveling through a land at peace. I assume that Leonid had little or no money and no knowledge of Chinese when he escaped and made his way to America. For those who like history I offer the following mini-history section. Others can safely skim over it.

Global Politics / Russia, China, Japan,and Britain, Germany…

At this time in history, the imperial powers were vying with each other to control as much of the globe as possible and, in this process, forging the alliances that led to World War I. The prelude to WWI was the Russo-Japanese war which lasted from 1904 to 1905. It was humiliating defeat for the Russian Empire and a contributing factor in the 1905 Russian Revolution. I will give a brief synopsis of the history surrounding this conflict.

China was a weak country and was forced into giving concessions to the Russians, British, Germans and then finally the Japanese. In 1898, Russia coerced a lease for the Chinese city of Port Arthur and used it for their Pacific Fleet. This upset the Japanese because they had won this area in the Sino-Japanese War but Russia, France and Germany forced them to give it up. Soon after, the Chinese rebelled (Boxer Rebellion) against foreign influence and the imperial powers ganged up to put down the rebellion. Russia decided to leave its troops in Manchuria and was starting to exert influence in Korea. The Japanese wanted Russia to agree to spheres of influence with Japan getting Korea and Russia getting Manchuria. Russia used negotiations as a delaying tactic while it built up its forces even more. Japan declared war, won major battles, destroyed two out of the three Russian naval fleets, and won the war. 

The peace treaty was negotiated in Kittery, Maine, and Teddy Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for his involvement. Because of concessions made by the Japanese it was unpopular with the Japanese public and led to political change in Japan. It also created more animosity in Japan toward the western powers, setting the stage for WWII in the Pacific).

After Russia’s defeat, its expansionist policies in the east were stopped and Japan was recognized as a formidable power. It was likely that Leonid travelled through areas of China that had recently shifted from Russian to Japanese control.


Next we look at the Trans-Siberian Railway, Leonid’s route to Siberia, and also the Chinese Eastern Railway, a possible escape route.

The Trans-Siberian Railway and the Chinese Eastern Railway 

In the 19th century, the Russian Empire extended to the Pacific Ocean but transportation within the empire was difficult and slow. Resources in Siberia were hard to access, and Russia wanted to control more of the trade between Asia and Europe. Inspired by the U.S. transcontinental railway, the Russians started the Trans-Siberian railway following the U.S. model by starting from both ends. It was a massive undertaking.

To this end, In 1886, the Russians negotiated a concession from the Chinese to build the Chinese Eastern Railway. Completed in 1902, the Chinese Eastern Railway joined with the Trans-Siberian Railway and provided a shortcut across China, through Harbin, to Vladivostok. It was completed a decade before another route that didn’t leave the boundaries of Russia.


Though it was not part of the agreement with China, Russia controlled the rail corridor with their military. They built a branch that went south from Harbin to Port Arthur on the Liaodong Peninsula where one of the three Russian naval fleets was stationed (before the Japanese disabled it in a surprise attack). This southern branch eventually connected with rail lines to Beijing, Shanghai, and elsewhere.

Whether Leonid went east as a soldier or as a prisoner, He would have ridden on the Trans-Siberian Railway. He may have been very close to China when he escaped – maybe even in China.

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This 1910 map shows the western portion of the Trans-Siberian Railway including the Eastern Chinese Railway. A red marker shows Harbin. From Harbin a branch line extends down to Port Arthur. 

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