After catching an early train from Helsinki we arrived in Kirkkonummi where we were driven to Sjundby Manor. When we pulled up and exited the van an elderly man in uniform approached us speaking only in Russian. With little knowledge of exactly where we were the Global Degree team looked at me and our guide for help but none came. For all they knew we could have actually been in Russia, if this had between 1944- 1956 we would have been.
After the conclusion of the Second World War the area of Porkkala was leased to Russia for fifty years but fortunately it was returned after only eleven. The area was of a tactical advantage to Russia as it was the narrowest and shallowest stretch of water between Finland and Estonia, allowing them to closely monitor and secure the passage to St Petersburg.
Once the agreement had been made the whole area had to be evacuated in just nine days, over 7000 residents, 8000 domestic animals, as well as any crops and vegetables. At first not even trains could pass through the newly acquired area, but after 1947 they were finally permitted but the shutters had to be pulled down to cover the windows.
After a brief view of the castle we were directed to a slightly more interesting building in my opinion. Between the road and the river there was a building covered in Russian text preserved for more than fifty years. Our Russian officer, now speaking in English, explained to us about the area and its history before posing for some Soviet era photographs.
The landscape of Porkkala had changed, what had once been an agricultural landscape was transformed by the Russians into a heavily fortified military facility. It is thought that 20,000 military personnel and about 10,000 civilians occupied the area during those eleven years.
It was now that we travelled a little further and saw what was remaining of the fortifications that had been built. An entrance to a bunker hidden from the road. It continued meters underground but the roof had collapsed making it now inaccessible. There is thought to be many more in the area, some have been found but others have not so it is difficult to estimate how many exactly were built.
Here it wasn’t only the bunker that was of interest but the area surrounding it that had once been a barracks with a fully operating crematorium, our guide added, “Still no one knows what they were burning there.”
As we drove through the region there was little evidence and even less that you would have noticed without being pointed in the right direction. Many of the houses had been left to decay after the residence moved out in 1944, little of who returned, and it was only in recent years that development in the area had really begun.
It was an incredibly interesting area with a history that I had never discovered until now even though it is only 19km from Helsinki. One of the most memorable stories of the day was of two seventeen year old boys that accidentally sailed into the area and were picked up by a Russian patrol and imprisoned. After a few days they thought they were being released and taken back to Helsinki by train but they ended up in a death camp in Siberia where they were put to work for a number of years.
Next stop, Fiskars Village. Post coming soon!
I highly recommend the article Seven Years Sailing about the two boys who ended up in Siberia after an innocent sailing trip.
Scorched Earth, World War II in Lapland
Thanks to Porkkala Travel for hosting us, more information about the region and how to visit can be found on their website porkkala.net