The Winter War ended 13.3.1940 at 11.00. The peace treaty of Moscow didn’t move the border in the Kuhmo area. The eastern border of Kuhmo has remained the same since the peace of Täyssinä, over 400 years ago.
Clearing the battlegrounds
After the Soviet troops had left, the Finnish troops started to clear the area so that civilians could return home. Soviet troops had buried some of their dead and erected wooden markers. When the snows melted, the unburied corpses started to emerge. Finns buried approximately 10 500 Soviet soldiers in mass graves. Several individual corpses were left in the woods and buried later.
The clearing operation continued in the battlegrounds, yards and fields. All weapons, ammunition, horse corpses, vehicles, field bakeries, skis and other equipment were cleared away. Duds were exploded. This clearing operation was carried out by soldiers and young volunteers.
The evacuees return home
The evacuees wanted to return home immediately after the war had ended. Return permissions were given in steps, depending on the location of the homes. First evacuees returned to Kuhmo in April 1940. Some evacuees had to wait for a few weeks in the evacuee centres managed by lottas and other volunteers. People were eager to return home, because the spring work had to be done in the fields. The first to return were the inhabitants of the western part of Kuhmo. The people living in the Kuhmo village returned in May.
A 15-kilometer zone was established at the border, and no civilians were allowed there at first. Only later in summer were civilians allowed east of the demarcation line. Some houses, for example in Laamasenvaara, remained forbidden area. The Malinen family from Laamasenvaara returned from Soviet Union in June 1940. Two of their children had died while they were held prisoners of war. Military officials were against the quick return of civilians because of security reasons (the fear of war and partisans) and because of fortification work in the area (fear of espionage).
The local Lotta Svärd organisation helped the orphans, invalids, widows and families in need. Lottas returned to Kuhmo from Sotkamo 20.3.1940.
People that had lost their cows were given compensation or a new cow that been evacuated from Karelian territory, which was now occupied by Soviet Union. There was not enough food. The good-will packages from countries like Sweden and USA helped in some degree. Especially the Finns living in America wanted to help their former home.
The evacuation centre for the soldiers killed in action was at the Ruunakangas, in Sotkamo’s Ontojoki. The dead soldiers were transported from Kuhmo to Sotkamo, where they were washed, dressed and put in coffins. The dead were kept in the Sotkamo church.
The first military funerals in Kuhmo were at the Hankaniemi graveyard 21.4.1940. 62 soldiers that were killed during the Winter War were buried then. Rector Emil Rechardt performed the funeral service. The village was still a military zone, so the relatives could only attend the funeral if they had special permit. The dead were buried in a mass grave covered with spruce twigs. Two soldiers were buried later, 19.5.1940. All in all, 102 Winter War heroes from Kuhmo are buried in the soldier’s grave. These include some soldiers that were injured during the war and died later from their wounds. The last soldiers were buried there in 1954. Also the soldiers killed during the Continuation War are buried in the same area.
In the summer of 1950 the soldier’s grave area was raised higher, a small tombstone was put on each grave and a big granite cross was erected.
Prisoners of war
About 400 Soviet soldiers were captured at the Kuhmo front. 66 men from Dolin’s brigade became prisoners of war 15-19.2.1940. Most of the prisoners of war were captured during the motti battles.
The prisoners were collected at the Pelso prison in Vaala. They were guarded by home troops. Military police was responsible for the transportation of prisoners of war and guarding them during the transport. Sick prisoners were transported on lorries and the rest travelled on foot. The prisoners were returned 16-25.4.1940.
The battles in Kuhmo were fought with the scorched earth policy. The retreating Finnish troops burned all the buildings in the area. The destroyed buildings were mainly along the roads of Saunajärvi, Hukkajärvi, Lentiira and Vartius.
327 residential buildings were destroyed in Kuhmo, and also countless number of other buildings. 18 buildings in the village centre were totally destroyed. Also the granaries of the State of Finland and the landowner’s association were ruined. Otto Iivari Meurmann prepared a new building plan for the village centre at April 1940.
The local rebuilding board was led by district police chief Lauri Korteniemi. All buildings that were damaged during the war were listed according to the village. The board estimated the damages and size of the damaged buildings and paid 50 million marks as compensation to the 5327 applicants.
The Finnish Rebuilding Office was led by building engineers. Office workers took care of the paperwork, which included the designs, building permits, applications for financial aid and licenses to purchase supplies. Decisions were made at the settlement board of the Ministry of Agriculture in Helsinki and at the settlement committee of the Kajaani Agricultural Society. There was lack of all building materials.
The return to normal life was especially hard for the inhabitants of eastern Kuhmo. Only the chimneys reminded of the days before the war – all else had been burned down. The first home for the family was often a chimneyless sauna or a hastily built cabin. The cowshed was built next. Rebuilding was slow, because many of the men were busy building fortifications at the border. Soon the Continuation War took the men back to the front.
A collection was arranged in Sweden, and the proceeds were donated for the rebuilding effort in Finland. The houses (so-called “Swedish houses”) were designed in Finland. Only the designs for work and assembly were made by Swedish standards. There were 55 Swedish houses erected in Kuhmo. These houses were mainly in the eastern parts of Kuhmo along the Saunajärventie road and Hukkajärventie road, and further north.
New plants brought by Soviet troops
The war had a significant effect on the local vegetation and flora. During the war Soviet troops were surrounded along the Saunajärventie road for several months. The Soviet 54th Division had many horses. The feed for these animals came from the further areas of Soviet Union, because there was no feed available near the border. Several plant seeds were transported to Kuhmo that were not native to this area. The ground was well loosened and there was plenty of manure around, so the new plants had a good start.
Some of the new plants were: field knapweed (Centaurea phrygia), brown knapweed (Centaurea jacea), eastern brome (Bromus inermis), tormentil (Potentilla erecta), eastern stichwort (Stellaria media), common valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and eastern dock (Rumex confertus).
These plants have been found for example in Kankivaara, the Kotila crossroads in Rasti, Luelahti, Kannas, Loso, Löytövaara, Riihivaara and Ala-Laamanen. These plants are mostly found near the buildings. They have been best preserved in areas where there has been no modern farming.