Vello Raie

Born on 1 March 1923 in Tallinn, Estonia, arrested in 1945, spent 9 years in Gulag camps in Arkhangelsk oblast and Karaganda.

Vello Raie was born on 1 March 1923 in Tallinn, to an Estonian-Russian family, where navy service was in high regard. Vello’s godfather was Nikolai Valge, bearer of the Cross of Liberty 2nd class, 3rd rank. He served on the minesweeper Lennuk and died in 1985 in Toronto, away from his homeland. Nikolai’s brother, Alfred Valge, was a chairman of the Navy’s court martial during the War of Independence. He was shot by Soviet authorities in 1941. Father Boris Tiisman (before changing his last name to Raie) got into a train accident in 1924 and died. The mother died in 1933. Vello’s older brother Boris (b. 1922), named after his father, died in Red Army service in Velikiye Luki in 1942. The younger sister Liidia (b. 1924) was evacuated to Russia in the summer of 1941, where she died in the same year. Vello spent his childhood in Tallinn in Kopli (Line 3) as well as in Kalamaja (Uus-Kalamaja 5), and his summers in Narva-Jõesuu. He was orphaned after the death of his mother and placed in Tallinn Estonian Education Society’s orphanage at the address Lennuki 11.

In 1940, he was expelled from Gustav Adolf Grammar School due to his behaviour, which was considered provocative in respect to the Red Army. Vello recalls the establishment of Soviet occupation in the summer of 1940 and the warfare in August 1941 in Tallinn. During the German occupation he volunteered for the auxiliary fleet of the German Navy and served on a tugboat Anton in the harbour of Gdynia.

Vello’s decision was made out of a fear that he would be sent to the eastern front to fight against his brother. In April 1944 he returned to Estonia. When the Red Army had taken Tallinn, Vello began a search for his brother, unaware that he was long dead. He was accepted to a maritime school, but arrested in June 1945 for being a member of the Free Estonia Front (Vaba Eesti Võitlusrinne). Vello remembers the months he spent in Patarei Prison quite well. In Patarei, he shared a cell with historian Peeter Tarvel. Vello was sentenced to 10 years in prison camp and 5 years of settlement in exile for the attempt to overthrow Soviet regime.

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In the beginning of 1945, Vello was taken to a Gulag prison camp in Yura railway station, in Arkhangelsk oblast. The unrealistic quotas of logging and the non-existent living conditions almost took Vello’s life. He ended up in a camp hospital, taken ill with dystrophy.

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In 1947, he was taken to a camp in Nyandoma, whence he was sent to the Kargopollag camp for forest work in Alekseyevka II. In the latter, in addition to the usual difficulties of prison life, the criminals held in Kargopollag also posed a threat to life.

In 1949, the political prisoners were transferred to Karlag in Karaganda. According to Vello, it was an international city in the middle of the steppe, where one could come across not only people from all over the Soviet Union but also Japanese prisoners of war. There he worked on construction.

After Stalin’s death and Beria’s arrest in 1953, the regime became more lenient. On 17 December 1954, Vello was released from the prison camp and found work in Karagandastroy. There were so many Estonians living in the city that once, the National Academic Male Choir, led by Gustav Ernesaks, gave a concert there.

Vello married a Ukrainian, they had two daughters. In 1958, when he was freed from settlement in Karaganda, he came to Tallinn and went to the KGB house on Pagari Street to find out if his family could move to Estonia. The answer was no; he was told to leave Estonia within 24 hours.

Life led the young family to their mother-in-law in the city of Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, where Vello worked in Dneprodomnaremont, a company involved in the repair of iron smelting furnaces. The work was hazardous and safety requirements were often disregarded.

From time to time, Vello visited Estonia, where he took part in the 1988 People’s Front meeting in Linnahall as well as the Baltic Way in 1989. In 1992, Vello and his family resettled to their homeland.


The story was processed by Kogu Me Lugu, an oral history portal of the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory.

Kogu Me Lugu (Gather Our Story, also translates into Our Entire Story) was launched on 14 June 2013 as an appeal to young people of Estonia and the world to gather their family stories. The objective was set not only to document Estonia’s oral history, but also to make this heritage accessible on the internet. This is how the Kogu Me Lugu oral history portal (www.kogumelugu.ee) was born, which focuses on Estonia’s 20th century history through personal experience. To this end, we gather, research and share memories in video format of people (eyewitnesses and people close to them) who lived in Estonia during the Soviet or German occupations, fled from Estonia to escape those regimes, or ended up in Estonia as a result of the actions of these regimes. The portal can be accessed in Estonian, English and Russian.


The predecessor of the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory (Eesti Mälu Instituut), the Estonian Foundation for Investigating Crimes Against Humanity, began its work in 1998. On this base, the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory (www.mnemosyne.ee) was born in 2008. in 2017, The Institute and the Unitas Foundation merged in order to jointly continue their work under the name of the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory. This united institution combines long-term experience in academic research and internationally publicising research results with engagement and publicity work in history.
The aim of the Institute is the investigation of the international crimes and violations of human rights committed by regimes that have been hostile towards humanity, and of the totalitarian ideologies that were the starting point for those regimes, together with informing the general public of the results of its research. The Institute is also a partner of the national government in organising memorial events commemorating the victims of the crimes of communist and national socialist regimes.


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