Long before the Swedish Crown lost the Neva River region to Peter the Great in the Great Northern War of 1700 – 1721, this region, inhabited by Karelian Finlanders, was anchored by the Swedish Crown’s Fort Nyen Skans surrounded by the growing city of Nyen, which then was the largest city near this stretch of the Swedish-Russian border.
Tzar Peter began to build his Fort St. Peter and Paul on old Finnish inhabited land, around which then Imperial Russia’s new capital, St. Petersburg grew up.
Some of Tzar Peter’s workforce consisted of Finlanders brought from the surrounding areas. The Finlanders who managed to survive those harsh labor conditions ended up as part of the new city’s earliest inhabitants.
By the end of the 1800s St. Petersburg’s Finnish community had grown into more than 30,000 Finlanders.
Additionally, due to the same war, several Siberian communities, including Omsk, Tomsk, Barnaul, Irkutsk and others, received a large number of prisoners-of-war. Among them were large numbers with homesites in Finland.
Up to the revolution these sites had active Lutheran parishes with church buildings marking their presence both past and present.
It is only after the death of Peter the Great that Johannes Vitus Bering, the Dane in Russian service, was sent to explore Siberia’s North Pacific coastlines, to then on his second expedition sight the Alaska coastline near Kayak Island.
Contributed by Marika Enckell