Delightful little church destroyed by fire in ‘Siberian Białystok’ rebuilt to former glory with donations from across the globe
A church built by Polish settlers to Siberia in the early 1900s and which was ravaged by a fire in 2017, has finally reopened after funds poured in from around the world to help rebuild it.
Contrary to the common association of Siberia with forced resettlements and gulags, when the church was built in 1908, it was by a group of Polish settlers who had voluntarily chosen to make Siberia their home and set up a village on its territory.
The Poles began arriving in the late 19th century as part of a migration movement in search of a better life and were encouraged by lower taxes and free transportation, incentives intentionally provided by the Russian Tsar who was keen to encourage settlement in Siberia at the time.
The settlement, which lies near the city of Tomsk, was established in 1896 by Poles from the areas of Grodno, Vilnius and Siedlce who decided to name their new village ‘Białystok’, hoping to emulate the prosperity experienced by its dynamically developing Polish namesake.
Agnieszka Kaniewska, a Wrocław researcher studying Polish traces in Siberia and who spent nearly three years living in Tomsk, told TVN24: “The name came from the fact that in the 19th century, Białystok was rapidly developing and was called ‘the Manchester of the North’.
“The settlers hoped that by choosing the name, their village would also quickly start to flourish. That is what happened. At the beginning, 13 families lived here, but in 1916, there were already over 100.
“Today the village counts around 200 inhabitants. Aside from Poles, we can find Russians and Armenians living here.”
However, tragedy struck the village in 2017, when the historic church, burnt down one night, thought to have been as the result of either an electrical fault or arson to cover up a burglary.
The fire completely destroyed the building and left the faithful without the monetary capabilities of rebuilding it.
Kaniewska said: “The destruction was so large that the church had to be rebuilt from scratch, which exceeded the financial capacity of the congregation, so I set up an internet collection, thanks to which it was possible to raise the necessary funds.
“There was even an allowance, which will be used to build a playground. Among the donors, there were people from all corners of the world, such as Canada and the USA.”
The online campaign managed to raise around 320,000 PLN and over 40,000 in dollars, pounds and euros. The total cost of the construction work had been estimated at 110,000 euro.
The rebuilding of the church, overseen by Father Krzysztof Korolczuk, began two years ago and was due to be consecrated in June 2020, but was delayed because of the pandemic.
Though the church is considerably smaller than the original, not exceeding 100 square metres, it is large enough for the needs of the present day community of Siberian Białystok and marks an important historic moment in the history of the village.
Kaniewska added: “For the Polish community of Białystok, this house of God constituted a material symbol of their ties with their ancestors and their culture.”