News |

Steam journey commemorates independence hero's return from Siberian exile

The steam train Ukko-Pekka was pressed into service on Tuesday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of P. E. Svinhufvud's triumphant return from Siberian exile. He declared Finnish independence later in 1917, becoming the country's first prime minister and later president.

Vanha Ukko-Pekka-höyryveturi kohtasi keskiviikkona Helsingin-matkallaan monta modernia lajitoveria.
The Ukko-Pekka is a 1930s steam train. Image: Vesa Marttinen / Yle

An early champion of Finnish independence, P. E. Svinhufvud returned from Siberian exile 100 years ago this week.

Arriving by steam train, he received a hero's welcome in his native Luumäki and then Helsinki – a journey that was re-enacted on Tuesday by his grandson, Heikki Svinhufvud.

As part of celebrations of Finland's centenary of independence, he made the trip from Lappeenranta on the Russian border to Luumäki and then Helsinki on a 1930s steam train that shares his grandfather's nickname: Ukko-Pekka ("Old Man Pekka"). 

Svinhufvud's return from Russia came at a pivotal moment for Finland, which had been a Grand Duchy under the Russian Empire since 1809.

A former Speaker of Parliament and judge, he was exiled to Siberia in 1914 for refusing to carry out the orders of a Russian official whom he considered illegitimate.

In mid-March, 1917, the February Revolution ended with the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II.

"I'm returning to Finland"

"Svinhufvud went to a local police station in Siberia and said: 'Since the official who ordered me into exile has just resigned, I'm returning to Finland,'" said Jyrki Vesikansa, chair of the PE Svinhufvud memorial foundation, at Tuesday's re-enactment.

Svinhufvud stopped off in his hometown of Luumäki, South Karelia, some 200 km north-east of Helsinki.

"There were great festivities at all the stations along his route, with choirs and speeches and flags and everything," said Vesikansa. "It was really the return of a national hero. He was seen as a symbol of Finland's struggle for justice, as the monument at Luumäki station attests."

His return to Helsinki was commemorated with speeches by Heikki Svinhufvud and others as well as songs from the Akademiska Sångföreningen choir, which dates back to 1838.

From exile to the presidency

In November 1917, P. E. Svinhufvud was named as chairman of the Senate – in effect the first prime minister of Finland. On December 6, 1917 it was Svinhufvud who read out Finland's declaration of independence from Russia and became the country's first prime minister. In late December he took the train to St Petersburg to meet with V. I. Lenin, who promised to recognise Finnish independence.

He served another term as premier in 1930-31, followed by a six-year term as the nation's third president. He died seven years later in early 1944, just as Finland was fighting to maintain its independence from the Russians, this time from the Soviet Union in the Continuation War. 

Latest in: News


Our picks