We must be able to find something

 Yury Dmitriev in his own words

“In 1997 I met Veniamin Joffe and Irina Flige from Petersburg Memorial at the FSB archives in Karelia. We agreed to look for the site near Medvezhyegorsk where executions took place.

“Joffe and Flige were on the track of the missing transport from Solovki special prison. They began their search after reading the case file of NKVD Captain Mikhail Matveyev, who oversaw the shooting of the Solovki prisoners in autumn 1937. From reading all the execution reports I knew that an enormous number of people, several thousand in all, had been shot somewhere near Medgora. So, we agreed on a date. If I remember rightly, we arrived there on 1 July and on 2 or 3 July we had already discovered the place [Sandarmokh]. I would be stuck there for ages. The official investigative procedures continued for two whole months.

While that was going on, I persuaded Seryoga Chugunkov, also from Memorial, to leave Petrozavodsk and join me. For years he’d been looking for an execution site near Averyanovo village. He arrived, saw what the execution pits looked like and said: “I know a place in our forest where you come across such pits.” He went home again, and there I remained near Medgora. When I was back on a visit to Petrozavodsk Chugunkov told me: “What do you think? We’ve found it. Not far from  Petrozavodsk at Krasny Bor.” Well, we went and looked. The pits were identical. We started digging – and turned up the same kind of remains …

We quickly informed the prosecutor’s office. They carried out various investigative procedures and concluded that this had been an execution site. When, they couldn’t say. They tried to open one of the pits completely. It was no good, the ground was too  waterlogged. They decided to postpone anything more until next year. It was clear  that people had been shot there, but that was all we knew so far. I was frustrated – I hate hanging about. We must be able to find out more, to reach а conclusion! On 6 November that same year, I took some young trainees from the police college and, choosing a higher site, a hillock, we dug out one of the pits. Seventeen bodies, several women among them. We measured and calculated everything … Then we covered them up again.

I came home and within three minutes I found the execution report. The numbers, including the number of women, coincided exactly. There were no other such reports from anywhere around Petrozavodsk. Another couple of minutes at the computer and I found all their names. Who they were, where they came from … It was the first fully identified grave at Krasny Bor. The next year we opened several more of the pits. All of them were amazingly easy to read: the execution reports corresponded exactly to what we found. We determined when the shootings took place and which executions squads were involved. A consolidated list of the victims came into being … Walking about the site I had estimated from the geometry of the pits that about 1,200 bodies lay there. The final total was 1,193.

Krasny Bor (VMG 1)

Krasny Bor, main commemorative area (24 September 2012)

That’s the good thing about working in the archives. An execution report tells you that on this and that date, “I, Vasily Petrov / Ivan Semyonov shot 42 people” (signature, date). Those executed are named: surname, name, patronymic, year of birth. From the report I can learn the age range and the numbers of men and women. If I open an execution pit and find 42 bodies there, including seven women, say, that’s excellent. Let’s suppose there are several similar reports in my catalogue for a single place near Petrozavodsk (such a coincidence has never yet occurred, I may add). Then I’d have to look at the age range, as well. How many old people, how many younger people … It’s possible to do the work, using such a document. These are details, the sex and age of those shot, that can be recovered from the grave. For everything else, if you’re lucky, you may find some signed paper or other.

At present, I have one burial site, Krasny Bor, where the names of the victims are known with a high degree of certainty. After that I began to collect the execution reports that refer to Sandarmokh: those marked “Medgora station, Kirovskaya Railway”. As for the other people who were shot somewhere near Petrozavodsk, I cannot say exactly where it took place – at Sulazhgora, perhaps, or Besovets. To be honest, we didn’t know how to go about finding out then.

Excerpt from “My Path to Golgotha“,
an interview with Irina Galkova (Memorial)