It was all preparation for what I do now

  Yury Dmitriev in his own words

Did I ever want to give up? Sometimes, when there was no food at home and work on the execution lists and burial sites took up all my time. By then I was no longer an aide to a people’s deputy.

Dmitriev, black & white

Yury Dmitriev (photo, Sophia Pankevich)

I made some attempts to get a job as an editor.

“Of course, such a book is needed. We’ve set up an editorial group,” they told me: “you’re the editor, now get on with it.”

“Come on,” I said. “I need a salary, it doesn’t need to be a big one … I’ve got to pay for the apartment, for electricity, and a few other things.”

“Be patient for a month or two. We’ll think of something and find you a place on the payroll.”

I waited for a month, then three months. A year passed, then two, then three. At times it was very tough. The children were going to school: we had to buy them skirts and trousers. You think to yourself, “That’s it, I’m giving up.” You go a bit crazy overnight. Then you get up in the morning and ask yourself: If I give up, who’s going to take it on? No one. And back you go.

Gradually, I learned how to earn some money and to keep up with the lists and burials. Today I’m officially the editor of a Book of Remembrance about the special settlers. The government of Karelia issued a decree and all the palaver, and they call me in regularly to give progress reports, but they don’t pay a penny. At present, I’m working as a security guard. I’ve already spent nine years working on the book – how could I give up? Well, those nine years don’t really matter. This is information that people need; they’re waiting for it, they want to find their relatives. I know it should have been done much earlier. But, there you are, it didn’t turn out that way. Today, one after another, the children of those deported here as special settlers, who remember their parents, are passing on. The grandchildren will remain and they’re not likely to feel a strong need for such information. It will just become part of their general knowledge, perhaps.

When did I understand that this was my cross? Probably, about 12 or 13 years ago. I always thought, “When I finish this book I’ll do something else.” I’m not a bad technician. I could always find myself an 8 to 5 job. Then, after work, I could go out fishing or hunting, drink some wine and grill some kebabs. But there I was, working from morning until 2 or 3 at night.

No, I probably understood it earlier. Because in the Karelian Lists of Remembrance [compiled in 1997] I quote the words of Ursula le Guin: The more a man knows, she wrote, the narrower his choice of activity, until at last he does exactly what he should be doing. About 10-12 years ago I realised that all my past life was preparation for the path I must follow. Why did I once study medicine, and osteology in particular? Why did I go hiking and learn to climb? It’s very handy now, when something or other is out of reach. Why, as a young scamp, did I scramble over rubbish dumps and scrap heaps when others went to the zoo? I was looking for interesting bits and pieces. Why did I accumulate these kinds of experience? To understand the life of those zeks and what happened to them. I saw that everything in my life had been an education and preparation for what I do now.

As soon as I understood that, I felt much more at ease. I stopped being pulled in different directions, wondering if I shouldn’t become the director of some firm and earn a proper pay-packet. Did I have enough to feed myself, to pay the electric bill? I did. In that case, I could somehow cope with the rest. Each year I manage to go on an expedition. No one pays for that, I cover the costs, and it’s an expensive activity. But somehow, I find the money …

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