On 22 August, an exhibition opened in the Chamber Theatre («Петербургский интерьерный театр») at 104 Nevsky Prospect in St Petersburg about the historian and rights activist Yury DMITRIEV, the man who investigated one of the most terrible commemorative sites of the Great Terror, the Sandarmokh Clearing in Karelia.
The organiser was Svetlana Kulchitskaya. She decided to open the exhibition on her own birthday and – how symbolic – it is the date in August 1991 when the people defeated the totalitarian regime. As a result, 22 August has become celebrated as the “Day of the Russian Flag”. (On the walls of the staircase leading up to the Chamber Theatre, incidentally, are photographs dedicated to that memorable day … and to the preceding battles of perestroika in Leningrad [St Petersburg].)
Over sixteen months (August 1937-November 1938), more than one and a half million people were arrested in the USSR and sentenced in their absence by regional tribunals — the extra-judicial troika (“three-member commissions”), dvoika (“two-member commissions”), and Special Board — or came briefly before the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court in Moscow. No defence was offered.
Half of those arrested were sentenced to death. They were shot and buried all over the Soviet Union in killing fields like those discovered and investigated in Karelia by Yury DMITRIEV (Krasny Bor and Sandarmokh), or like Kommunarka and Butovo near Moscow. The other detainees were sent to the Gulag for up to ten years of forced labour.
For a long while the concurrent Show Trials of leading Old Bolsheviks (1936-1938) led many in the Soviet Union and abroad to believe that this unprecedented bloodshed was linked to a “purge” within the Communist Party. Archival research since the late 1980s has shown that the vast majority arrested and shot or imprisoned were picked up in accordance with regional quotas issued by the NKVD in Moscow, and were not Party members.
On Wednesday, 5 August, people marked the annual Day of Remembrance in over 80 towns and cities all over the world (in Bulgaria, Latvia, Ukraine, Scotland and Brittany among others) by reading out the names of those shot at Sandarmokh in 1937 and 1938, during the Great Terror.
Due to the Corona virus epidemic no gathering was held this year at the memorial complex near Medvezhegorsk.
At present 6,241 victims have been identified. Over five thousand were inhabitants of Karelia or prisoners of the BelBaltlag (White Sea Canal) labour camp system; a further 1,111 were brought there to be shot from the Solovki Special Prison in the White Sea.
Memorial in Moscow has just confirmed that the Defence and Prosecution have both appealed against the verdict and sentence pronounced on 22 July 2020 by Judge Merkov at the end of Yury DMITRIEV’s second trial before the Petrozavodsk City Court.
On 31 July Yury Dmitriev submitted an appeal, as did the prosecution. On 3 August, an appeal was lodged on behalf of the victim, Dmitriev’s foster daughter Natasha.
Dmitriev’s attorney Victor Anufriev confirmed that an appeal had been submitted with the intention of clearing his client of all charges. At present Dmitriev is being held, as before, in detention centre No 1 in Petrozavodsk.