Faced by the grim and relentless persecution of Yury DMITRIEV over the last four years, it’s easy to lose sight of the achievements of the past quarter century, those countless acts of remembrance across Russia and former Soviet states that make any simple return to the past unthinkable.
Yury Dmitriev resumes work, 2018
During the 1990s, volunteers all over the former Soviet Union gathered information from a variety of archives; they listed the names of those deported, imprisoned and shot and compiled Books of Remembrance. Today only a few of the Russian Federation’s constituent Regions and Republics lack such a record.
Furthermore, if the original impulse came from the relatives of those, subsequently rehabiliated, who were shot in the Great Terror (August 1937-October 1938), with time the task expanded to include many more than the 750,000 named victims of those mass executions. The October 1991 Law on Rehabilitation, flawed though it was, entitled 12 million victims of Bolshevik rule (or their surviving descendants) to seek rehabilitation and some measure of compensation. Over the past 25 years the labour of numerous volunteers and of the victims’ descendants has restored the name and reputation of up to three million Soviet citizens. That is the total included in the nationwide lists compiled and published online and on a succession of DVDs by Memorial and subsequently expanded with more detail (documents and photos) by the Open List project and others.
Among those volunteers, as we know, was Yury DMITRIEV. Working with Duma deputy Ivan Chukhin he compiled such a Book of Remembrance for Karelia. Published in 2002, the Karelian Lists of Remembrance contain the names of over 14,000 men and women who were shot during the Great Terror; the volume (now available online) is over 1,000 pages in length. This was only the first such volume, however. It was Dmitriev’s intention to add the names of 64,000 more men, women and children who were forcibly deported to the USSR’s labour-hungry Northern Region during the 1930s; they were, the historian calculated, the forbears of at least a quarter of Karelia’s present population.
An interrupted labour
Working in FSB and MVD archives, Dmitriev compiled those additional lists of names. Their publication was interrupted by his arrest in December 2016. As soon as he was released in January 2018 he resumed work on this ambitious and almost complete project, using the new computer bought by friends to support him in this work (see photo, above).
In neighbouring Komi, for example, the Book of Remembrance today is a series of twelve volumes published in 19 individual books: entitled Repentance: The Komi Republic’s Martyrology of the Victims of Political Repression, volume 1 (1,181 pp.) appeared in 1998, volume 12 (585 pp.) was published in 2016. These brief biographies for over 60,000 men and women include those shot and imprisoned in Komi, the residents of that Soviet republic deported to other parts of the USSR and those deported to Komi from the rest of the Soviet Union.
And in a year divided between winter work in the archives and summer exploration of the Karelian woods around major population centres Dmitriev took the process a step further.
Not only did he restore the names of those shot and imprisoned in Karelia, or deported there during the 1930s; he also began to locate their last resting place. The process started, almost by accident, in 1988 when he was working as an aide to Supreme Soviet Deputy Mikhail Zenko (see “My Path to Golgotha“, part 1). Thereafter, he located the abandoned cemeteries of the Gulag, especially those along the banks of the White Sea Canal, and began to seek out the concealed killing fields of the Great Terror.
This quest culminated in July 1997 with the discovery of Sandarmokh.