Those who did not return

“I would like to recall them all by name,
but they’ve taken the list, there’s no way to find out”

Anna Akhmatova wrote Requiem, from which this famous couplet is taken, over almost thirty years (1935-1961). In Russia the poem could not be published in full until 1987.

Nikolai Gumilyov, Anna Akhmatova and their son Lev (1915)

Her first husband, fellow poet Nikolai Gumilyov, was shot on trumped-up charges in 1921 [47-01]. Their son Lev was twice arrested and sent to the camps, during the Great Terror and again in 1949. Her third husband Nikolai Punin died in August 1953 [11-23], a few months after Stalin, in the hospital of a labour camp complex in northwest Russia.

As she was well aware, Akhmatova was giving voice to millions who suffered a similar ordeal. When she died in 1966 Khrushchev’s brief and ambivalent “Thaw” had come to an end. For the next twenty years there would be silence about the crimes of the 1920s-1950s; any discovered remains were hastily reburied or moved elsewhere [42-08]. Not until the late 1980s did the rehabilitation of the “victims of political repression” under Stalin (and Lenin) resume.

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Essential Reading

The Dmitriev Affair, 2016-2021

A full summary of the twists and turns of this by now internationally famous case was recently given, offering an analysis of what has happened so far and why. The following, all cited in that summary, are probably the four most important and informative articles and interviews about the case (each has been translated from Russian):

Two Interviews with DMITRIEV attorney Victor Anufriev:

[Other comments by Anufriev]

Two articles that provide comprehensive accounts of the evidence and testimony at both trials:

The slow progress of the two trials (it took only seven months to arrest and convict DMITRIEV’s colleague Sergei Koltyrin) can be followed on Timelines One & Two. A subsequent timeline traces the Appeals process since September last year.


He deserves a medal for what he’s done! [2]

The current threat to Memorial’s existence, alarming as it is, might have come several years earlier had the trial of a little-known historian in provincial Petrozavodsk gone as planned. Those who have orchestrated the sustained persecution of Yury Dmitriev no doubt calculated that the simultaneous assault on his reputation and that of Memorial could not help but succeed.

Public opinion in Russia, they assumed, would be managed and manipulated as usual through tame sections of the media, especially television. Activists, politicians and academics in the West would be cautious about giving loud and public support to someone accused first of child pornography and then of sexually abusing his foster daughter. To protect her anonymity, the trial would be held behind closed doors and neither press nor public would be admitted. What could go wrong?

Support at home and abroad

Outside Russia, it’s true, there was reluctance to speak out in favour of Yury DMITRIEV. To begin with people voiced doubts: perhaps there was something behind the charges. Then the apparently fool-proof plan began to unravel.

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Keeping track of the case

A new page has been added to the TRIALS menu (above).

APPEALS, Aug. 2020-Nov. 2021 now follows TIMELINE 1 (1997-2018) and TIMELINE 2 (2018-2020).

The CHARGES page has two essential reports that reveal much of what went on behind closed doors during the first two trials: Nikita Girin’s long and informative article (in two parts) WHAT WE’VE UNCOVERED published in July 2020, and the linguist Irina Levontina’s interview with Zoya Svetova NATASHA HELD FIRM (published in September last year).

A statement from the Supreme Court may be made this week (22-27 December) about the Dmitriev case: for those who read Russian here is the link to the case on the Court’s website. The pages listed under the TRIALS menu provide an overview and give rapid access to articles, interviews and reports in English that document the shifts and changes of the past five years.