“Judges” and Executioners [1]

It has been suggested that Yury DMITRIEV attracted the wrath of the authorities by exposing the members of the troika that issued thousands of death sentences in Karelia during the Great Terror or by naming the NKVD executioners who shot those thousands of men and women.

Ivan Chukhin

These details were established and publicised years earlier, however, by Dmitriev’s mentor Ivan CHUKHIN (1948-1997), as Irina FLIGE describes in the Search for Sandarmokh. Between 1990 and 1995 Chukhin was a deputy of the Supreme Soviet and the Duma; as important perhaps, he was a lieutenant-colonel and senior investigator with the police. By the mid-1990s Chukhin had gained access to the minutes of the three extra-judicial bodies issuing death sentences for Karelia during the Great Terror. Further research in the FSB archives indicated the approximate place of execution; the numbers shot; and the surnames of the NKVD officers who oversaw the executions. In Karelia-1937, posthumously published in 1999, Chukhin went further (p. 118).

“We have now reached the most tragic and in many respects still unclear page in this history, the executions themselves,” he wrote.

“The NKVD, as is known, held meetings to appoint the executioners. […] Appendices 15-17 list all the mass [more than three-victim] executions in Karelia and name 47 executioners from among the officers of the NKVD in Karelia and of the Belbaltlag camp complex.

“The chronology is based on the Execution Reports signed by those same individuals. Soldiers from the border force, the NKVD commandant’s office and, evidently, dozens of Red Army soldiers also took part in the shootings. Execution reports for 20-21 January 1938, for example, indicate that Belbaltlag officers Shondysh and Bondarenko executed 685 people. That is a physical impossibility.”

One explanation, he suggested, was offered by documents in the Central FSB archives “confirming that machine guns were used in a special military operation to carry out a similar task in Ukhtpechlag.” It was clear, in any case, that many more took part in the shootings of the Great Terror in Karelia, and elsewhere, than were named in the surviving documents.


It was Dmitriev’s achievement to locate the killing fields of the Terror in Karelia, turn them into commemorative sites, and to identify almost five thousand of those shot at Sandarmokh and almost all who were killed at Krasny Bor.

Ivan Chukhin set Dmitriev on that path. As one of the authors of the October 1991 “Law on the Rehabilitation of the Victims of Political Repression” Chukhin’s own contribution was considerable; he was motivated, in part, by the “awful discovery” in 1990 (Karelia-1937, pp. 135-136) of his father’s signature on documents associated with the Terror.

“Judges” and Executioners [2]