In 2002, five years after the tragic death of Ivan Chukhin, Yury DMITRIEV published the Commemorative Lists of Karelia. This Book of Remembrance named 14,308 individuals — most of them shot (11,275); others sent to the Gulag (1,958). The task on which Chukhin and Dmitriev had embarked almost a decade earlier was completed.

Why we should admire Yury Dmitriev

Police investigator and Duma deputy Chukhin also gained access to detailed execution reports in the local FSB archives. These indicated the approximate location of thirteen execution and burial sites scattered across Karelia.

Most were small but two were of particular size and importance. Over 3,000 had been shot, “near Petrozavodsk”, the capital of Karelia. The other site, “near the Medvezhya Gora rail station”, accounted for several thousand more and was located not far from the headquarters of the White Canal camp system (Belbaltlag). Shortly after Chukhin’s death, Dmitriev together with Irina Flige and the late Veniamin Joffe found and identified the killing field near Med Gora, today famous as Sandarmokh. Soon afterwards locals led him to a similar site 20 miles from Petrozavodsk: this became the Krasny Bor memorial complex.

30 October 2021, Krasny Bor

Dmitriev’s achievements could not be gainsaid. Russian and foreign awards followed: in 2005 he was given the new Golden Pen of Russia award; in 2015 he was awarded Poland’s Gold Cross of Merit; and in November 2016, the month before his arrest, he received the Honorary Diploma of Karelia, the highest award in the gift of the head of that Republic.

Why the FSB hates and detests him

Long before 2016 there were signs of official irritation with what Dmitriev did and said.

A close supporter and ally dated the immediate cause of displeasure to Dmitriev’s outspoken words at Sandarmokh on 5 August 2014, during the International Day of Remembrance. He then openly criticised the Putin regime for its recent annexation of Crimea and incursion into the eastern Ukraine.

Yury Andropov (1914-1984)

It has been suggested that Anatoly Seryshev, FSB head of Karelia (2011-2016), took a particular and malevolent interest in Dmitriev that did not cease after Seryshev was promoted and moved to Moscow. Yet the historian antagonised the KGB’s successors much earlier, in the very year that the Commemorative Lists of Karelia were first published. In 2002, Dmitriev fought a determined but doomed campaign to prevent a statue of Yury Andropov being erected in Petrozavodsk.

The scourge of the dissidents from 1967 to 1982, briefly Soviet leader (1982-1984) during the New Cold War, sponsor of Mikhail Gorbachev — Andropov was once again in favour. After Putin came to power a plaque commemorating Andropov was restored to the front of FSB headquarters on Lubyanka Square in Moscow.

At the time of the tussle over the statue in Petrozavodsk Dmitriev commented to visiting American journalist David Satter : “We don’t know the past, and we don’t want to know it.” [1]

“We were all victims”?

None of this is surprising, perhaps. An alarm bell rang earlier still, and it warned not of a clash of personalities, nor was it linked to a particular place or event but to a popular syndrome encouraged and fostered by the regime.

Entrance to Sandarmokh (bas relief of Guardian Angel still in place)

In 1999, two years after the discovery of the killing field at Sandarmokh a new monument was about to be erected there. In 1998 an imposing granite boulder with its Guardian Angel and imprecation, “People, do not kill one another!” was unveiled at the entrance to that hellish site. Now a second granite boulder monument would be added.

Its marble plaque was to read [2],

“Here in the Sandarmokh Clearing, a place of mass execution, more than 7,000 innocent people were murdered by the butchers of the NKVD between 1934 and 1941. They were inhabitants of Karelia, prisoners and forced settlers of the Belbaltlag system, and inmates of Solovki Prison.

“Remember us! People, do not kill one another!”

The new monument was funded by the Karelian government. The wording was agreed with the Commission for Restoring the Rights of Rehabilitated Victims of Political Repression, of which Dmitriev was then secretary. At some point during its preparation the phrase “by the butchers of the NKVD” was removed from the final text [3]. The words have never appeared on that plaque, neither then nor since.

John Crowfoot


[1] David Satter, It was a long time ago, and anyway it never happened: Russia and the Communist Past, Yale University Press, 2011, p. 194.

[2] Irina Flige, The Search for Sandormokh, 2019, Nestor-Istoriya: St Petersburg, p. 107 [in Russian].

[3] In Russian the missing words are “палачами НКВД”. A dictionary translation of the original phrase might be “killed by the executioners of the NKVD”. It would convey little of the force and disgust of the Russian (“butchered by the NKVD” is closer still).

See Why Dmitriev? (2)