Everything that happened in the summer of 2018 is well known. Dmitriev did not leave his apartment block on his own: he was accompanied by a neighbour. They drove to the graveyard to pay their respects to a close acquaintance who died while Dmitriev was in custody. Then, as a religious man, Dmitriev wanted to go and pray at the Svirsky Monastery where his father confessor conducts the services. The monastery is outside the city limits and Yury Alexeyevich, as he was well aware, was under surveillance. He was arrested on the border between the Petrozavodsk district and the Leningrad Region — in the opposite direction, may I say, to the border with Finland. This happened on 27 June 2018. Ever since Yury Alexeyevich has been held in the detention centre.
What’s happening with the case now? Haven’t the court hearings been cancelled because of the corona virus epidemic?
The last court hearing took place on 23 March this year. It was very brief and only one question was under consideration: the extension of Dmitriev’s measure of restraint, custody in the detention centre. The court extended his term of detention until 24 June. By law I had three days in which to appeal against this decision. On 26 March I posted my appeal to the Supreme Court. So far, I’ve not received a reply.
Apart from that appeal the next court hearing has been scheduled for 14 April. I don’t know, truth to tell, what will happen because of the epidemic. The plenum of the RF Supreme Court has taken a decision to cancel all court hearings in Russia. For the time being all hearings have been postponed until 10 April and what happens thereafter is not known. That’s why it seems of primary importance to me to move Yury Alexeyevich out of the detention centre and place him under house arrest. We don’t know how long the epidemic will last and what will happen to us all.
To keep a middle-aged person behind bars for so long is not so much unethical and inhumane — it’s indecent. His life is at risk and there has been no confirmation that he is a danger to society. This is clear not only to lawyers but to all reasonable people.
Dmitriev has been subjected to every type of forensic and psychiatric examination. Not once, but several times. There is not the slightest hint of the tendencies of which he stands accused. He may be stubborn, have a sharp tongue and, at times, be blunt. However, he is an honest and deeply religious person, and there are no indications of perverted tendencies in his make-up. I’m not just saying that, it’s been tested and proved.
Do you believe that Dmitriev will eventually be acquitted?
I do not for one moment share the pessimistic view that an acquittal is impossible in Russia today. In April 2018, after all, Yury Dmitriev was found not guilty. No one expected that either, but it happened.
People have repeatedly told President Putin, in public and in private, about the Dmitriev case; the most varied and respected people in Russia have asked him to intervene. Do you know anything about his attitude to the case?
No, nothing at all. I know about the appeals from what I’ve seen in the media. I know nothing of any reaction. My job is to find proof of the innocence of Yury Alexeyevich, and that’s what I’m doing.
What sentence are the prosecutor’s office asking the court to give Dmitriev today?
We don’t know yet. In this new phase of the trial we have not even reached the stage of closing statements by the prosecution and the defence. It’s all moving very slowly.
Is it true that the new accusation is based on testimony given by Natasha, Dmitriev’s foster daughter?
We don’t have the right to discuss that now since she is underage. The basis for the accusation is closed information. You probably know that Dmitriev’s trial is being heard behind closed doors. So, I do not have the right to answer your question.
During the first trial, however, it was often said that Dmitriev’s relations with his foster daughter were good. Her letter to him in the detention centre, saying she loved her adoptive father and was looking forward to seeing him, was published. Are father and daughter in touch now?
Dmitriev himself was adopted at the age of 18 months. An army officer’s family took him from the children’s home. He always considered it was his duty to adopt and bring up a child, so when his own children had grown up and had children themselves, he became a foster parent to Natasha. They indeed enjoyed warm relations although it was complicated because the girl had been strongly marked by her upbringing in the children’s home. Yury Alexeyevich was a very responsible parent – he’s a good father – and the letters you mention were written. Natasha wrote to him and supported him.
Ever since December 2016, however, the girl has been far away from Petrozavodsk and Yury Alexeyevich has not been in contact with her. Even when he was free, between 27 January and 27 June 2018, he made no attempt to get in touch with her, to talk over the phone, etc. He was not allowed to talk to her or keep in contact.
Who took Natasha away and where was she taken?
She was taken away from Petrozavodsk by the investigative agency and now lives with her grandmother.
You’re referring to the grandmother who refused to take her in after Natasha’s mother lost her rights as a parent and the girl was placed in a children’s home?
What you say is true, but it is beyond my sphere of responsibility to comment on the situation. The investigative agencies were instructed to remove the girl from Petrozavodsk and exclude contact with Yury Alexeyevich. They fulfilled that task.
You have said repeatedly that the Dmitriev case is not political. Why?
My task as defence attorney is to defend Dmitriev against the specific criminal charges that have been brought against him. Naturally, it could be that the situation which has developed in our country has influenced the possibility of instigating such a case. I would not consider it correct, however, to say that this is a political case.
How unexpected for you was Dmitriev’s acquittal in April 2018 and the harshening of the charges against him at this new stage in the case?
We were counting on Yury Alexeyevich being acquitted because I was convinced that he was innocent. However, until the verdict has passed the appeal court – this is the procedural norm – it has not entered into force. Therefore, I instructed Dmitriev that this was not a final victory. Could we consider this the end, he asked me: could he now relax and believe that the case was over? I told him quite clearly: “No. Until we have come before the Supreme Court [of Karelia] and the appeals process, we cannot consider that the case is closed.” And that is what happened. https://www.youtube.com/embed/os9ED-zVm40?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en&autohide=2&wmode=transparent
We understood very well that the prosecutor’s office had asked for Dmitriev to be sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment and it would be illogical for them to freely and easily drop their demands.
In conversation with you has Dmitriev indicated who might be behind the case against him?
No, he has never said who he believes to be the instigator of the case. He has talked about something else: he says that the case was organised and provides weighty evidence in support of this statement.
At the end of November 2016 someone broke into Dmitriev’s apartment, got into his computer, took out a photograph of his foster daughter Natasha and printed it in A4 format. Several days later this photograph was added to the anonymous denunciation that formed the basis of the criminal case, when an unnamed person demanded that measures be taken against Yury Alexeyevich.
Dmitriev draws the conclusion that the person who organised the case wants him locked up and unable to continue his work, restoring the memory of those who were arrested and shot.
Dmitriev has now been absent for almost four years. What is happening today at Sandarmokh and Krasny Bor?
One could not say that Dmitriev’s efforts have been brought to a halt. The memorial complex at Sandarmokh has federal status, after all, and is supported by the local authorities.
Perhaps, some of those who organised the case against Yury Alexeyevich were hoping for the opposite, but after his arrest even more people are visiting Sandarmokh and Krasny Bor. The Dmitriev Case has attracted international attention. Yury Alexeyevich has received a number of prestigious international awards and now the eyes of the world, from Finland to Japan, are fixed on this story.
In autumn 2019 a delegation of 22 ambassadors visited Sandarmokh to pay tribute to his work and pay their respects to those who died there. Do not forget that it was Dmitriev who established that eight thousand people of 58 different nationalities were shot at Sandarmokh by the NKVD during the Great Terror. It is already impossible to expunge that fact from the historical record or consign it to oblivion.
And there never was any such order, to consign Sandarmokh to oblivion. It seems to me that this all happened, more or less, because of a false interpretation of the State’s interests.
How do you mean?
Karelia is a border area. We have information that certain people did not want so many delegations from other countries visiting Sandarmokh. The result has been quite the opposite of what was intended.
Do you link the activities of the Russian Military History Society with the criminal charges against Dmitriev? The RMHS has been trying to find the bodies of Soviet prisoners of war at Sandarmokh, who were supposedly shot by the Finns, and prove that they were not victims of the Great Terror but other people.
It’s hard for me to judge. I’ve not gone into this question in any detail. As far as I know, representatives of the Military History Society indeed came to Sandarmokh and carried out some rather energetic excavations, trying to find something that corresponded to their version of events. That was at a time, however, when Dmitriev was already in the detention centre.
Yury Alexeyevich takes the following attitude. It’s quite possible, he says, that executed POWs also lie there, but even if their remains are found – and so far, they have not been found! — that does not disprove the fact that eight thousand people, whose identity has already been established by Dmitriev, were shot there during Stalin’s Great Terror.
If the historians of the Military History Society and their expeditions are able to substantiate their theory, good luck to them. Let’s put up a monument, identify who they were, and so on. For the time being, there is no proof of what they say.
In other words, there was and is no direct conflict between Dmitriev and the Russian Military History Society?
No. They never even encountered one another.
How hard has the re-opening of the case been for Dmitriev? What’s his mental state now?
Well, he was not overjoyed, I can tell you that for a fact. That’s my first response. Two, Yury Alexeyevich has been digging up the remains of the executed and establishing their identity for almost thirty years. He has held in his hands and seen with his own eyes the results of the Great Terror. He has seen a great deal and is a hardy individual. He grew up in a military family, moreover, and was brought up by a man with a very strong character.
That steadfast character and a good knowledge of history – including the KGB and FSB archives and all those files he has studied for many a long year – prevent him from nurturing any illusions about the country where he lives. He’s facing things bravely but hopes for justice.
Meduza, 6 April 2020
The first part of this interview can be found here.