Over sixteen months (August 1937-November 1938), more than one and a half million people were arrested in the USSR and sentenced in their absence by regional tribunals — the extra-judicial troika (“three member commissions”), dvoika (“two member commissions”), and Special Board — or by the Military College of the Supreme Court in Moscow. No defence was offered.
Half of those arrested were sentenced to death. They were shot and buried all over the Soviet Union in killing fields like Krasny Bor and Sandarmokh in Karelia, discovered and investigated by Yury DMITRIEV. The others were sent to the Gulag for up to ten years of forced labour.
For a long while the concurrent Show Trials in Moscow of leading Old Bolsheviks (1936-1938) led many in the Soviet Union and abroad to believe that this unprecedented bloodshed was linked to a “purge” of the Communist Party. Archival research since the late 1980s has shown that the vast majority of those arrested and shot or imprisoned were picked up according to regional quotas, issued by the NKVD in Moscow.