Sandarmokh, 5 August 2021

Today an extraordinary resource, “Russia’s Necropolis of Terror and the Gulag“, compiled by Petersburg Memorial’s Research & Information Centre (and released in 2016), has been launched in an English version. What follows is an excerpt from that website’s account of Sandarmokh.

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[…] Historians believe that a considerable proportion of those executed in Karelia were shot at Sandarmokh. A transport of 1,111 prisoners from the Solovki Special Prison were brought from the White Sea to the clearing and shot there between 27 October and 4 November 1937.

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Russia lodges surreal claim against Ukraine in Strasbourg

DMITRIEV’s recent problems can be traced back to 5 August 2014 when he denounced the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of east Ukraine at Sandarmokh during the annual Day of Remembrance. This spring, over five years after since his arrest in mid-December 2016, lawyers from Memorial submitted an appeal on his behalf to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In Russia, meanwhile, his case has reached the Supreme Court.

Here Halya Coynash discusses Russia’s own bizarre appeal to the ECtHR, concerning the shooting down of flight MH17 in July 2014 and the issue of mainland supplies of water to Crimea, occupied by Russia since February 2014 (24 July, Human Rights in Ukraine).

National Memorial to the Victims of MH17 ©ANP

“Russia has lodged its first ever inter-state application at the European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR], with a series of claims against Ukraine.  There seem no grounds for taking any of the accusations seriously, however two are of particularly staggering cynicism. 

After sending the BUK surface-to-air missile carrier to Donbas where it was used to down Malaysian airliner MH17 and kill all 298 passengers and crew on board, Russia has brought a claim against Ukraine for not having closed its airspace.  It has also accused Ukraine of not providing water to Crimea, invaded by Russia in February 2014 and illegally occupied ever since.

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First Discoveries, 1988-1991

The first time Yury DMITRIEV came across the unmarked remains of those shot during the Great Terror was in 1988, as he describes in My Path to Golgotha (pt 2). The immediate reaction since the 1950s was to cover up these bones and skulls with their tell-tale bullet holes. Now activists and relatives of those arrested and shot resisted such wilful and enforced amnesia.

As the “Map of Memory” compiled by St Petersburg Memorial’s Research & Information Centre records, the remains found on the outskirts of Petrozavodsk were gathered and reburied in one of the city’s no longer used graveyards.

The Zaretskoe Graveyard, Petrozavodsk

“… human remains were discovered during excavations near the Sulazhgorsky brickworks on the outskirts of Petrozavodsk,” says the Map of Memory. “With the help of the Karelian Memorial Society, the pits were opened and the remains of between 200 and 700 people — reports vary — were uncovered. It was established that those executed by the NKVD during the Great Terror (1937-1938) were buried here. “Soon a similar burial was discovered near the Besovets settlement, not far from Petrozavodsk. The remains of more than 200 people were found there … . They were reburied in the Zaretskoe cemetery in Petrozavodsk which had been closed for further burial. The reburial took place on 30 October 1991.”

Remains of this kind lay scattered and concealed across the Soviet Union: at least 740,000 were executed between August 1937 and October 1938. It was also a subject avoided in many families. In My Path to Golgotha Dmitriev tells how and when he discovered more about the past of his own (adoptive) family. While his mother’s father was shot during the Terror, his paternal grandfather was arrested in 1938 and died in the camps. “Papa only confessed this to me in 1991 when we were coming back from the first funeral I organised for the victims of repression.” That funeral was the reburial at the Zaretskoe Graveyard late in 1991.

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Remembrance (3): Four brothers

Alexander Pokrovsky and his three brothers were born in a village in what today is Russia’s Oryol Region. By the early 1930s, they had moved to Moscow.

There in summer 1932 the OGPU (predecessor of the NKVD) arrested them and by October that year all four were convicted of Counter-Revolutionary Crimes under Article 58, specifically espionage and terrorism.They were, it is said, attempting to create an underground anti-Soviet organisation; they wanted to spy for France and rob the Soviet State; worst of all, they were preparing to assassinate Stalin, Voroshilov, Kaganovich and OGPU chief Yagoda.

With the exception of Ivan Pokrovsky, the eldest, they had each found work: Alexander at a factory; Sergei at a workshop; and Simeon building the new airport at Monino. This reflected the opportunities provided by the forced tempo of industrialisation during the First Five Year Plan; the city also offered them a welcome anonymity, perhaps, because their father Nikolai was an Orthodox priest.

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Remembrance (1): Lists and Names

Faced by the grim and relentless persecution of Yury DMITRIEV over the last four years, it’s easy to lose sight of the achievements of the past quarter century, those countless acts of remembrance across Russia and former Soviet states that make any simple return to the past unthinkable.

Yury Dmitriev resumes work, 2018

During the 1990s, volunteers all over the former Soviet Union gathered information from a variety of archives; they listed the names of those deported, imprisoned and shot and compiled Books of Remembrance. Today only a few of the Russian Federation’s constituent Regions and Republics lack such a record.

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