The CHARGES page has two essential reports that reveal much of what went on behind closed doors during the first two trials: Nikita Girin’s long and informative article (in two parts) WHAT WE’VE UNCOVERED published in July 2020, and the linguist Irina Levontina’s interview with Zoya Svetova NATASHA HELD FIRM (published in September last year).
A statement from the Supreme Court may be made this week (22-27 December) about the Dmitriev case: for those who read Russian here is the link to the case on the Court’s website. The pages listed under the TRIALS menu provide an overview and give rapid access to articles, interviews and reports in English that document the shifts and changes of the past five years.
In February 2021 after a visit to Petrozavodsk reporters eagerly repeated [Postscript] a suggestion of DMITRIEV’s 88-year-old acquaintance Alexander Selyutsky that the historian might have upset a local relative or descendant of the “Judges” or Executioners of 1937-1938:
“He not only came across those who were arrested: the executioners were also named in those documents.”
Krasny Bor (September 2012)
Yet, as noted before, the troika members and 47 others who signed execution reports from a dozen sites across Karelia were all publicly named in the 1990s by Dmitriev’s mentor Ivan Chukhin. It was the first time such information was published anywhere in Russia,[R] notes Sergei Krivenko of Memorial.
In his 1999 book, for instance, Chukhin named 16 men who took part in executing 3,778 “near Petrozavodsk” between 9 August 1937 and 22 October 1938 (not just at Krasny Bor, perhaps, but at other still unidentified locations). And he described (Karelia in 1937, [R] p. 119) the three most often in charge of such operations : Travin, NKVD commandant for the Karelian capital; Pushkin, head of the city fire brigade; and Voronkov, seconded from the special section of the NKVD’s 17th rifle division in the Leningrad Region.
Over the past five years Yury DMITRIEV has become known far beyond his native Karelia, throughout Russia and around the world.
He has received prizes since his first arrest in December 2016, from the Moscow Helsinki Group and most recently the Norwegian Sakharov Award. His work was recognised earlier by awards in Russia (2005), Poland (2015) and in Karelia itself (2016), where the head of the republic Hudolainen gave him its highest award.
Dmitriev with his foster daughter Natasha, b. 2005 (photo Novaya gazeta)
The exclamation quoted in the title of this post refers not to Dmitriev’s work on the Karelian Book of Remembrance, however, or to his discovery of Sandarmokh and Krasny Bor and their transformation into memorials, but to the crimes of which he has been accused.
A British acquaintance with good Russian and a direct knowledge and experience of children’s homes in Russia was indignant when she heard of his case. He had rescued and restored to health a neglected little girl, just as he himself had been rescued in childhood from a similar fate: “They should give him a medal, not put him in prison!” she exclaimed.
In a letter (received yesterday by Nataliya Dyomina) from the Petrozavodsk detention centre where he has spent most of the last five years, Yury DMITRIEV wrote in support of Memorial:
“I know the people who are presently in charge of Memorial and can confidently say that Memorial will go on working whatever the Supreme Court decides. The truth that Memorial has been unearthing, from citizens of Russia and in other countries is in great demand. People have a right to know the true history of their nation and not that which is being broadcast on Russian Television.
“Our work is needed, so we’ll go on working. The experience of working in difficult conditions has been well studied and it can also be applied today.”
On 23 June 1992 Russian President Boris Yeltsin issued edict no 658, declassifying legislative and other acts that “served as the basis for mass repressive measures and violations of human rights”. This clearly applied to KGB [NKVD] archives and the Great Terror of 1937-1938. Yet as Sergei Krivenko and Sergei Prudovsky of Memorial noted in April this year [end note] that process has stretched out over thirty years and today is still not completed. The edict specified that it should be finished within three months …
Much has been said and written about the failure to make a clean break with the past in post-1991 Russia, through lustration and an international trial to expose the crimes of the Communist regime – the veteran dissident Vladimir Bukovsky devoted an entire book to the subject. Instead, researchers, activists and relatives of the victims in Russia (and in much of the rest of the former Soviet Union) have spent years gathering evidence of those “crimes against humanity”.
Books of Remembrance have been compiled and published in 72 of Russia’s 83 regions; monuments have been erected at several hundred burial grounds, graveyards and commemorative sites across the country; and ceremonies are held each year to remember the victims.