I first met students from the Moscow Film School, it seems, at Sandarmokh. They had come for the Day of Remembrance on 5 August. As it happened, one of the buses I’d laid on was empty and they travelled on it to the graveyard and back. They were greatly impressed and began asking me about local history.
Later they wrote me a letter: “Let us help you in some way.” I took up the offer and we went to Peter the Great’s arms factory. The next year they said: “We’d like to help again.” We worked at the Badger’s Hill graveyard. They wanted to help again, and that’s when we started going to Solovki.
“Sandarmokh means something special to me. It’s where I’ve put into practice several other tasks I set myself.
“I’d like the people living in Karelia to feel that they are part of a nation, and not just the population. Belonging to a nation means you know your own history, language, culture and traditions. The population is anything that shows signs of life. To govern a nation, you must know and respect its customs, traditions and codes of behaviour; the population can be managed anyway you like. A nation can’t be herded about, it will stand its ground. The population is easy and simple to direct. To stand firm and survive this uncertain period, so that those in charge are replaceable, they are elected, we need to educate our nation.
“In 1997 I met Veniamin Joffe and Irina Flige from Petersburg Memorial at the FSB archives in Karelia. We agreed to look for the site near Medvezhyegorsk where executions took place.
“Joffe and Flige were on the track of the missing transport from Solovki special prison. They began their search after reading the case file of NKVD Captain Mikhail Matveyev, who oversaw the shooting of the Solovki prisoners in autumn 1937. From reading all the execution reports I knew that an enormous number of people, several thousand in all, had been shot somewhere near Medgora. So, we agreed on a date. If I remember rightly, we arrived there on 1 July and on 2 or 3 July we had already discovered the place [Sandarmokh]. I would be stuck there for ages. The official investigative procedures continued for two whole months.
“For me it all began in the late 1980s. I’d heard that people had been ‘repressed’, but, somehow, we didn’t speak about it in our family. It turned out later that my mother’s father was dekulakised and sent to work on the White Sea Canal.
“My other grandfather was arrested in 1938 and died in the camps. He was an accountant on a collective farm and he caught it in the neck. Papa only confessed this to me in 1991 when we were coming back from the first funeral I organised for the victims of repression.