KATYN

On his blog about Places of Remembrance in Russia and Ukraine, Airat Bagautdinov recently considered the Memorial Complex at Katyn in Russia’s Smolensk Region.

A place of burial for executed Soviet citizens in the 1920s and 1930s, it became famous as one of three places in the Soviet Union where Polish POWs were buried in May-June 1940 after Stalin ordered their mass execution. (The other two locations were Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine and Mednoe in Russia’s Tver Region: see “Russia’s Necropolis of Terror and the Gulag“.)

Bagautdinov examines the part of the Complex built in 1998-2000 and designed by Russian architect Mikhail Khazanov.

“You pass through a gap in the burial mound. On each side there are plates of corten steel inscribed with the names of the executed. Once forgotten and restored much later, these names seem to be fighting their way through the metal surface.

“The plan of the memorial is very simple. You walk through the forest, between the pine trees. However, your feet do not touch the ground. You move along raised pedestrian pathways 18 inches above the earth. The earth itself is a memorial, Khazanov is telling us. Those who were shot lie beneath every square metre of land and the grass grows from their bodies; therefore you must not set foot on this ground.

“Those who regularly read my blog may remember that this approach was first suggested by Josif Karakis, in his [unaccepted] entry for the Baby Yar monument competition. Khazanov’s work, therefore, is not only a powerful memorial in its own right: it is also a tribute to a Ukrainian master of the genre.”

(Many thanks to Natalya Dyomina who recently posted this wonderful excerpt from Bagautdinov’s blog on the Dmitriev supporters Facebook page, JC.)

WHY DMITRIEV? (1)

In 2002, five years after the tragic death of Ivan Chukhin, Yury DMITRIEV published the Commemorative Lists of Karelia. This Book of Remembrance named 14,308 individuals — most of them shot (11,275); others sent to the Gulag (1,958). The task on which Chukhin and Dmitriev had embarked almost a decade earlier was completed.

Why we should admire Yury Dmitriev

Police investigator and Duma deputy Chukhin also gained access to detailed execution reports in the local FSB archives. These indicated the approximate location of thirteen execution and burial sites scattered across Karelia.

Most were small but two were of particular size and importance. Over 3,000 had been shot, “near Petrozavodsk”, the capital of Karelia. The other site, “near the Medvezhya Gora rail station”, accounted for several thousand more and was located not far from the headquarters of the White Canal camp system (Belbaltlag). Shortly after Chukhin’s death, Dmitriev together with Irina Flige and the late Veniamin Joffe found and identified the killing field near Med Gora, today famous as Sandarmokh. Soon afterwards locals led him to a similar site 20 miles from Petrozavodsk: this became the Krasny Bor memorial complex.

30 October 2021, Krasny Bor

Dmitriev’s achievements could not be gainsaid. Russian and foreign awards followed: in 2005 he was given the new Golden Pen of Russia award; in 2015 he was awarded Poland’s Gold Cross of Merit; and in November 2016, the month before his arrest, he received the Honorary Diploma of Karelia, the highest award in the gift of the head of that Republic.

Why the FSB hates and detests him

Long before 2016 there were signs of official irritation with what Dmitriev did and said.

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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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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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