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.)