Last Words

In his last words to the court at his Second Trial DMITRIEV explained his own background, how this influenced his decision to foster three-year-old Natasha and his attitude to patriotism.

First translated and published on 21 July by Meduza as “Who’s a patriot?”

This is already the second time I’ve made a closing statement in this endless trial. I’d like to clarify my position and, if it isn’t already clear to the court, explain why I am the man I am, why I act as I do, and why I ended up in this cage.

Your honor, I have made it plain that I am perhaps not an entirely ordinary person like most others. What I mean is, I was born a healthy, normal person, but I didn’t know my biological parents, where they were from and of what nationality, to what faith or culture they adhered. And this has fueled in me a great search for my own roots. I’ve been trying to find them for more than thirty years, so far without much success, but I think I’ll get to the truth of all this someday — I’ll find out what blood courses through my veins and what genes animate me. That is why, as a child adopted when he was one and a half, the subject of abandoned children is dear to me, something I feel as a personal experience.

Yury DMITRIEV at liberty in 2018 (photo by Vladimir Larionov, Reuters)

Yes, many crave to learn their own roots. Why? To find out which culture you belong to. Now, I’m not saying I’m a descendant of some princely line. What matters is to understand which people claim me as a son. What separates human beings from insects — from butterflies or beetles — is the fact that we have memory. And this memory of our ancestors, preferably going back seven generations or more, makes you more independent in your judgments, and it allows you to draw better conclusions because the memory of generations is concentrated in you. I lack such knowledge, unfortunately, which is why I strive for it.

Why am I saying all this? So that you can understand the motives that guided my actions, your honor, when I took in another child who had lost her parents and guardians. Whatever obstacles we faced (created out of thin air, at the request of one or two officials) they weren’t so insurmountable as to prevent my wife and I welcoming the child into our family. The court knows what actions were taken; this is reflected in the case materials. We won’t dwell on this now. Instead, let’s confine ourselves to the fact that the victory in the fight for guardianship drove me to be more attentive to everything related to the presence of a child in our family.[1]

During this trial, the prosecution said that we failed to keep an eye on [our daughter’s] health. That is the second clause in the agreement when you adopt, that I must monitor the child’s physical health. And that is why, as you have seen, your honor, everything is documented. Maybe I got ahead of myself, but I embraced the same recommendations made by government officials even before [Russia’s 2018] telemedicine law came into effect.[2]

Our honorable prosecutors say there is no law on telemedicine, and our honorable doctors in Karelia insist that the Health Ministry never issued any such order. And yet the order is known in Moscow, where it’s been observed for two years already. Moreover, I can also tell you that a telemedicine laboratory was created at our medical institute back in 2008 on the basis of one of these orders. It exists and there are guidance materials that cite the order. And if our honorable doctors in Karelia say it’s impossible to reach a diagnosis using photographs and snapshots… Maybe it is impossible, but a [healthcare] professional can certainly hypothesize about the presence of a disease and direct the child to the right specialist. 

A woman came here and testified as an expert… I can’t say for certain what her position is because I don’t have the records of that hearing. But on the basis of a certain photo, she determined that the child was suffering from an illness. I can see when someone has broken bones or lacerations, and I can take certain actions, like bandages, splints, and ice. But what happens if I don’t understand what’s going on hidden inside the child?

Bringing up Natasha

That is why I repeatedly sounded the alarm about my daughter’s low weight. When we took in the child at three and a half years, she weighed 12 kilograms [26.5 pounds]. At 11, when she was taken from our family [in December 2016], she weighed 24 kilograms [53 pounds]: that’s what a first grader weighs, but she was already in the fifth grade. She was always 25-30% below average weight, and that really worried me.

When she was six and going to kindergarten, she was first referred to the endocrinologist. The specialists at the clinic spent a long time, carefully examining her neck area, her thyroid, and her lower abdomen (meaning, her pelvic organs). The other kids were examined for seven, eight or 10 minutes. We spent 30, maybe 40, minutes there. “It doesn’t seem there’s anything terrible, but there’s something there,” they said. “Let’s wait until next time and then maybe it will become clearer.”

The girl was pretty active in sports. She ate well. Forgive me for the details, but we ate meat seven days a week: beef, lamb, and chicken, plus good sausage and garnish at breakfast. We didn’t scrimp on food — there was enough money, thank God. And still the child was skin and bones. It really got me down.

Late in 2016, our doctors finally found something. First, they sent us to the children’s hospital in Petrozavodsk for further examination; then they proposed more tests at the children’s hospital for all Karelia. Sadly, I don’t know if she ever went for those tests because I was taken into custody on 13 December, literally a month before they were due to happen.

We met with all the other specialists. At the last medical examination, an eye doctor said her eyesight was getting worse because the child was playing a lot on her smartphone. I took a decision and gave her a phone without the games that would wreck her eyesight. “Hold on. Let’s see what happens before New Year.” I told her. “If your vision improves, I’ll give you back your phone.” I also promised, by the way, that I’d buy a new tablet for her at New Year if she finished the quarter without any low marks … She’d already broken two of my tablets.

Your honor, I want to say again that I have never commited any foul acts against my daughter. What they’re trying to pass off almost as “erotic touching” is just their interpretation of parental care. I didn’t fumble around, I didn’t look, I didn’t touch, I didn’t grope, and I didn’t caress or anything like that! Everything invented here by our friendly investigator, and zealously repeated by our beloved prosecutor, is false.

My own upbringing

Let’s talk about the reason I took in the child. I’ve explained why I did so, how we did it and the way I monitored her health. Now I’ll explain the reason I brought a child into my family.

I’m eternally grateful to my parents, to those who raised me. I mean Alexei Filippovich Dmitriev, a career officer who fought at the front [during World War II], and my mother, Nadezhda Dimina. They were both from simple peasant families. Dad was from the Tyumen Region in Siberia and mom was from Vologda [northwest Russia], from some remote village. They met during the war and got married in 1946. Dad was wounded three times: once by a bullet, once by shrapnel, and once by a bayonet that left a scar just below his heart — the blade caught him too low and it was the German who died.

When they realized that the Lord would not give them their own children (due to the hardships and deprivations they suffered during the war, evidently), they performed what I regard as an act of civic valour by taking me from the children’s home. They nursed me back to health and raised me to be the man standing here now in this cage who could look them in the eyes without shame. [Meduza: Dmitriev’s parents both died in 2000, within five days of one another.]

Following their example, and remembering their gift of life to me, my wife and I decided to take in a child and raise her according to the same principles by which we were brought up. Everything we did, to bring the girl into our family and to ensure that she grew up healthy, active, and so on, is laid down in the laws of the Russian Federation, the Family Code and other statutes.

I believe — and the Russian Federation’s Constitution supports me in this — that the State’s strength isn’t in tanks and guns or nuclear missiles and the ability to send everyone to kingdom come. No, the strength of the State lies in its people. How people behave in a State determines how that State develops and how it grows richer and wiser. That’s why we wanted, in accordance with these wishes of our Constitution, to raise a young woman — well, for now just a girl, then a teenager, and then a young woman — so that she would be a useful member of our society.

Natasha’s baptism 

We never forced any values onto the child. We never said that you have to love your dad because he’s the dad. We never said you have to love your mom because she’s the mom. The child should do this on her own in response to our love. We didn’t say you have to love the state. A person should do this on their own when they feel the care of this state. As a matter of fact, that’s why I had my daughter baptized, or rather I allowed her to be baptized, so late.

The first time she started talking about the possibility of wearing a cross around her neck was in kindergarten when she saw another kid wearing a cross. “Dad, I want one of those.” Well, her dad explained to her that it wasn’t just a decoration. I explained that when she grows up and wants to believe in God, she’ll choose whatever she likes best, and she can get baptized then, too, if she wants. That’s why we baptized our daughter so late, at the age of nine. At eight, she expressed a wish to be baptized and I sent her to Sunday School for a year, so she could understand what faith is and so people who know about it could explain to her what it means and teach her how to do it properly if she still wanted to be baptized. After finishing Sunday School, I asked her again if she wanted to be baptized and she said: yes and I know why. Nobody forced her to do it, nobody urged her on, and there were no enticements. 

And somehow here the Lord gave his blessing — there’s no other way to put it. My daughter was honored to be baptized in the Solovetsky Islands at an ancient, holy monastery. In addition to being ancient and holy, it’s also, from the perspective of our modern history, a terrible place; it’s the home of the infamous “SLON” Solovki prison camp. 

My daughter was baptized at the Voznesensky Monastery on Mount Sekirnaya. In the 200 years this small monastery has existed, you can count on one hand how many people have been baptized here. It’s a very strict monastery and a very holy and tragic place. In the old days, women weren’t allowed on Sekirnaya Mountain at all. They can come now, but not one young lady had ever been baptized there. My daughter was the first and only. And I thank the Lord that he allowed [my daughter] to be baptized there.

In the Soviet years, during the 1920s and 1930s, this was a place of punitive confinement where hundreds of people were held in the most unbelievable conditions and held before they were shot for capital crimes. They were shot literally 30-40 meters [about 115 feet] from this church — it was one of the first cemeteries I discovered in the Solovetsky Islands.

And somehow the senior priest and the entire monastery’s archpriest didn’t oppose my daughter being baptized according to the monastery rite on Mount Sekirnaya. And when that sacrament was done, I honestly warned my daughter: now you’ll face great trials because once a person is granted so much — once they’re baptized in such a place — the Lord will test their strength.

At home, by herself, she sometimes prayed. (Walking by, I’d see her.) And now, when I asked her grandmother in your presence, your honor, if my daughter goes to church and I heard that she does not, I understood why I do not feel that mutual connection with her. After all, probably for the first seven or eight months, I knew and I sensed inside myself that I had the same feelings as my daughter. That’s just how we’re built. We were simply that in tune with each other. If the child was scared, then I felt it. If the child was cold, I was, too. I knew when she was hot. If she scored a goal or missed a shot in practice, I could sense that, as well.

Who’s the Patriot?

People today like to talk about patriotism and I’m sorry but patriotism never really enters the conversation. Who’s a patriot? A patriot is someone who loves their homeland. For some reason, the only thing we like to take pride in these days is military feats. I’m sorry but a homeland is a mother.

Sometimes mom gets sick and sometimes mom struggles with something. But do we stop loving her when that happens? No. I don’t know if it’s for better or worse, but my path is to return from oblivion those people who perished because of our state. They were unjustly accused, shot, and buried in the woods like stray animals. There’s nothing indicating that people are buried here. The Lord gave me this cross to bear, maybe, but the Lord also gave me this knowledge. I have managed, not often but sometimes, to find the locations of mass human tragedies. I match them to names and I try to make room for memory in this space because memory is what makes a person a person.

I can say the following about “military patriotism”. My dad fought on the front lines and we marked 9 May [Victory Day] long before it became a public holiday. That was in 1965, I remember[3] , and we marked the day even before 1965.

My mom had six sisters. All their husbands fought on the war’s front lines. And here’s the thing: at the table, these people spoke least of all about victories. Because the war for them meant tragedy and pain. And there were no flags. The victory was grief, first and foremost, and the memory of those who died.

I agree completely and entirely with our State that we must remember those who died in the war because it’s part of our shared memory. But we must also remember the people who died due to the malice of our state. And that is what I consider to be patriotism. This is what I taught my foster daughter and this is what my [biological] children, Yegor and Katya, know, as do my grandchildren and the schoolchildren and students with whom I’ve worked. Probably all civilized people know and understand this. That is why, your honor, I believe this case, which we’ve been discussing and reviewing for three and a half long years, was created specifically to discredit my good name and to cast a shadow on the graves and cemeteries of the Stalinist repressions’ victims that I managed to unearth and to which people are now flocking.

Why this case was launched in the first place, I don’t actually know. To put a stop to human memory? That’s a doomed pursuit. To deprive me of the chance to participate in all this? I’ve been out for three years now and it’s not going away. 

That is why, your honor, when you retire to your deliberation chambers, I ask you to study and verify everything again carefully. I am innocent of the wrongdoing described here in many volumes. I tried to raise the child as a respectable citizen and as a — and I’m not afraid of this word — patriot of our country. I did everything possible to make this happen. Maybe even more than the school, workshops, and others do.

That, I believe, is everything I want to stay. Thank you.

English translation by Kevin Rothrock

Russian original, Meduza, 20 July 2020


[1] How Dmitriev became a Foster Father (Meduza)

In an interview with the website 7×7, Dmitriev said he wrangled with social workers for a long time and even took foster parenting classes, in order to become a guardian (not a foster parent, as social services initially proposed). In the end, Dmitriev was permitted to become the girl’s guardian, but Dmitriev’s wife was not.

[2] The Health Ministry’s telemedicine order (Meduza)

Russia’s Health Ministry issued an order “approving the organization and provision of medical care using telemedicine technologies” that entered force in January 2018. (See Rossiskaya gazeta, 4 August 2017.)

[3] Post-war military parades on Red Square, 9 May 1965 onward (site editor)

After the famous parade on 9 May 1945 none was again held to mark the end of World War Two until the year following Khrushchev‘s removal from power. From then on the day became a public holiday. The parade and the ideology of the now-named “Great Patriotic War”, 1941-1945 (on analogy with the 1812 Patriotic War against Napoleon) became ever more firmly established, the dominant theme in the official history of the USSR.