This website’s banner image shows part of Sandarmokh (photo Ivan Zheltyakov, August 2017)

The Sandarmokh Memorial Graveyard in Karelia, is in the Medvezhegorsky district, 19 kms along the Medvezhegorsk-Povenets Highway (5 kms beyond the town of Pindushi).

In the 1930s the wooded area of Sandarmokh (alternate spelling: “Sandormokh”) was used as a place for executing the prisoners of Belbaltlag, the White Sea–Baltic Canal camp complex. In 1937/1938, inhabitants of Karelia who had been condemned to death were shot here. In autumn 1937 the “Solovki transport”, the first large group of prisoners from the Solovki special prison sentenced to death by the special NKVD troika for the Leningrad Region, was shot in Sandarmokh.

The Victims

The town of Medvezhaya Gora, from 1939 onwards the city of Medvezhegorsk, was the capital of Belbaltlag. Documents confirm that executions by shooting took place “somewhere near Medvezhaya Gora”. In 1937/1938, more than 50 such “special” operations were carried out in the Medvezhegorsky district.

Resolutions of the Karelian NKVD Troika condemned 2,666 people to death here; a further 670 were sentenced to death by the Moscow “dvoika”; and the 1,111 of the Solovki transport who were condemned to die by Resolutions of the NKVD Special Troika for the Leningrad Region (minutes Nos 81-85).

In 1997, with the support of the district administration, a joint expedition of Petersburg and Petrozavodsk Memorial discovered about one hundred and fifty burial pits, each approximately 4 square metres in size. It was then estimated that between 4,000 and 4,500 individuals lay buried in these pits.

The Executioners

The identity of the Party, Procuracy and NKVD officials who served on the troika or dvoika, has again become a State Secret. Who carried out the executions at Sandarmokh is known because, after Lavrenty Beria succeeded Nikolai Yezhov as Head of the Secret Police, several of the NKVD executioners in charge of the “special operation” at Sandarmokh were found guilty of various crimes.

A Wikipedia entry tells the story of one of them, NKVD Captain Matveyev.


How we found Sandarmokh

Yury Dmitriev’s account, a 38-minute video (in Russian)

Also see My Path to Golgotha, “We must be able to find something

On 27 October 1997, with the participation and support of the Karelian government and the administration of the Medvezhegorsky district, the Memorial Society opened the Sandarmokh Memorial Cemetery where these burials were discovered. An asphalt road was laid to the cemetery, a wooden Orthodox chapel dedicated to the Archangel Michael (St Michael the Victorious) was built there, and 230 grave markers were placed over the burial pits.

Sandarmokh today

In the centre of the cemetery stand two crosses: an Orthodox Memorial Cross and a wooden Catholic cross erected on a granite slab with inscriptions in Russian and Polish. On the initiative of the Memorial Research and Education Centre in St Petersburg a monument was erected to commemorate the executed prisoners from Solovki.

Ever since then commemorative markers have been appearing spontaneously in the cemetery: crosses, plaques bearing names, inscriptions on the gravestone monuments, and boards nailed to trees.

In 1998 a monument to the Guardian Angel was unveiled at the entrance to Sandarmokh. It reads, “People, do not kill one another”.

In 2003 a monument to the dead was erected on the initiative of the Spiritual Directorate for the Muslims of the Republic of Karelia.

In 2005, the Kalina Society for Ukrainian Culture opened the Cossack Cross in memory of the Ukrainians who died in Sandarmokh: the monument was funded by donations from private citizens of Ukraine, the USA, Karelia, Canada and the city of Vorkuta (Northwest Russia).

That year, on the initiative of the Jewish community in Petrozavodsk, who provided the funds, a monument was opened in memory of the Jews who were shot at Sandarmokh.

head of the Jewish community in Karelia

Dmitry Zwiebel addressing 5 August 2016 gathering

In 2007, a group of Polish students from Cracow placed a small cross at the base of the Catholic Memorial Cross in Sandarmokh.

In autumn 2007, on the initiative of the Estonian diaspora in Karelia and the Estonian diplomatic mission to the Russian Federation, a memorial was opened commemorating Estonians who were killed at Sandarmokh. The Polish Consulate-General in St Petersburg gathered the funds to erect a marble monument with inscriptions in Russian and Polish.

In 2008, the Consulate-General of the Lithuanian Republic in St Petersburg and the Centre for Research into the Genocide and Resistance of the Inhabitants of Lithuania erected a Lithuanian monument at Sandarmokh.

[Translated from the Virtual Museum of the Gulag]

Who wants to Rewrite Sandarmokh?

Since its discovery in 1997, Sandarmokh has become a place of pilgrimage for the descendants of those killed in Stalin’s Great Terror, for local villagers, for historians and for public figures. An International Day of Remembrance has been held at Sandarmokh every year since then, attended by delegations from various parts of Russia and from abroad.

Yet in 2016, almost twenty years on, certain Petrozavodsk historians announced that, in addition to those shot in the 1930s, Soviet POWs might have been killed and buried at Sandarmokh during the “Continuation War” with Finland (1941-1944). This suggestion prompted a great debate among academics and was reported in both Russian and Finnish media.  Prospectors, historians, and public figures who had been closely involved in locating, studying and publicising the story of Sandarmokh were bewildered. What new documents had now appeared? Where could they study these declassified papers? Read More …

Wednesday, 5 August 2020. Sandarmokh

Photos Svetlana Kulchitskaya