I’m trying to finish what’s most important

Yury Dmitriev in his own words
(conclusion)

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.

Dmitriev with Film School students

Yury Dmitriev with Moscow Film School students

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A third of the population …

When YURY DMITRIEV was arrested, he was finishing work on a book that had taken nine years to research. It would contain thousands of names, he explained, in a January 2016 interview:

“I’m now putting together a book that will contain the names of those deported to  ‘build socialism’ in Karelia from almost every other part of the USSR: Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, the Volga Region, the Urals and beyond – there was even one person from the Far East, from Kamchatka. There are more than 64,000 names in my list.

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It was all preparation for what I do now

  Yury Dmitriev in his own words

Did I ever want to give up? Sometimes, when there was no food at home and work on the execution lists and burial sites took up all my time. By then I was no longer an aide to a people’s deputy.

Dmitriev, black & white

Yury Dmitriev (photo, Sophia Pankevich)

I made some attempts to get a job as an editor.

“Of course, such a book is needed. We’ve set up an editorial group,” they told me: “you’re the editor, now get on with it.”

“Come on,” I said. “I need a salary, it doesn’t need to be a big one … I’ve got to pay for the apartment, for electricity, and a few other things.”

“Be patient for a month or two. We’ll think of something and find you a place on the payroll.”

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We must be able to find something

 Yury Dmitriev in his own words

“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.

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In the archives

Yury Dmitriev in his own words

“Then I became an aide to Ivan Chukhin, a deputy of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet [and the State Duma, 1990-1995]. He was a lieutenant-colonel in the police, a psychologist.

Ivan Chukhin (1948-1997)

Ivan Chukhin (1948-1997)

“Around that time, it was decided to compile a Book of Remembrance for Karelia. That’s to say, Memorial and Pertti Martelius were already on the job, but Chukhin  wanted to put the work on a sounder footing.

“He brought back a 1938 document from Moscow in which the Karelian People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs reported how many people had been shot in the republic, with lists of names: who, where and how. Memorial in Moscow made Ivan a set of cards with the basic information from that report. “You’re going to sit in the archives”, Chukhin told me, “and fill out these cards, in a form that we shall determine”. That’s how I first encountered that kind of work. Continue reading

“Let’s cover them up again”

Yury Dmitriev in his own words

“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.

young Dmitriev

Yury Dmitriev (1980s)

“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.  Continue reading

“Anyone can find themselves in prison …”

“After we’d recovered from the excitement of Yury Dmitriev’s release” (see 28 January interview) “I thought of more questions I wanted to ask him, though these still do not exhaust my list,” writes Anna Yarovaya.

dmitriev (pankevich photo)

Yury Dmitriev (photo, Sophia Pankevich)

“I tried not to repeat anything. I particularly like the passage about his beard: the longer it grows, apparently, the more he’s worked on a project.”

Open Democracy-Russia
1 February 2018

Happier Times

Yury Dmitriev‘s beloved Alsatian Vedma (Witch) died a while back. He himself, as we know, has spent over a year in the Petrozavodsk Detention Centre. During that time he and his foster daughter have not seen one another.

Among the dozens of New Year’s greetings sent to Katerina Klodt via the Russian supporters’ page on Facebook, one simply remembered and named a person at the centre of this whole dreadful case:

“Dearest Katya! May God restore your family to you, and may Papa and Natasha return home …”

footage from Jessica Gorter‘s 2017 film “Red Soul” (De Rode Ziel) of Dmitriev, Witch and Natasha.

Yury Dmitriev was arrested at his apartment in Petrozavodsk on Friday, 13 December 2016, while his wife was at the hospital and Natasha was at school. Natasha was picked up by the Child Protection Agency and today lives with her natural grandmother.

The man saving us all

“There are lives that seem remarkable, but if you look closely, you’ll see that another could have done as well,” writes Russian author Sergei Lebedev. “There are lives, however, that are an ideal fit. You can’t imagine anyone else doing the same. Yury Dmitriev is one of those.

“Journalists have called him Khottabych (or even Gandalf), a wizard or a folk hero. At first this seemed amusing and appropriate. Yet at some point it ceased to be helpful: it was as though the writers themselves weren’t sure what to do with Dmitriev — where to place him, how to describe him.”  Continue reading