Publicising information from 1938 “would threaten Russia’s security”

As reported before, the Tula Region Court has ruled that it is lawful to restrict access by researchers and the public to the minutes of the Special Troika, the body responsible during the last stages of the Great Terror (1937-1938) for sentencing hundreds to death without investigation or trial.

The text of this ruling, writes Sergei Prudovsky, makes the following assertions:

1. “The date for applying for access has expired …” This statement is incorrect both in terms of the law and the circumstances of the cases;

2. Releasing such information would pose “a threat to the security of the Russian State, to its constitutional system and to the morality, health, rights and legal interests of other persons”;

3. Releasing such information falls under the “ban on spreading information that: [a] could promote war; [b] might incite ethnic, racial or religious hatred and enmity; or [c] is liable to punishment with fines or imprisonment”.

An appeal against this “nonsense” will be submitted before the legally-established deadline by defence attorney Andrei Fedorkov and Memorial lawyer Natalya Sekretaryova.

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During the Great Terror almost nine thousand people were arrested in the Tula Region: 7,678 were condemned to be shot (2,195) or sent to the Gulag (5,484) on the orders of the regional troika established in October 1937 and the two-man commission or dvoika in Moscow (see the Tula Memorial Society’s website, “The Regional NKVD troika” [R]). Finally, to deal with the backlog of tens of thousands arrested across the USSR, “Special” Troikas were set up in September 1938 in the USSR’s Regions and Republics.

(For a more detailed account of the operation of these three extra-judicial bodies and the charges laid against their victims, see the evidence compiled in Karelia over the past thirty years.)

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“Judges” and Executioners [2]

In February 2021 after a visit to Petrozavodsk reporters eagerly repeated [Postscript] a suggestion of DMITRIEV’s 88-year-old acquaintance Alexander Selyutsky that the historian might have upset a local relative or descendant of the “Judges” or Executioners of 1937-1938:

“He not only came across those who were arrested: the executioners were also named in those documents.”

Krasny Bor (September 2012)

Yet, as noted before, the troika members and 47 others who signed execution reports from a dozen sites across Karelia were all publicly named in the 1990s by Dmitriev’s mentor Ivan Chukhin. It was the first time such information was published anywhere in Russia,[R] notes Sergei Krivenko of Memorial.

In his 1999 book, for instance, Chukhin named 16 men who took part in executing 3,778 “near Petrozavodsk” between 9 August 1937 and 22 October 1938 (not just at Krasny Bor, perhaps, but at other still unidentified locations). And he described (Karelia in 1937, [R] p. 119) the three most often in charge of such operations : Travin, NKVD commandant for the Karelian capital; Pushkin, head of the city fire brigade; and Voronkov, seconded from the special section of the NKVD’s 17th rifle division in the Leningrad Region.

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“Judges” and Executioners [1]

It has been suggested that Yury DMITRIEV attracted the wrath of the authorities by exposing the members of the troika that issued thousands of death sentences in Karelia during the Great Terror or by naming the NKVD executioners who shot those thousands of men and women.

Ivan Chukhin

These details were established and publicised years earlier, however, by Dmitriev’s mentor Ivan CHUKHIN (1948-1997), as Irina FLIGE describes in the Search for Sandarmokh. Between 1990 and 1995 Chukhin was a deputy of the Supreme Soviet and the Duma; as important perhaps, he was a lieutenant-colonel and senior investigator with the police. By the mid-1990s Chukhin had gained access to the minutes of the three extra-judicial bodies issuing death sentences for Karelia during the Great Terror. Further research in the FSB archives indicated the approximate place of execution; the numbers shot; and the surnames of the NKVD officers who oversaw the executions. In Karelia-1937, posthumously published in 1999, Chukhin went further (p. 118).

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Half those shot in 1937-1938 …

lie buried at Sandarmokh?

During the Great Terror almost 11,000 men and women were executed in Karelia. In his database Yury DMITRIEV followed NKVD reports and noted that during those months the death sentence was carried out 4,975 times “at the Medvezhya gora rail station”.

Sandarmokh monument as originally designed with Guardian Angel

This is not surprising. The headquarters of the enormous Belbaltlag camp complex, created to build and maintain the White Sea Canal, was located nearby in what became the town of Medvezhegorsk. It seems quite probable that the Sandarmokh Clearing, as it is known today, was used as a killing field for Belbaltlag and its prisoners before the Great Terror.

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Destination unknown

More than one thousand prisoners were shipped from the island prison of Solovki in October 1937.

For their relatives they disappeared even earlier when letters remained unanswered, but they were not forgotten. Their families tried to discover their fate. Many years would pass before it was learned that they had been shot.

For decades, relatives were fobbed off with lies and phoney certificates: the prisoners were sentenced to “ten years without the right to correspondence”; they were being “held in distant camps”; they had “died from a heart attack, from pneumonia.” In the late 1980s truthful information about their deaths finally emerged: when they were sentenced and shot – but not where they were executed and buried.

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Their departure from Solovki was remembered and recorded.

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