In early July 1997, DMITRIEV together with Irina Flige and the late Veniamin Joffediscovered a huge killing field of the Great Terror near Medvezhegorsk in Karelia. Subsequently it became known as Sandarmokh.
Weeks later, in early September, he and Sergei Chugunkov identify the Krasny Bor killing field and burial ground not far from Petrozavodsk, the capital of Karelia.
“Twenty years ago, it seemed to us that Sandormokh as a place and these acts of remembrance divided the present from the past,” said Irina FLIGE in August 2017, at the Day of Remembrance at Sandormokh. “Today, unfortunately, we must recognise that memories of the Great Terror have not become part of our [shared] memory …”
The previous year two historians at Petrozavodsk University had put forward a ‘new hypothesis’ as to who lay buried in the woods outside Medvezhegorsk; in the Karelian capital, Yury Dmitriev was spending his eighth month in jail.
It took years to locate Karelia’s largest killing ground of the late 1930s. Irina Flige’s account of that long, painstaking quest is described in her The Search for Sandormokh, which was launched in Moscow in July 2019. At the same press conference the proposed excavations by the Russian Military History Society were exposed and condemned. Meanwhile, Dmitriev, acquitted in April 2018, was on trial for a second time and once again incarcerated in Petrozavodsk’s Detention Centre No 1.
“Recently, for one reason and another, I’ve visited different villages in Russia,” writes Yury MIKHAILIN (an administrator of the Dmitriev Supporters’ Facebook page).
“In many of them there stands a memorial to soldiers who died in the Great Patriotic War [1941-1944] and in almost every case it is not simply a monument. Names are carved on a plaque, recalling those who left the village to fight at the Front and never came back. “In each of these villages, I have been thinking, there is a similar list of those who were arrested in the 1930s and also never returned.”
“It’s very important to gather people for the last three hearings, we hope, at the Petrozavodsk city courthouse,” wrote Daniil Saksonov on 2 March. The court would again hear the Dmitriev case on Wednesday, 14 March, and on Tuesday and Thursday, 20 and 22 March, respectively.
“It would be a pity, you must agree, if the corridors were full of sympathisers at all the court hearings hitherto and now, when we’re in the home straight, they were suddenly empty. Especially since a wonderful opportunity has appeared to spend some time with YURY ALEXEYEVICH [Dmitriev] after the hearing. On Wednesday, 14 March, for instance, he will guide people around the Krasny Bor memorial complex. Events are being arranged for the other two days, as well.
“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.
“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.