DMITRIEV’s recent problems can be traced back to 5 August 2014 when he denounced the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of east Ukraine at Sandarmokh during the annual Day of Remembrance. This spring, over five years after since his arrest in mid-December 2016, lawyers from Memorial submitted an appeal on his behalf to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In Russia, meanwhile, his case has reached the Supreme Court.
Here Halya Coynash discusses Russia’s own bizarre appeal to the ECtHR, concerning the shooting down of flight MH17 in July 2014 and the issue of mainland supplies of water to Crimea, occupied by Russia since February 2014 (24 July, Human Rights in Ukraine).
National Memorial to the Victims of MH17 ©ANP
“Russia has lodged its first ever inter-state application at the European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR], with a series of claims against Ukraine. There seem no grounds for taking any of the accusations seriously, however two are of particularly staggering cynicism.
After sending the BUK surface-to-air missile carrier to Donbas where it was used to down Malaysian airliner MH17 and kill all 298 passengers and crew on board, Russia has brought a claim against Ukraine for not having closed its airspace. It has also accused Ukraine of not providing water to Crimea, invaded by Russia in February 2014 and illegally occupied ever since.
Russian historian Yury DMITRIEV turned 64 on 28 January 2020. It was his third birthday detained on charges that bear no scrutiny, and, writes Halya Coynash, his arrest coincided with the beginnings of a campaign to rewrite the history of one of the darkest pages of the Soviet Terror – the mass killing by quota of Russians, Ukrainians and other prisoners of the Solovetsky Archipelago at the Sandormokh Clearing in Karelia in 1937.
Yury Dmitriev in April 2018; the entrance to the Sandormokh memorial complex
If the current regime in Russia was hoping to silence Dmitriev, it has failed. The historian and head of the Karelian branch of the Memorial Society has just published a book entitled Sandarmokh: A Place of Memory, providing information about both the victims and the perpetrators of the mass executions in the forest.
“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.
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