What we’ve uncovered (part 2)

Nikita Girin, Novaya gazeta, 13 July 2020


The child’s voice failed to be heard not just by the chairman of Petrozavodsk City Council Bondarchuk, while the court heard the girl’s statement about how much she loved her adoptive father.

As for unlawful threat to privacy, the Karelian children’s ombudsman Sarayev did not, for some reason, try to sue Rossiya TV or REN TV channels for broadcasting the photos from the “health diary” to the entire country.

In short, local officials requested the continued persecution of DMITRIEV. After that nothing stood in the way of executing the ready-made scenario.

What the victim says

The statement of the allegations was written by the grandmother. At the evidence session she said how after DMITRIEV’s acquittal in early April 2018 she read in the TVR-Panorama newspaper that the historian wants the child back in his care. There was indeed such a report in TVR-Panorama. There is no quote from Dmitriev about the girl, but there is the author’s commentary: “As Dmitriev’s family says, this case will only end when the historian gets his foster daughter back.”

The grandmother gave the article to her granddaughter to read and claims that the girl said: “I want to write a statement about Dmitriev, if I tell them everything about him, they’ll jail him for 30 years!”

Literally one week earlier, friends from the Moscow International Film School were in touch with Dmitriev’s foster daughter, as usual.

Students from the Film School are the historian’s old friends, they were the first to make a noise when he was arrested, they found him a lawyer and launched a campaign in his support. And it was through Dmitriev that his foster daughter made friends with the Film School students. One of them, Sasha Kononova, said that on that occasion also the girl was warm and friendly. But in early April, straight after the acquittal, she abruptly cut off contact.


According to the grandmother’s statement, the granddaughter allegedly confided in her that “Dmitriev touched her genitals with his hand” and that this “happened several times”.

“I asked her why she didn’t speak up earlier, during the criminal investigation into Dmitriev. The granddaughter said “But I loved him, I was protecting him, I hadn’t understood what he was doing,” the grandmother said at a preliminary interview.

The grandmother also said that her granddaughter has expressed suicidal thoughts. This is why she “found the work phone number of the [Karelia] children’s ombudsman G.A. Sarayev on the internet”; she “called the number and he picked up”. (The ombudsman’s number is indeed easy to find online, but this is the number of his reception. And the reception told Novaya gazeta that Sarayev never picks up the phone himself.)

The ombudsman sent a child psychologist, Yelena Rudenkova, to examine the child. Rudenkova is director of the Karelia republic Diagnostics and Consultation Centre — the place, incidentally, where Dmitriev did his fostering course, in preparation for becoming a guardian in 2007. 

On 18 April 2018 the “initial consultation” took place. During the discussion, Rudenkova did not find the girl expressing any suicidal ideation. What else she discussed with the child is unknown, but judging by what happened next, the psychologist didn’t waste her trip.

10 May 2018. Gennady Sarayev asked the then head of the Investigative Committee in Karelia Yury Boboido to carry out an examination and a psychological-educational assessment of the girl.

15 May 2018 Boboido’s deputy Vladimir Ignatenkov turned for help to the very same Yelena Rudenkova. The Diagnostics and Consultation Centre is not an accredited expert institution, so Rudenkova only agrees to carry out a psychological assessment. At the Investigative Committee’s request, the interview is recorded on video. Here is an approximate, but representative fragment of the conversation between the psychologist and a teenage girl, who finds herself faced with an impossible choice in an adult game.

— How long did this go on?

— I can’t remember.

— Tell me, did he touch you a long time?

— Well, yes.

— He touched you a long time, yes …

Here we need to recount the incident that Yury DMITRIEV relayed to the court in the first case. Once his ex-wife Ludmila treated their foster daughter for a cold in the old-fashioned way with mustard plasters: she applied them through a sheet of newspaper, to avoid skin burns. The next morning, Dmitriev recalled, Ludmila was so busy she forgot to wash the girl’s back and sent her to the nursery as she was.


“Around lunchtime I get a call from the nursery, and they tell me that a nursery nurse was getting the child for their afternoon nap and saw large bruises on her back.

They started shouting at me: ‘What are you doing, how dare you, why are you beating this child?’  I jumped into the car, drive there tell them that I watched the child have a shower yesterday and there were no bruises on her… They already start to show me a pile of papers, reports and referral statements… A paper, where a teacher, in the presence of the deputy head of someone, asks the child:

— What are these bruises?

— I don’t have any bruises.

— Do you have bruises on your back?

— Yes, I do.

— Who hit you?

— Nobody hit me.

— Did your daddy hit you?

— Yes, daddy did.

— What did he hit you with?

— Daddy didn’t hit me with anything.

— Did daddy hit you with a belt?

— Yes, daddy hit me with a belt.

“Do you see, the child is four-and-a-half. She doesn’t know what a belt is. Imagine: here is this important paper that says the child admits that mummy or daddy hit them with a belt. All my hair stood on end. And I realise what this can lead to. They’ll take away your child, and you won’t be able to prove anything.

“I told them that they should refer us for a check-up, to whomever and wherever they want… The doctor said, let me check this, He takes a cotton ball dipped in surgical spirit and runs it across the “bruise” — the “bruise” is gone. He wrote out a note for me saying this is newsprint ink. But I had been so terrified…”

That case persuaded the historian even more that he needs to photograph his daughter to evidence her physical health. During the first trial he asked:

“If anyone again said that, for example, six months earlier I had beaten my child and the child was covered in bruises, how could I, without photos, show that here is the child with a clear skin, happy in herself?”

30 May 2018. The Karelian Investigative Committee’s deputy chief Ignatenkov sends the evidence to the deputy head of the court //process control Gennady Verigin – who is son of Verigin the historian, one of the authors of the hypothesis that Sandarmokh holds the remains of Soviet POWs. In turn, Verigin Jr. sends the evidence to the head of the city department of the Investigative Committee Dmitry Komissarov and Komissarov sends them to Inspector Maxim Zavatsky with a request to interview// question the grandmother and her granddaughter.

6 June 2018. Zavatsky questioned the grandmother (that same day she makes the crime report) and took a statement from the child.  The psychologist Rudenkova also took part in the interview. The statement is once again recorded.

The texts of these interviews show that the girl’s behaviour and speech (like the actions of any child from a care home) are dictated by the circumstances and the trauma witnessed long before she was taken into the Dmitriev family — simply by the poor quality of life she’d experienced until then.

This is how, for example, the child describer her relationship and communications with DMITRIEV to the inspector and the psychologist in her grandmother’s presence:

— Did he take an interest in your schoolwork?

— No.

— And do you know what he was working on?

— He was writing a book about some burial site.

— Did you often communicate?

— No.

— When you came home from school, did you tell him about your studies?

— No.

But this is what the girl tells medical experts a month later, while her grandma waits outside the door:

“She liked to spend time together, recalls how she went on the field trips, expeditions, visited different towns in Russia. She describes Yu.A. Dmitriev as constrained in his emotions, restrained (“he’ll never give hugs first”), strict, erudite “he told me lots of interesting things”)”.


Also interesting to note is a transformation in the child’s evidence between her statement to the inspector and the official interview by the investigators.

Unlike the statement, the interview is not recorded on video (allegedly at her grandmother’s request). The girl’s speech changes noticeably. When talking to inspector Zavatsky she can’t remember either when the foster father first touched her genital area, nor the number of such occasions (“no less than two, probably”), nor their duration (“it was quick”), nor her emotions, or Dmitriev’s reactions. During the official interrogation, the multiple “can’t remember” and “don’t know” turned into fully-formed sentences with subjunctive clauses. 

 “A few times” turns into “many times”. “Quick” turns into “no less than a minute, but no more than five minutes”.

During the initial interview, asked why she decide to tell all now, the girl says, “I don’t know”. A month later, at the official interview, the child already says that she wants to give evidence against her former guardian because she hates him.

Meanwhile, the doctors of the Karelia regional Psychoneurological Clinic, just like two years earlier, don’t find that the girl has any psychological abnormalities, any symptoms of depression or neurosis. So the child has not suffered from Dmitriev’s alleged actions. But the experts state that the girl is indecisive and has a tendency to conform.

Dmitry is assessed (for a third time) at the St Petersburg Psychiatric Hospital No 6, and once again no signs of psychosexual deviancy or any abnormal sexual preferences are found, including no signs of paedophilia.

What Yury Dmitriev says


“The child was very thin, my wife and I tried to get her eating normal food, which caused vomiting and enuresis…

I also kept a health diary and input all the data into it: her height, weight, etc. When she started school, she weighed 18 kilos, this was very underweight. Also at the age of six she had an ultrasound scan of her hip area, and we were told that there were some anomalies there…

Some time after second grade the child started to wet herself, during the holidays I decided to have a proper investigation at the Karelian regional hospital. The child was admitted to the hospital and had a full assessment and treatment, which helped, and after that the child only wet herself a few times a year. 

As for the charges against me, I would like to explain, that I could have touched her clothes and I could touched under her clothes if the clothes were wet, that is, then the child wet herself.  We had a tradition almost from day one. Before bed the child would come to us, and my wife and I said goodnight to her, she used to run into my room, climb into my lap and we would discuss how the day went. She would tell me everything, who her new friends were, who she talked do, and I would tell her how my day went. We told each other we loved each other, and I would put her to bed. 

After my wife left me [in 2012], my interaction with my daughter continued in the same spirit. One of the days when she came to me and as usual sat in my lap, I smelled urine, and realised that she had wet herself.

Naturally, I felt her knickers at the front and the back in the genital area and could see that the child had wet herself, and I took her to have a wash.  This happened several times a week until she was admitted to hospital for night-time enuresis.”

DMITRIEV asked for evidence from the hospital about his foster daughter’s treatment. This information somewhat spoiled Inspector Zavatsky’s almost ready-made case. The hospital release papers were formally requested, and — bother! — the papers turned up.

In summer 2013, the girl was indeed diagnosed with a number for illnesses including enuresis. However, the hospital at the time did not have a //neuro-urologist, so the investigation of bladder function was not carried out and the cause of the illness was not diagnosed.

Now the investigators needed to somehow, //via suggestion if necessary, to turn the hospital documents in their favour. If enuresis could have only by physiological but also psychosomatic causes, why not employ a primitive manipulation and conclude that it was caused by Dmitriev’s actions? There is, of course, no proof, but let an expert make this supposition, and the judge can figure out the rest.

In the role of this expert Inspector Zavatsky employed Tatyana Multykova, a specialist in adolescent psychiatry at the republic’s  Psychoneurological Clinic. Having discussed enuresis with her in general, along with psychological trauma, and how the understanding of gender differences is formed, the inspector asked: Could sexual activity cause enuresis? Of course, they could, as could any psychological trauma, the psychiatrist rightly replied. This concludes the evidence gathering stage of the second case, Inspector Zavatsky must have been very pleased with this conclusion, as he attached these final pages to the case.

And so, for the second time, the prosecutors represented parental care — yes, maybe unceremonious and //plain — as a crime. And the closed nature of the court case, intended to protect the child, in this case protected the security services from scrutiny.

What the Experts say

You don’t need to be a top-flight psychologist to understand that it is very easy to manipulate a vulnerable teenager — who has lived in a children’s home; prevented from keeping in touch with past friends; and been isolated for three years under the control of her grandmother (who has herself, also almost certainly, also been terrorised by the authorities).

For the past year the defence, with the help of independent expert psychologists and linguists has worked to prove that Dmitriev’s foster daughter gave her evidence under pressure.

“The underage child, in a dialogue with two adults, who clearly and insistently demonstrate what answers they expect, finds herself in a situation of communicative pressure.”

For example, linguistics experts Anna Dybo (fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Philology), Irina Levontina (senior researcher at the Russian Language Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences), Aleksandr Moldovan ( Russian Academy of Sciences academician, head of research at the Russian Language Institute) and Alexei Shmelev (Doctor of Sciences, senior researcher at the Russian language Institute), having studied the texts of the interview, concluded:

Most of the questions posed by the inspector and the psychologist already contain the information necessary for the answer.

Some of the questions are composed so that it would be impossible to answer “yes” or “no”. More than that, the inspector and the psychologist frequently complete the girl’s answers, adding substantial meaning that was not originally there and that gives the statements “additional weight”  

“The underage child, in a dialogue with two adult, who clearly and insistently demonstrate what answers they expect, finds herself in a situation of communicative pressure.”

If the answer does not match the expectation, the inspector asks the question again and again, so that the girl ends up choosing the most neutral answer that would not be her own answer” the experts conclude.

In a separate assessment, Moscow University professor of psychology Veronika Nurkova notes that, to judge by the texts of the psychologist Rudenkova’s interviews with Dmitriev’s foster daughter, Rudenkova “started with a presumption of reliability of the information communicated [by the child]” which “represents a case of a falsely assumed purpose by the psychologist to gather evidence in proof of an existing hypothesis”. Nurkova also concluded that the girl’s evidence does not correspond to the typical criteria of recollecting a traumatic experience. I.e. these are not the child’s own recollections, but those introduced artificially and externally.

What the Lawyer says (spoiler: nothing!)

Defence lawyer Victor Anufriev’s work on this case deserves a separate article or at least a couple of paragraphs. Ever since the first case, from a journalist’s viewpoint, Anufriev has been insufferable: reserved, noncommittal and, it seemed, excessively cautious. And he was also in denial about the political motives behind Dmitriev’s case.

From Yury DMITRIEV’s perspective, however, Anufriev has certainly been an outstanding lawyer: how many political cases do we know that resulted in acquittal? Yes, the verdict in the first case was reached against the background of a wide-reaching civil campaign in support of the historian.  But in Russia you can write a guilty verdict without any evidence: an acquittal requires a legally flawless case.

In this sense Victor Anufriev — not without help from Dmitriev’s supporters — sought the best experts and medics in Moscow to back up every word he said in court, and persuaded them to travel (more the once), to Petrozavodsk. In this sense, Anufriev did everything with diamond-cut precision.

Even now the defence lawyer categorically refuses to comment on the case, asserting that “the final aim of the defence” is to hear “a just and fair verdict”. Anufriev let it be known that he is certain not only that the historian is innocent, but that the Russian legal system is capable of reaching such a verdict. 

What we still don’t know

Only one thing is uncertain: who and why needed to persecute Yury Dmitriev for so long and despite all the reputational cost for the investigators, the prosecutors, the judges and in general for the regional authorities?

Before 2016 only enthusiasts had heard of Sandarmokh let alone Dmitriev. Today even Vladimir Putin is getting pestered with questions about the upstart historian.  The case is being discussed at the Council of Europe. Nobel laureates speak up to defend the historian. In September 2019 twenty foreign ambassadors visited Sandarmokh, never had the pace seen so many diplomats before.


From the outset, Yury Dmitriev’s supporters had a suspicion that in the past three years never received direct documentary proof. But it’s worth talking about it directly.

On 6 December 2016, a week after the break-in at Dmitriev’s flat, and three days after the police received the anonymous report, Karelia had a change of the head of Federal Security Bureau (FSB). Major-general Anatoly Seryshev, who had been head of Karelia FSB departments from 2011 was transferred to Moscow and appointed deputy head of the Federal Customs. 

Seryshev’s five-year tenure in Karelia was marked by politically motivated cases against businessmen who had ‘run” the region before his appointment, and against opposition politicians from the Yabloko party.

In October 2014 the newswire “Capital on Onega” published a letter by one of the persecuted members of the Regional Assembly, Devlet Alikhanov. At the time he was known as the eminence grise of Petrozavodsk and was suspected of fraud involving municipal property. Alikhanov’s friends and partners had already spent a year under arrest. But in this case what matters is not his case but the way that he, addressing Seryshev, described the mechanisms the latter built for controlling the judiciary (I have kept the orthography of the original).


“The level of your co-operation with the judiciary became obvious only recently. Perhaps you can be proud of such all-encompassing power of the structure under your control, but I, as deputy do not consider it normal that your colleagues announce the contents of a court’s verdict two or three days before it is reached. That they say with certainty what prison time this accused or another will be sentenced to serve. They use every means to stop the accused to obtain the evidence proving their innocence and they hold “discussions” with every institution that could in one way or another assist the accused in their defence. 

…What is your goal? Perhaps you need something from me personally? I cannot understand what your desired outcome is. Why would you ruin not only people’ lives, but also functioning enterprises and investment projects, especially such a difficult time for the country?”

Half a year after this letter Alikhanov himself was arrested, and in 2017 he was sentenced to six years in jail. In December 2018 the judges of the Supreme Court completely cleared Alikhanov of all charges and granted him the right to rehabilitation, but less than a month later the impossible happened. The Supreme Court, with the same presiding judges, annulled its own decision, and the businessman was once again detained. Read this again: the same judges, who a month earlier had cleared a man of all charges, for some reason had a change of heart, and decided that he is guilty as charged.

Anatoly Seryshev meanwhile soared even higher. In the summer of 2018 he joined a number of presidential commissions and even headed some of them— specifically the commission on state awards, on citizenship, and the staffing of the Ministry of the Interior. 

By early autumn of the same year Petrozavodsk prosecutor Yelena Askerova, who had worked on the first Dmitriev case and who gave the go ahead to the prosecution in the second, had unexpectedly stepped down. Askerova told journalists that she wanted to completely change her life and hadn’t expected this herself. (I spoke with Yelena Askerova a year after her dismissal, and she insisted that she was genuinely convinced that the historian was guilty).

And in November, the presidential commission for preliminary selection of federal judge candidacies (Seryshev is not officially a member) refused the application by judge Maria Nosova, who had acquitted Dmitriev, for a transfer from Petrozavodsk city court to the Supreme Court of Karelia. The regional qualification collegiate had already approved her candidacy, but Nosova did not get the approval at the Kremlin commission level. The Vesti Karelii internet portal reported that this might have happened because her daughter was living in France.

According to one of Novaya gazeta’s sources, familiar with the candidate selection procedure, formally, the commission is only guided by the law “On the status of judges”. However, the text of this law makes no mention of such a barrier to a candidate for a judge’s post as an adult child’s residency abroad. The law only precludes the spouses and underage children of Russian judges from having accounts in overseas banks.

A second Novaya gazeta source reported that the candidates’ details are sent to the commission members several weeks in advance, they study them, make their decision and only vote at the commission meeting. The source said that he never saw Anatoly Seryshev at any of the commission meetings. Another matter however is how the candidate’s “reference card” is formulated, what becomes the deciding factor and who can influence this. No judge is appointed without the FSB’s approval.

Seryshev’s career moves peculiarly correlate to the developments in the Dmitriev case. The case began on Seryshev’s watch. While he focused on his job at federal customs and lost his direct influence in Karelia, Yury Dmitriev was acquitted. As soon as Seryshev made it into the upper echelons of power, the prosecutor resigned, the judge was refused a promotion, and a new case was launched against the historian himself.

The situation looks schizophrenic, just like the first time

2017. Yury Dmitriev is kept in jail on absurd charges, while in October Vladimir Putin opens the “Wall of Sorrow” in Moscow in memory of the victims of political repression.

2019. Yury Dmitriev is back in jail on equally absurd charges.

The Russian Military History Society, at the request of Karelia’s Ministry of Culture, has excavated at Sandarmokh in order to deny that the people buried there were political prisoners, claiming that this fact “cements in citizens’ minds an unjustified sense of guilt in relation to alleged (!!! Novaya) foreign victims of political repression”.

Dmitriev is being intimidated in the Petrozavodsk detention centre.

Meanwhile the president appoints Rosarchive, FSB, The Ministry of the Interior and the State Penal Service to conduct research into creating a single database of the victims of political repression — the very job that Yury Dmitriev had been performing for the previous 30 years, within the scope of one region. And if such a database were to be created, it would contain the evidence he uncovered. 

It seems as if Karelia doesn’t fully share the president’s view that “the terrible past cannot be erased from the national memory” and that “our duty is not to allow the past to be forgotten”.


This may seem superfluous, but like dozens of other journalists and activists, I have been working on the Dmitriev case for three years. I’d like to consider the story from an angle that is important to me.

… how crazy we must have become, how used to seeing the female body as nothing but a sexualized object, if a photo of an unclothed three-year-old girl, taken by her own father, is considered pornography and if touching her private parts to wash them is a sexual act.

The United Nations has called everyday, commonplace violence against women and girls, including what is not even considered violence in many countries, including ours, the most large-scale human rights issue of our times. An absolute majority of men perceive women as an object from childhood. She can be touched, with no regard for how she feels, while she herself must always bear in mind the feelings of the men around her.

That can probably be said about DMITRIEV as well, a simple, middle-aged man from another era. It is important to note, however, that it is the security services, not Dmitriev, that are perpetuating the situation with this fabricated case.

Just think how crazy we must have become, how used to seeing the female body as solely a sexualized object, if a photo of an unclothed three-year-old girl, taken by her own father, is already considered pornography.  And if touching her private parts to wash them is a sexual act. Would this even be a case if the girl was being brought up by an adoptive mother, not an adoptive father? What then are single fathers to do? Are they all, in the eyes of the Investigative Committee, potential perverts? 

Or are perverts only those who oppose the current regime? Karelian “law enforcement” has been using this stereotype to destroy a historian’s reputation.

Did Dmitriev touch his foster daughter’s genital area? Yes. Did he do it because of a paedophile tendency or out of some criminal motive? No. He did it to check if her underwear was dry when he could smell urine, and this is substantiated by three expert assessments of Dmitriev himself and by the hospital discharge notes that document the girl’s enuresis.

Should Dmitriev have checked the dryness of her underwear some other way, rather than this crude method? Probably he should have, especially since at the age of eight a child could already feel discomfort at having their personal boundaries crossed.

But was there anything criminal in Dmitriev’s motives or actions? In my opinion, evidently not. (Incidentally, in the second prosecution case the issue of motive was dropped altogether. In inspector Zavatsky’s view, perhaps, Yury Dmitriev just touched his daughter for fun?)

At the hearing on 7 July the prosecution demanded a 15-year sentence of imprisonment for Dmitriev, considering him to be guilty of all charges:

— making pornography [Article 242.3]

— indecent acts [Article 134]

— forced sexual activity [Article 132:4 (b)], and

— possession of a firearm [Article 226].

(Among all his junk Dmitriev indeed had a sawn-off section of a rifle barrel that can’t be used for shooting. He had taken it off some boys who were playing with it in the yard.)

The defence attorney has once again asked for the historian to be acquitted of all these vile charges and to be freed in the courtroom from further detention.

No matter what verdict and sentence are pronounced on Wednesday 22 July 2020, there will be a Day of Remembrance at Sandarmokh this year on 5 August.

This translation was first published on the “People and Nature” website


See also “Natasha did not say one unnecessary word …” (Zoya Svetova interviews Irina Levontina)

and Yury Dmitriev’s Last Words in court (8 July 2020)