What we’ve Uncovered

Nikita GIRIN, Novaya gazeta, 13 July 2020

For the attention of Roskomnadzor — Disclaimer

(This translation was first published on the People and Nature website)


— The historian Yury DMITRIEV was accused of touching his foster daughter’s genital area on several occasions;

— At the age of eight [2013] the girl suffered episodes of involuntary urination (enuresis);

— When he could smell urine DMITRIEV touched the child’s genital area to check if her underwear was dry, after which he took his daughter to have a wash;

— The diagnosis of enuresis was supported by hospital release notes;

— Three psychiatric investigations concluded that DMITRIEV displayed no sexually deviant tendencies;

— Linguistic experts from the Academy of Sciences’ Institute of the Russian Language analysed the texts of the girl’s interrogation and attested to communicative pressure applied by the investigator. A Moscow University professor analysed the texts of the girl’s conversations with a psychologist and believed that the girl’s statements concerning DMITRIEV’s actions did not display the criteria typical of recollections of a traumatic experience.

— The success of the prosecution in the Dmitriev case appears to correspond to the career moves of Anatoly Seryshev, former head of the FSB in Karelia.

Yury DMITRIEV (photo Tomasz Kizny)


I am finishing this text in Yury Dmitriev’s flat, in the room that used to belong to his foster daughter. The shelves still hold several of her toys, her story books, and school notebooks. From the window you can see her school, with sleepless seagulls crying above; night trains pass close by and seem to hoot in reply.

Dmitriev is confined to the old fortress in the very centre of Petrozavodsk. The detention centre is surrounded by good restaurants and pleasant views, but his prison offers different kinds of entertainment. In mid-April 2019, two cellmates spent several days trying to persuade the historian to make a confession to the investigators. If he didn’t, they threatened to “degrade” (i.e. sodomise) him. Dmitriev contacted the centre’s management. If he was attacked he would defend himself, he explained, and not be responsible for the consequences. They transferred him to a different cell.

The incident says something about the quality of evidence in the case.

Second Arrest, June 2018

Dmitriev contributed, in part, to his second arrest. After his acquittal was annulled in June 2018, the Supreme Court of Karelia imposed a travel ban, forbidding Dmitriev to leave Petrozavodsk. On 27 June, however, the historian and a neighbour decided to visit their acquaintance’s grave in New Vilga, a village a few kilometres outside the city limits, and then go to pray at the Alexandro-Svirsky monastery in the Leningrad Region, 160 kms away.

Dmitriev consulted his lawyer. Victor Anufriev strictly forbade him to travel without the court’s permission. The court had already allowed Dmitriev to go to Moscow in May to collect a prize from the Moscow Helsinki Group for his historic contribution to the defence of human rights and to the human rights movement. A stubborn and self-reliant man, Dmitriev listened to his lawyer and then went anyway. A half-day trip out of Petrozavodsk was no big deal, he thought, since he had already travelled to the capital for a few days.

Dmitriev packed a clean set of clothes into which he planned to change after tidying up at the cemetery. He was under observation, of course, and they picked him up on the way to the monastery. Journalists from NTV, a state propaganda outlet, were the first to report his arrest. The change of clothes was proof, they said, that Dmitriev intended to escape. According to the news channel, he meant to flee to Poland. Dmitriev had no foreign travel passport and Poland was more than 1,500 kms away, but that didn’t bother them.

If Dmitriev had stayed at home, his arrest could have taken a different form. He might now be travelling to court each day in a minibus. He would not have avoided the second trial, however. Preparations were set in motion from 5 April 2018 when he was acquitted after the first trial.


To understand the new case, it’s necessary to bear in mind some infamous details of that first trial, with its charges of “pornography”, and to appreciate the wider context of Yury Dmitriev’s prosecution.

In the 1990s and 2000s, working alone and with colleagues, DMITRIEV found sites of mass execution in Karelia during the Great Terror (1937-1938), at Sandarmokh where more than 6,000 people died, and at Krasny Bor where 1,193 people were shot. He found the cemetery at the 8th lock of the White Sea Canal; the exact number of Gulag prisoners buried there is unknown, but the burial ground covers about 10 hectares. Dmitriev also found the graves of those executed on Solovki, and at each site he set up a memorial. He succeeded in making 5 August, the day in 1937 that the Great Terror began, a Day of Remembrance and mourning throughout Karelia.

Fostering Natasha, 2008

In 2008, Dmitriev and his wife Ludmila registered as guardians of a three-year-old girl. (The historian already had two grown-up children.) Dmitriev himself grew up in a children’s home and calls the day he was adopted the best day of his life.

When Yury and Ludmila divorced in 2012, the little girl stayed with her foster father. In every subsequent year the Agency for Guardianship and Foster Care reported that Dmitriev had provided her with the necessary conditions for her upbringing, welfare and education, and that the girl was comfortable in his care. “You can only teach children something through love. You can’t teach them with punishment and lectures,” Dmitriev told journalist Anna Yarovaya in a detailed interview about raising his daughter. Dmitriev’s flat was always filled with guests – journalists, filmmakers, human rights activists – and they all attest that he treated the girl respectfully and as an equal.

Yury Dmitriev with his foster daughter.

(Natasha’s face has been disguised by Novaya gazeta)

For the past ten years the historian has been working on a book about the 126,000 “special” settlers, sent to Karelia to build socialism [this widespread forced resettlement began during the collectivisation of agriculture in 1929-1933, ed].

Dmitriev is forthright and doesn’t mince his words; he had some choice descriptions for the security services and about the war in Ukraine after 2014. Probably he said too much.

“I couldn’t believe that our State had forgotten about 20,000 dead soldiers during the past 70 years. From then on I started to feel the focus of heightened attention…”

July 2016. Petrozavodsk historian Yury Kilin suggested that Sandarmokh could be the burial place of Soviet prisoners of war interned in Finnish POW camps. Shortly afterwards this theory was supported by Sergei Verigin, another historian from Petrozavodsk. Like Dmitriev, Verigin was then a member of Karelia’s commission for Restoring the Rights of Victims of Political Repression; Verigin is still a member of that commission.

5 August 2016. For the first time in 19 years Karelian officials did not attend the annual Day of Remembrance at Sandarmokh.

September 2016. At a meeting of the Commission for Restoring the Rights of Victims of Political Repression, Dmitriev gave a presentation about his future book on forced settlers in Karelia.


“A question arose about my field trips to Sandarmokh. I was told ‘We shall no longer be going there’. It turned out that 20,000 captured Red Army soldiers were buried there. Give me the surname of at least one of those Red Army soldiers, I said: these days you can find out where any soldier died or was presumed missing, and from which unit. They could not give me a single name.

“Then I suggested that Yury Kilin be invited to tell the commission what sources, or fear, had led him to obtain such information. My own father fought at the front [during World War II].

“I couldn’t believe that our State had forgotten about 20,000 dead soldiers during the past 70 years. From then on I started to feel the focus of heightened attention…”

The role of the historians Kilin and Verigin in the Dmitriev case should not be overestimated. The attempt to subvert the history of Sandarmokh is perfectly in keeping with the logic of the long struggle against memorials to those who have been executed. As Anna Yarovaya noted in “Who wants to Rewrite Sandarmokh?”, this struggle began over Katyn, back in Soviet times [during the war and at the postwar Nuremberg Tribunals, ed.] Now a similar fuss is being raised about the Mednoe Memorial Complex in the Tver Region.

Sandarmokh, northeast Karelia
(Photo, Anna Artemyeva / Novaya gazeta)

The State would probably destroy any guardian of Sandarmokh who, like Dmitriev, opposed this trend. Kilin and Verigin undoubtedly played their part, nevertheless, in ensuring that this injustice targeted Dmitriev and his daughter.

29 November 2016. Dmitriev was visited at home by a local police officer Igor Markevich, who asked him to come to the station the following day.


“I never asked them to come, I never called them. Usually when you need the police they never turn up. But he came of his own steam.

Irina [the woman Dmitriev was then living with, Novaya gazeta] was in bed in the next room on the doctor’s orders. Either Irina made a noise, or I mentioned that there was a lady in the flat. The policeman went to make her acquaintance. He found out that she was on the waiting list for an operation and started to say that he would help us.

“Do you understand what I’m saying? He’s a senior police lieutenant and barely 25. I’ve lived in Karelia most of my life and I know all sorts of people, from a homeless man to a government minister. Somehow, I’ve been able to resolve such medical issues at the highest level. We would wait our turn, I told him.

“Off he went, leaving a summons for me to appear at the police station [for 30 November]. Literally 20-30 minutes later Irina gets a call from the head of the clinic, inviting her to come for an assessment – on the same day [30 November], at exactly the same time. They were trying to get us both out of the apartment. Irina and I talked it over and decided: if they asked us, we should go. I had my own clever checks, however, to determine if anyone had been there in our absence, opening a cupboard door or rifling through my papers. I taught Irina to do the same and asked her to remember where she left her things …”

On 30 November 2016 Dmitriev went to the police station. On arrival, his documents and phone were taken away because “some training was in progress” at the police station.


“For an hour, or an hour and a half, I just sat in the police station. Then they talked to me about things that didn’t particularly concern me. They kept me there a bit longer, chatting about this and that. Long story short, I got back home about one 1 pm.

“My adoptive daughter was still at school. The first thing that caught my eye was that our front door was locked with four turns of the key. I checked my markers and noticed that someone had been in my cabinet. Half an hour later Irina came home. She said she had left her notebook on the table — now it was on her bed.

“I asked her how many turns of the key it took her to lock the door, she said two. That’s clear then …”

In court Igor Markevich testified, falsely, that he never visited Dmitriev that autumn. Novaya gazeta has tried to get in touch with him, but the policeman ignored the questions we sent via social media and then hid his social media profile.

3 December 2016. The police received an anonymous statement:

“I have discovered that Yury Dmitriev takes nude photos of his daughter in the flat. I won’t give my name for fear that Yury, through his acquaintances, could do me harm.”

13 December 2016. The police arrested Dmitriev in his flat. They asked him to turn on his computer.


“Barely 20-30 seconds later someone exclaimed: ‘Witnesses, come here!’ I turned my head, and the screen was showing a picture of my adopted daughter, one of the welfare check photos. I rushed over to the fellow and asked what he was doing; those images were not for them, I said, but for the medics.”

Later, in court, this “fellow” (an expert witness named Dubkin) openly admitted that he found the photos so quickly because his colleague, the detective who was looking at Dmitriev’s computer, hinted where he should look. This seems to indicate who deliberately lured Dmitriev and his girlfriend out of the flat on 30 November in order to find material corroborating the “anonymous” statement.

Yury Dmitriev at home in January 2018, released on condition he did not leave Petrozavodsk (photo, Anna Artemyeva / Novaya gazeta)

Dmitriev was accused of taking nine naked photos of his adopted daughter, at the age of three, five and six. The photos were found on his computer among two hundred others, taken for the record, and showing her undressed from the front, the back and the side. The prosecution had no objection to those photos.

“Only a person who’s never changed a nappy can see any pornography in this. To see indecent acts here is beyond belief,” Dmitriev told the judge.

Why did Dmitriev take them? The explanation seemed straightforward to him. One, this was to track the physical development of a child with several illnesses who had grown up in a care home. Two, the adoption agency could not then remove the child on fabricated grounds or extort money from him by threatening to take her away. He knew of cases like that. This was his way to protect himself and the girl from the lawless behaviour of the adoption agency.


“On one website or in one of the training manuals I had to read, I learned that you should have photos to track the child’s physical development. These would show the lack or presence of any physical injuries….

At first, I tried taking the photos once a month. In one sitting I would take several photos: front and side, at least four each time. I regularly took photos of my adopted daughter without clothes for about 18 months; after that I started taking photos of her less frequently, because I noticed that nobody was asking for them. The last time I photographed her was about a year ago [2015] … If she had problems with her health, or if there were allegations of physical violence or injury to my adopted child, I could provide photos.”

The nine “criminal” photos do not form part of that “health diary”. In them, the girl sits in an armchair or lies on the sofa in a pose that shows her genitals.

This is how Yury Dmitriev, who took many photographs on his field trips, explains these particular photos. Four of the photos were taken when the family came back from a holiday in the south: the girl (she was three at the time) asked him to take pictures of her tan.

“While Ludmila was running her bath, my daughter came up to me. I was sitting down, tired, downloading our seaside photos from the camera. She flopped into an armchair and started asking: ‘Dad, do I look tanned?’ Would I take a picture to show how tanned she was? I didn’t object. The flash drive was empty, so I took three or four shots of her,” Dmitriev told Judge Marina Nosova.

Yury Dmitriev on a field trip

Dmitriev took another four photos when the girl, then four, told him about a pain in her genital area.

“She was having a wash, while I was sitting and working. Suddenly there was a cry of pain. I ran over, asking her: what’s hurting, did she hit herself or bump into something? She says she didn’t hit or bump into anything, but it hurts. I carried her into the room. Touched around her appendix, no pain there. She stretched out and straightened her leg, that doesn’t hurt. She doesn’t tell me anything, she’s just sobbing and crying.

“Naturally, I was alarmed. My wife wasn’t home. What was I supposed to do? It was already 9 pm. Should I call a doctor? There was no sharp pain in the abdomen, no discharge of any sort […]. I decided not to rush. So that the doctors wouldn’t say I’d missed something, I took four photos. The next morning,” the historian explained, “when it was time to go to the nursery my daughter told us that she slipped in the bath, and her legs got pulled both ways…”

He took the last “criminal” photo in similar circumstances. During the New Year holidays his daughter went pony-riding and later she again felt discomfort in her genital area. Dmitriev took a photo of her once more, but when she was asleep, so she wouldn’t be embarrassed: she was already six years old.

“She and Ludmila were visiting the in-laws and on the way back they went horse-riding. She came to me and complained that something was hurting there. I had a look again: nothing was red, there was no discharge. Maybe she hit herself or maybe she had strained a leg muscle. It was nothing critical or dangerous. And that’s how this photo came about. If something had hurt [the following day] we would definitely have gone to the doctor. If the doctor said we’d missed something, that a chronic illness was developing, I would have told her [the doctor] to look at the photographs.”

The well-known Moscow paediatrician Fyodor Katasonov confirmed in court that this has been the practice among parents for a long time, although officially the law in Russia about remote medical diagnosis was only adopted in 2018.

“Those photos were my ‘insurance policy’ to show that the child had not been beaten, and that there were no cuts or bruises. Three or four times I had to photograph my daughter because she was complaining about some pain, specifically in the lower abdomen area, that I could not understand. She’s a little girl. With a boy everything is clear; with a girl it’s harder because everything’s inside. That’s all I can say about these pictures.

“Only a person who’s never changed a nappy can see any pornography in this. To see indecent acts here is beyond belief,” Dmitriev told the judge.

“Dmitriev photographs everything. I mean every single thing,” Dmitry Bogush, a friend who helps Dmitriev with his IT, told Novaya gazeta. “He takes pictures when he’s travelling; he snaps his family, relatives, friends. Generally speaking, he takes dozens of photos a day. He has tens of thousands of photos.”

26 December 2017. A second expert analysis of the photographs, carried out by an organisation proposed by the prosecution, found they had no pornographic content. The experts stated that the accused did indeed use the photographs to track the child’s health. A month later Dmitriev was released from the detention centre, after agreeing to a travel ban not to leave Petrozavodsk.

Yury Dmitriev holds up the text of his acquittal (Photo, Anna Artemyeva / Novaya gazeta)

On 5 April 2018 Judge Marina Nosova of the Petrozavodsk City Court acquitted Yury Dmitriev [of the two more serious charges].


At that point the local authorities, who had been quiet for 18 months, suddenly began to worry about the welfare of DMITRIEV’s adopted daughter.

“After the verdict was announced, I got the impression that the court had listened to the side that shouted about the breach of its rights louder than anyone. But the voice of the child, the real victim in this whole story, was not heard by anyone.” This was the “expert” opinion voiced the very evening of Dmitriev’s acquittal by Gennady Bondarchuk , chairman of Petrozavodsk City Council.

Bondarchuk’s comments did not appear somewhere on Facebook, but on the city council website, among its more traditional announcements  – an accelerated programme to replace the city’s lifts, and the anniversary of Petrozavodsk being declared a “City of Military Glory”.

Close on Bondarchuk’s heels, the children’s rights ombudsman for Karelia Gennady Sarayev rushed to state his opinion: “Regrettably, I did not see the human rights organisations stating their views about the child’s rights to privacy, the unlawful violation of her honour and reputation, or the representation of the child during the trial.”

The acquittal surprised Irina Miroshnik, the mayor of Petrozavodsk, “in purely human terms”. “Because of a special concern for all issues relating to children and to safeguarding childhood”, she explained.

Had all these ladies and gentlemen really been worried about the safety and health of the child, they should have talked to the psychiatrists who examined the girl during the investigation, and enquired about her living conditions at Dmitriev’s flat and the circumstances of her existence after being separated from her guardian. Not one official worried that she was due to have regular medical appointments in Petrozavodsk, when she had been sent 600 kms away to a remote village and her natural grandmother who had given her to the children’s home in the first place.

What we’ve uncovered (part 2) …