Terror in the Life of Yuri Dmitriev
June 1, 2017
On May 28, 2017, the Anna Akhmatova Museum in Fountain House in Petersburg hosted a presentation of books of remembrance, edited by Yuri Dmitriev, chair of the Memorial Society’s Petrozavodsk branch, who was arrested on trumped-up charges in December 2016.
The presentation was organized and emceed by Anatoly Razumov, head of the Returned Names Center at the Russian National Library and editor of the Leningrad Martyrology.
Agreeing to Razumov’s request to host the event, the Akhmatova Museum decided not to mention Dmitriev’s name in the event’s poster, on its website, and its mailing lists, as if it were already clear to everyone anyway what and who would be discussed. The event’s ostensible occasion was the eightieth anniversary of the Great Terror. Until the late spring of 2017, this had seemed possible in a museum dedicated to the life of the woman who wrote, “I would like to name all of them by name.” Unnoticed by the majority, however, a new wave of state terror has touched not only Yuri Dmitriev but also Petersburg, far from Petrozavodsk. A public museum risks providing a venue for an event in support of a man persecuted by the state, while making this man a figure of silence.
When the Petersburg Memorial Society found about this approach to Dmitriev, it was too late to find a new venue. It managed only to send out its own mailing list. The newspaper Moi Rayon mentioned the editor of the Karelian memorial books in its notice of the presentation, and the radio station Echo of Moscow in Petersburg mentioned the presentation as well. Unlike Petrozavodsk, where the presentation was poorly attended, the small hall at Fountain House was nearly packed, and reporters were present.
Dmitriev’s daughter Ekaterina Klodt came from Petrozavodsk for the event, joined by Dmitriev’s defense attorney Viktor Anufriev from Moscow, and Dmitriev’s colleague Nikolai Olshansky, director of the Novgorod Regional Society of Rehabilitated Political Prisoners and editor-in-chief of the Book of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression of Novgorod Region. Irina Flige, director of the Memorial Research Center, was also involved. TV editor Bella Kurkova, who was scheduled to attend, did not come. In the early 2000s, she had filmed Dmitriev for a program, and Razumov showed an excerpt of this program to the audience.
Razumov has been friends with Dmitriev for fifteen years and considers him an astonishing man not only in terms of Karelia but also nationally. Razumov was involved with Dmitriev in searching for the prison camp cemetery on Sekirnaya Hill on the Solovki Islands. He continues to hope that Dmitriev will find the burial sites of the so-called second and third Solovki quotas of 1937–1938. Razumov still considers his friend’s most surprising find the cemetery of the tortured Belomorkanal construction workers at Lock No. 8.
“When he found himself in his present circumstances, he was accorded incredible support, and I haven’t met a man who would doubt his honest, kindness, and personal qualities,” Razumov said when opening the evening.
Razumov brought two books previously published by Dmitriev to the presentation and displayed them as historical artifacts. The first of these was the Memorial Lists of Karelia, 1937–1938, edited by Dmitriev and Ivan Chukhin, chair of the Karelian branch of Memorial. Dmitriev was Chukhin’s search expert and right-hand man, and after Chukin’s premature death in a car accident in May 1997, Dmitriev also had to master the skill of searching the archives. The book was published only in 2002 and is now rightly regarded as one of the best of its kind.
The second of Dmitriev’s main books, The Sandarmokh Execution Site, originally published in 1999 and long a bibliographic rarity, will be republished. Dmitriev has approved aplan to republish the book under a new title, The Sandarmokh Memorial Site. The new book will be a revised and expanded version of the first book about the memorial cemetery.
“I don’t know what else we can do. But we have managed to do something. We have turned some of the execution sites into memorial sites. May they remain memorial sites forever. That was Yuri’s dream,” said Razumov.
Razumov discussed two new books by Dmitriev, completed through the efforts of colleagues and friends: The Krasny Bor Memorial Site, which lists people executed at the site, and The Motherland Remembers Them: A Book of Remembrance of the Karelian People. Dmitriev had compiled both books before his arrest, and his friends and colleagues finished editing them and hastily published them in May of this year, before the start of his court trial. The books were presented in Petrozavodsk on May 24. The book will be available in Moscow in a week’s time both as DVDs and paper books. Roman Romanov, director of the Gulag Museum, has found the means to publish them. Five hundred copies will be printed in Moscow for the presentation, which takes place at the museum on June 6, 2017. It took Dmitriev many years to write these books. Krasny Bor was discovered twenty years ago, like Sandarmokh, in 1997. The site of mass executions in 1937–1938, it is located in a forest four kilometers from the village of Derevyannoye in the Prionezhsky District of the Republic of Karelia and nineteen kilometers from its capital city, Petrozavodsk.
According to the website of the Virtual Gulag Museum, Dmitriev conducted a detailed survey of the burials there. On the basis of typical depressions in the topsoil, he discovered around forty burial pits, each of them approximately eight meters in diameter and two and a half meters in depth. The Prionezhsky District Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that the Soviet NKVD had carried out mass executions at the site. According to prosecutors, the executions had been carried out during two periods: August 9–October 15, 1937, and September 26–October 11, 1938. During the digs, Dmitriev ascertained the number of people who had been shot (1,193) and most of their names, which are now included in the book Krasny Bor Memorial Site. After Dmitriev’s arrest on December 13, 2016, Jan Rachinsky, co-chair of Moscow Memorial, and Anatoly Razumov worked on the book. Dmitriev was able to carry out the final corrections in the Petrozavodsk Pretrial Detention Facility.
Razumov also presented The Book of Remembrance of the Karelian People. Dmitriev favors a geographical principle when drawing up lists of the executed, rather than alphabetical order. In his opinion, it is easier for people to find loved ones this way: the book is thus literally localized and bound up with Karelian history. The Motherland Remembers Them contains lists of Karelians who perished during the Great Terror.
The discs were available at the presentation, and they can also be obtained at the Returned Names Center and Memorial in Petersburg. Razumov reminded the audience that Dmitriev had always handed out all his remembrance books for free, but only to people who could say something about their perished loved ones and who had thus preserved their memory.
Special Settlers in Karelia is Dmitriev’s latest massive work, on which he has been working for years. It deals with all those who were exiled to Karelia during the Soviet period: dekulakized peasants, deportees, and forced settlers—tens of thousands of people. Dmitriev launched his work on the book in the 1990s, but a great deal remains to be done.
Yuri Dmitriev’s house in Petrozavodsk “has been turned from a workplace into ruins. The police came, stomped about in their boots, and confiscated his computer, which contained his old and new remembrance book, on which work was still underway. But we shall continue the work,” Razumov said as he concluded his opening remarks.
Ekaterina Klodt, Dmitriev’s eldest daugther, is very proud of her dad.
She and her friends were always struck by her father’s deep, penetrating eyes. Outwardly harsh and headstrong, Klodt’s father is a very kind and caring man on the inside.
“He’s a friend, a friend to everyone: colleagues, children, and grandchildren. He puts himself in everyone’s shoes. You can talk to him about anything.”
Klodt is the only person allowed to visit Dmitriev at the pretrial detention facility.
“I’m used to seeing him with his hair grown out and a long beard, like a lumberjack. But in there, his beard has been shaven and his hair cut short. He looks fifteen years younger. He’s had time off from sitting at the computer. At first, of course, I burst into tears, and he burst into tears. It is very difficult to talk through the tiny window.
“But his spirit, as always, is determined and militant. Father has always been someone we can all look up to, a paragon of strength and self-confidence.”
Klodst visits her father along with her own children.
“When his grandson and then this granddaughter followed me into the room, his eyes lit up. I had never seen Dad cry. He was genuinely happy.”
Klodt said prison was not a place where grandchildren should see their grandfather.
“That’s the reality. The children know where their grandfather is. They come with me to see him and will keep coming with me.”
The last time Klodt saw her father was in mid April.
Klodt said she has been communicating with her younger sister. Adopted by Dmitriev, she loves her dad very much, misses him a lot, and is worried about him. The girl hopes this ridiculous story will soon end, and she will again live with her dad.
“We lived side by side for so many years, as a single family. My children are her age. She and my son are the same age, and my daughter is a year younger. I treat her like one of my children, although she regards me as her sister. She is great friends with my children.”
Klodt cannot see her sister.
“She writes,” Razumov added.
Klodt feels sorriest of all for the confiscated computer. Day after day, she saw her father working, and his work was everything to him.
“The man spent a huge number of hours at the computer. His entire life was working on the computer and the digs. Knowing how much time he worked on the computer, I was constantly worried how he would get along in the pretrial detention facility without his dead ones.”
Klodt was twelve years old when Sandormokh was discovered twenty years ago. Her father took her along on the expedition to the area near Medvezhyegorsk. Klodt’s eldest son, Danya, had recently been traveling into “that huge forest, teeming with gadflies.” Danya is as old now as she was in 1997. This year, whatever the court decides, Klodt and her children will travel to Sandormokh on August 5 for the International Day of Remembrance.
Irina Flige and Yuri Dmitriev met exactly twenty years ago, in the spring of 1997 at the FSB archives in Petrozavodsk, “a normal place to meet if you’re people working on the memory of the Gulag.”
“That meeting was a point where two searches converged.”
“Such a narrow circle of people has gathered here today that I want to use the familiar mode of address, so I will refer to Yura rather than to Yuri Alexeyevich. At this time, Yura and Ivan Chukhin had located the main sites where executions and burials had taken place in Karelia during the Great Terror. Karelia is the only region or one of two or three regions where the documents stipulate the places where the sentences were carried out, that is, they indicate they occurred in the vicinity of a village or town. By this time, they had managed to compile a complete list of these places. And by 1997, many of the actual locations had been ascertained. For its part, the Memorial Research Center moved from the Solovki in search of the place where the so-called 1937 Solovki quota was executed. This was where our searches converged. We planned a joint expedition of the Petersburg and Petrozavodsk branches of Memorial to an area near Medvezhyegorsk on July 1, 1997. There were four of us who traveled there, not counting Yura’s dog. The expedition was led by Veniamin Iofe, who had done all the preliminary research before we traveled to the site. He had pinpointed the search area to within a kilometer. We set out on the expedition, thinking we would be working there all summer,” Flige recounted, continuing Klodt’s story of the search for Sandarmokh.
Anatoly Razumov took the opportunity to note that all the particulars of the expedition are extremely important, because “Yura was arrested due to Sandarmokh, to put it crudely, due to the fact that the place had become such an irritant.”
Flige illustrated her account with images from the website Sandormokh [sic], which was launched with Dmitriev’s involvement in November 2016. One of the long articles on the website describes the search for Sandarmokh.
“Yura is a restless, active person. At some point, he grabbed the dog and ran off round the forest. Yura has a fantastic intuition. He was running in circles around a place where we had marked out a grid and started systematically digging meter by meter. He ran up to us at some point. ‘Come on, I think I’ve found it.’ Indeed, the place was quite striking. Common grave pits subside in a way that resembles saucers. Yura had seen there many such places there,” recalled Flige.
Sandarmokh was found on the very first day of the expedition, July 1, 1997. The shooting pits, marked by lathe fence, its pales numbered in red lacquer by Flige and Klodt, still constitute the basis of the memorial cemetery.
The lathe fence has given way to poles topped with dovecote-shaped wooden monuments, resembling Orthodox crosses in northern cemeteries.
In 1997, memory was quite alive all over Russia and functioned instantaneously, argues Flige.
“Knowledge and memory were closely related processes. One process immediately followed the other,” she said.
Sandarmokh was officially opened on October 27, 1997. In the four short months since its discovery, road builders had built a paved road to the site in record time, a log chapel had been erected, and the dovecote-shaped memorial markers were all in place. The Republic of Karelia hastily enacted a decree declaring the memorial cemetery open to the public.
“I ran around with the forest managers to mark off the border. I would add space all the time, because what if we had missed a pit? But they would add another thirty meters. It was a breakthrough in common, a breakthrough of knowledge, respect, and memory all at the same time.”
Sandarmokh is the only place in Russia where the August Fifth International Day of Remembrance is held. It has been held since 1998. The people who were shot there were not immediately sentenced to be shot after their arrests, but had spent time in the camps on Solovki and the Beltbaltlag. They had come to the camps from different parts of the Soviet Union. For the last twenty years, delegations from different countries and different parts of Russia have come to Sandarmokh on August 5. It has become the “only venue where people of different ethnic groups and faiths can meet and still speak the same same language, the language of memory.”
The website about the memorial cemetery includes a separate section, “Killed in Sandarmokh,” created by Yuri Dmitriev. It features biographical information about the residents of Karelia executed on this spot in 1937–1938.
It is also telling that Kurkova filmed her program on Sandarmokh with Yuri Dmitriev’s involvement.
A Colleague from Novgorod
In Novgorod the Great, The Book of Remembrance has been published since 1993. Late 2015 saw the publication of its fourteenth volume, and there are plans to publish a comprehensive index to the previous volumes that would include information about residents of Novgorod Region subjected to state terror from 1917 to 1970. Nikolai Olshansky, the editor of these volumes, met Dmitriev eight years ago.
Olshansky also continues to pin his hopes on the genius of his Karelian colleague for finding burial sites in his own region. In Novgorod Region, the internment site of fifteen hundred Novgorodians shot during the Great Terror in Novgorod itself has not been ascertained (five thousand Novgorod residents were taken to Leningrad to be shot), nor has the execution site of five hundred residents of Borovichi been located.
Olshansky believes that he once “prophesied” his colleague’s misfortune.
“Yura, your directness and harshness are going to get you put in jail someday,” he told Dmitriev.
During the event at the Akhmatova Museum, Olshansky wished Dmitriev the will to withstand all the trials of detenition. Olshansky does not believe the prosecution’s charges. Under the Soviet regime, he himself was sentenced to four and half years of compulsory treatment in a psychiatric hospital on the basis of a denunciation, an experience from which he has never fully recovered.
The Defense Lawyer
Attorney Viktor Anufriev appeared at the event, answering the audience’s questions. He argued that the law in Russia still exists autonomously from law enforcement. Dmitriev’s rights as someone who has been accused of a crime are observed to the extent they permit the authorities to keep him under arrest by constantly extending the term of his detention. Anufriev is certain of his client’s innocence. There is no evidence of a crime in Dmitriev’s actions.
The case began with one charge, but now there are four, said Anufriev. The case file now consists of five volumes. The indictment now includes an illegal firearms possession charge: the firearm in question is a piece of a hunting rifle, which had been lying around Dmitriev’s house for twenty years and which the prosecution itself does not consider capable of firing. Once upon a time, Dmitriev had confiscated it from the lads in the yard, to keep it out of harm’s way. Why has he been charged with its possession? Anufriev argued that there are two hypotheses. In Soviet times, this article of the criminal code was brought into play if the main charge had been dropped to justify the arrest and pretrial detention. In our times, on the contrary, the court can find a defendant not guilty on this charge, to make a show of his objectivity.
“But the entire machine of repression is rigged against Dmitriev in such a way that there are very good chances he will remain in custody,” said Anufriev.
Anufriev argued that his job was to prove his client’s innocence on the basis of the law. Analyzing the circumstances with which Dmitriev’s persecution were fraught is not part of that job. But those who follow the trials underway in Russia see that, nationwide, similar things have been happening to people whose work the regime considers unnecessary and harmful.
The upcoming trial will be closed to the public. The first hearing on the merits of the case will take place in Petrozavodsk tomorrow, June 1, 2017, at 2:30 p.m.
Anufriev believes that no one’s testimony would help Dmitriev in making his case. His adopted daughter has said nothing bad about her father. The situation was such that Dmitriev adopted her when she was in a very poor physical state. It was hard for Dmitriev to adopt her: to become her foster father, he had to attend a number of court hearings. Until his own adoption, Dmitriev himself had been raised in an orphanage. Having raised his own children, Dmitriev felt obliged to raise another child. The authorities, who gave him custody of the child through the courts, initially tried to take her away. Three or four months after Dmitriev adopted, “bruises” from “beatings” were suddenly discovered on the girl’s body. They proved to be traces left by a newspaper through which her foster parents had applied mustard plasters to her body. Having gone through this experience, Dmitriev periodically photographed the girl from all four sides, storing the photographs in a file in his computer according to month and year. He did this in case children’s protective services made any complaints about his treatment of the girl. He showed the photos to no one. Over the years, he made fewer and fewer photographers. It would not occur to a normal person that these snapshots could be interpreted as pornographic. According to police investigators, there are 144 photographs, only nine of which investigators have interpreted as “pornographic.” This is the basis of the trumped-up charges that he committed perverse actions by clicking his camera. He clicked it three times a year, and has been charged with violating three articles of the criminal code that could send him to prison for up to fifteen years. The case kicked off with anonymous letter (a denunciation, as we say in Russia) that so-and-so, allegedly, has naked snapshots of his foster daughter stored on his computer.
“As someone who has lived a fairly long life and as the father of several children, I can say there is nothing pornographic about those photos,” said Anufriev.
“Yuri Alexeyevich feels well, as well as he can feel in the place where he is and given his age. He has not lost his optimism and perseverance, either. He understands the situation soberly. As a scholar of the Terror, he has seen and read his fill and could understand that it might affect him as well. Such is our country’s history. I could joke about it and say that the one good thing is people are no longer executed in Russia. But the practice is such that if someone was in custody before his trial, his complete acquittal would be someone else’s complete punishment. That is why it happens so rarely. We would be glad if the case were allowed to fade away.”
You can exchange letters with Yuri Dmitriev. Send your letters to: Respublika Kareliya, Petrozavodsk, ul. Gertsena, 47, SIZO No. 1.
Ekaterina Klodt cannot explain who would want to file charges against her father. She doesn’t know the answer to that question, but, according to her, “what he does might not suit everyone.” She regards the criminal prosecution of her father as “completely absurd.”
“It’s frightening, very frightening,” she said.
She said she knows nothing about the search for those did the killing (according to one hypothesis, the charges against Dmitriev were occasioned by his work on drawing up lists of executioners, of the people who implemented the Terror in Karelia).
“We never discussed it, and I don’t think he searched for the executioners. They were not so interesting to him. He always searched for the victims, the people who had been shot. They were the dead who interested him. He wanted to preserve their memory and believed everyone of them should have a grave. He was very concerned for the living, for the descendants, so they would be able to come to a cemetery, to a burial site, pay tribute to their ancestors and remember their loved ones,” said Klodt.
“In Russia, the truth usually becomes obvious after several decades. We can only guess whose toes Yuri Alexeyevich stepped on, and with what upcoming events it is connected. We can analyze our regime’s level of thinking and focus in terms of this case, as well as the direction in which it is headed, and the measures it takes to preserve itself. Yuri Dmitriev was not a member of the opposition in the Republic of Karelia. He did his work in the sincere certainty that it was of use to people and to his country. But it turns that at one point the state says that this work is necessary, that we have to establish what happened, that we have to publish books of remembrance of the victims of the Terror, but time passes and all of this becomes inconvenient to the state. The shadow of the past hinders the current regime. And Yuri Alexeyevich’s work has become not very popular, not so vital, and seemingly unnecessary. By looking for execution sites, Yuri Alexeyevich discredited the previous regime. The time has come when someone has deemed his work unnecessary and even harmful,” argued Viktor Anufriev. “The people who cooked up this case for their own purposes should have long ago understood that the case is so crazy that public opinion has been aroused. I have worked for a long time and know how easy it is to put someone away by planting a bullet or narcotics on him, but trampling a man like this…”
Anufriev argued that the best outcome in the case would be complete acquittal on the pornography charges. Despite the fact that cases involving depraved actions with respect to minors go badly against teachers and priests, this case stands apart.
Anatoly Razumov noted that Karelian children’s protective services had no complaints against Dmitriev during all the years he had custody of his foster daughter. This transpired during a special session of the Presidential Human Rights Council in Petrozavodsk in February of this years, a session in which Razumov, Flige, and Anufriev were involved as invited experts. According to Razumov, Sandarmokh had become the “main sore spot and irritant in the region.” But the authorities were mistaken. Dmitriev had proven to be a man with a man with a strong spirit who loved his children and grandchildren, and almost nobody has believed the accusations.
If Razumov was sure that Dmitriev was arrested over Sandarmokh, whose annual fuss bothered the authorities, Flige argued that closing Sandarmokh by putting Dmitriev in prison was unrealistic. On the contrary, the case had led to a renewed interest in the place, an interest only deepened by speculation as to the reasons for Dmitriev’s persecution. This year, the authorities have createda prisoner of conscience for the memorial cemetery. According to Flige, Dmitriev became a political prisoner the day the TV channel Rossiya 24 broadcast a made-to-order news segment entitled “What Is Memorial Hiding?”
Event photos courtesy of Nadezhda Kiselyova and Cogita.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader