Historical Amnesia in Chelyabinsk

AKG1423992Exhumation of a mass grave in the area of Pit No. 5 aka Zolotaya Gorka (Golden Hill), which was supposed to be transformed into a memorial cemetery for victims of Stalinism in the 1930s. The mass graves are located in Shershni, a suburb of Chelyabinsk. The photo was taken in 1990. Courtesy of the Elizaveta Becker Collection, Gulag Museum, International Memorial Society

The Security Services Don’t Like Plaques: Chelyabinsk Officials Say Plaque Commemorating Executions Would Discredit Police
Yulia Garipova
Kommersant
August 31, 2018

Chelyabinsk city hall has refused to assist community activists who have been trying to mount a plaque, commemorating the victims of political terror, on the walls of the city’s Interior Ministry [i.e., police] building. The site used to be the home of a building in which executions were carried out in the 1930s. According to officials, the inscription on the plaque could cause people to have “unwarranted associations about the work of the police” and undermine its authority in the eyes of the populace.

In 1932, a building was erected from the bricks of the demolished Christ’s Nativity Cathedral on Vasenko Street in Chelyabinsk. It was handed over to the OGPU (Joint State Political Directorate), later known as the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs). Historians claim that, during the Great Terror, the building contained an execution room.  In 1937–1938, nine Chelyabinsk priests were murdered in the room. In 1995, a memorial plaque was mounted in the courtyard of the building at 39 Vasenko Street.

The inscription on the plaque read, “During the period of mass repressions in the 1930s and 1940s, innocent people convicted of political crimes were executed in this building.”

In the early 2000s, however, the plaque vanished.

This year, Yuri Latyshev, coordinator of the local history group Arkhistrazh, launched a campaign to restore the memorial plaque. He asked Yevgeny Golitsyn, deputy governor of Chelyabinsk Region and chair of the regional commission for restoring the rights of victims of political repression, for help. Chelyabinsk city hall’s culture department sent him a reply.

Mr. Latyshev was informed the building that had once housed the secret police had been completely dismantled due to dilapidation. The land plot was handed over to the Interior Ministry’s Chelyabinsk Regional Office. A new building had been erected on the plot, and a new plaque mounted on the building. It reads, “In memory of the victims of the 30 and 40 years [sic]. Their memory will be preserved as long as we remain human beings.”

Citing the local Interior Ministry office as its source, the Chelyabinsk city culture department explained in its letter to Mr. Latyshev that the whereabouts of the old plaque were unknown. Restoring a commemorative plaque that claimed people were executed in the building during the period of mass repressions in the 1930s and 1940s  would be a distortion of historical reality, the officials argued.

“There have not been any repressive actions of a physical nature [sic] carried out in the buildings used by the [local Interior Ministry office],” they wrote to Mr. Latyshev.

Chelyabinsk culture officials also stressed the inscription on the previous plaque could “provoke unwarranted associations about the work of the police in the minds of people, even as the Russian federal government has made considerable efforts to strengthen the police’s reputation.”

Mr. Latyshev, however, is convinced part of the old building survived the reconstruction.

“The [old] plaque was absolutely fair, correct, and decent, but someone clearly did not like it. It would be fair to hang it on the street side of the building,” says Mr. Latyshev.

He claims he has sent inquiries to the FSB and Interior Ministry, but has only been given the runaround.

“I’m surprised by the wording used by city hall officials—’unwarranted associations’—and how they immediately project these ideas into the minds of the people of Chelyabinsk,” Ivan Slobodenyuk, coordinator for the project Last Address in Chelyabinsk Region, told Kommersant.

Mr. Slobodenyuk stressed that restoring the memorial plaque would be consistent with the state policy for commemorating victims of political repression, as adopted by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in 2015.

“Regional authorities have so far neglected this topic. The memorial on Golden Hill has virtually been abandoned. Part of the area containing mass graves has been redeveloped, and another section has been slated for redevelopment. Now the story with this memorial plaque comes to light,” said Slobodenyuk. “In my opinion, putting up a memorial plaque that begins with the phrase, ‘This was the site of a building in which, during the period,” and so on, in keeping with the wording on the original plaque, would not damage the police’s reputation. On the contrary, it would be a manifestation of courage and would make people respect law enforcement.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

There Is a Party in Warsaw Tonight

anti aircraft warning

All the retrospective, self-aggrandizing, virtual handwringing I have been seeing on Russophone social media in recent days, occasioned by the fiftieth anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, seems obscene on the part of people who have had nothing whatsoever to say, good or bad, about Russia’s signally destructive role in shoring up Assad’s brutal dictatorship in Syria.

What’s the difference between 1968 and now?

The difference is that the Czechs and Slovaks were “white” “Christian” Slavs, while Syria is, unfortunately, populated by people that Russians, many of whom hilariously regard “political correctness” as the greatest threat to civilization, would tend to think of as “blacks,” which is a term of real racist abuse in Russian.

Worse yet, most of those “blacks” are Muslims.

Syrians are thus sub-humans and, as such, were put in their place by a superior “white” nation.

Maybe very few Russians actually have bothered to think this through explicitly, but there is almost no evidence the vicious Russian bombing of opposition-held towns in Syria has bothered much of anyone in Russia at all, so the rest of us are free to impute any and all motives whatsoever to their actions and inaction. And remember, on this sad anniversary, that at the time only something less than a dozen brave Russians opposed the invasion of Czechoslovakia publicly. {TRR}

 

Photo by the Russian Reader

A Funny Thing Happened in Pryamukhino

Bakunin_PryamukhinoThe Pryamukhino Estate, birthplace of Mikhail Bakunin, circa 1860. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Mala Vida
Facebook
July 20, 2018

On the Police Raid in Pryamukhino

The Pryamukhino Readings, an annual open conference, took place on July 7–8, 2018. This year, the conference attracted the notice of Russian law enforcement. Since the conference has taken place in a village school for the last eighteen years, the Pryamukhino village council and the Kuvshinovo district council were informed in advance about the conference, but they made no attempt to prohibit the event.

However, as the conference’s organizing committee later learned, police officers had visited the village council on July 6, 2018, on the eve of the conference’s opening day.

Several men in plain clothes, who showede all the signs of being law enforcement officers, attended the first day of the conference, July 7. They chatted with conference goers about abstract historical and philosophical topics, but they also wondered aloud whether there were any “terrorists” in modern Russia.

On the second day, July 8, two police cars and a car without license plates arrived at the gathering point right when the annual sightseeing excursion of Pryamukhino Estate and Pryamukhino Park was to begin. Eight policemen, including members of the Torzhok Intermunicipal Police Precinct, members of the precinct’s immigration desk, and plainclothes officers who produced no IDs (they were probably officers of Center “E” or the FSB) checked and photographed the passports of the sightseers. According to the police officers, a public nuisance complaint from an unnamed local resident was the grounds for their visit.

As a consequence of the documents check, a conference goer, Artyom Markin, a Belarusian national, was detained. He was informed he was “banned” from entering Russia, a fact that had not been brought to his attention either when he crossed the Russian border or when police checked his papers.

Markin was taken to the Torzhok Intermunicipal Police Precinct. He refused to communicate with secret service officers, since no written charges had been filed against him. He was then taken for a medical examination, because the police, allegedly, suspected him of having used psychoactive substances. After Markin refused to take the medical exam (i.e., his alleged drug use was not certified by physicians), and despite the fact that he had not shown any signs of drug use (conference goers testifed Markin had not used psychoactive substances and did not look out of the ordinary), a magistrate declared him guilty of evading medical diagnosis (Russian Administrative Offenses Code Article 6.9 Part 1) and sentenced him to three days in jail.

At the same time, on the afternoon of July 8, two of the plainclothes officers returned to Pryamuhino, explaining they had come again because, allegedly, they were looking for Markin’s girlfriend. Their presence and the need to protect conference goers from the illegal actions of the authorities generated considerable difficulties when it came to proceeding with the conference. The plainclothes officers left for Torzhok only after four in the afternoon.

After spending three days in jail, Artyom Markin was forced to leave Russia. He was issued a notification from the immigration desk of the Torzhok Intermunicipal Police Precinct prohibiting him from entering Russia until 2022.

We believe that recent events in Belarus (e.g., police roughly detained local anarchists on June 30, 2018, during a gathering in the woods), a possible call from Belarusian law enforcement and security services to their Russian counterparts, and heightened security during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia occasioned such furious actions on the part of the police. The ban on entering Russia, as issued to Artyom Markin, was justified, allegedly, in order to ensure “defense, national security or public order,” as stipulated by Article 27 of Russian Federal Law No. 114 (“On the Procedure for Departing and Entering Russia”), which outlines amendments to the law introduced during international sporting events.

Because the Pryamukhino Readings are an academic conference open to all comers, the organizers make an effort to get to know all of our attendees in order to ensure order and their own safety. However, we do not have the resources to prevent the use of force on the part of the police and curiosity on the part of the authorities.

The Pryamukhino Readings are an annual event run by volunteers. We do not cooperate with the authorities any more than is necessary for holding the conference. We have never supplied the authorities with personal information about our attendees or any additional information about them.

In the event of conflicts like the one described, above, our job is taking care of our out-of-town guests. However, we do not have the resources to provide qualified legal assistance on the spot.

We urge everyone to study the current Russian laws in order to better defend their rights when confronted by law enforcement officers, who often interpret the laws governing their own conduct too freely or falsely.

The Pryamukhino Readings Organizing Committee condemns crackdowns on social movements and independent public events, as well as the framing of social activists and the arbitrary use of administrative and other penalties in the absence of evidence and a demonstrable danger to the public.

The Pryamuhkino Readings Organizing Committee

Translated by the Russian Reader

_____________________________________

Anarchists Go on a Pilgrimage to Tver
Yulia Solovyova
Moscow Times
August 15, 2003

PRYAMUKHINO, Tver Region — Pavel Glazkov is fed up with people who hear the word anarchy and instantly conjure up thoughts of debauched sailors wreaking havoc and chaos.

Anarchism is a moral thing above all, Glazkov says, and it hinges on order, self-discipline and mutual assistance.

A graduate student from Tambov, Glazkov is in the process of writing a thesis on Mikhail Bakunin, the 19th-century philosopher whose ideas laid the foundation for modern anarchism. And he is active in spreading the gospel of anarchy. Glazkov posts leaflets at his university urging students to take action. At a children’s summer camp where he works as an educator, he tells children stories about anarchism before bedtime. The Tambov bar where he once worked as a bartender turned into a sort of a revolutionary circle full of conversation and debate, not unlike one of Bakunin’s many secret societies.

“I’m trying to educate people,” says Glazkov, 24, a gentle giant who wears black-rimmed glasses and two earrings in his left ear. “When I was a kid with an anarchy badge on my chest listening to the Sex Pistols no one told me what I was supposed to do as an anarchist.”

Late last month, Glazkov traveled 10 hours by train and bus to Pryamukhino, the Bakunin family estate in the Tver region, in search of like-minded people. What he found was an improbable mix: white-bearded intellectuals studying the Russian gentry culture alongside pierced and tattooed 20-somethings in black T-shirts and ragged jeans who were doing little more than frolicking in nature away from their parents’ control.

Glazkov spent a weekend in Pryamukhino. He took part in a scientific conference and civic duties like picking up trash in a park. At night he listened to romances—lyrical, sentimental songs—and drank vodka with the academics. Then it was time for a drunken rendition of the “Mother Anarchy” song by the kids, who described themselves as anarcho-communists, Marxists, Maoists, hippies and anti-fascist skinheads.

“It was great,” Glazkov enthused. “I met young people who are into ideas, and they don’t just stick to some stiff, outdated beliefs, but take them further.”

The Pryamukhino Free Co-Op was created in 1995, when a group of students from Moscow decided that Bakunin’s birthplace, which was formally protected by the state, actually needed protection from the state. Since then, a few dozen anarchists from central Russia and, occasionally, from abroad, have come here every summer to work in the park, scandalize the locals by skinny-dipping in the creek and debate anarchism around the campfire. They live in a cramped log house with a black anarchy flag flying from the roof and a sign over the door that reads, “Work is the best hangover treatment.”

The anarchist movement can encompass certain elements of other ideologies, such as Maoism and communism, while rejecting those components relating to authoritarian political control. The anarchist movement is not uniform, but this doesn’t appear to present a problem.

“What’s important is the rejection of the state, hierarchy, clericalism, dominance, all dogmas, everything that’s dead and rotten,” said Vasily Prytkov, who helped organize this summer’s co-op. “People who come here share these ideals.

Pryamukhino’s mixed appeal is the result of its rich heritage. In the 19th century, this traditional nobles’ nest was a nationwide cultural magnet. Bakunin’s parents and ten siblings were well-educated people known for their various talents, bon vivant habits and a taste for sophisticated company. Leading lights of the times, such as literary critic Vissarion Belinsky, novelists Ivan Turgenev and Leo Tolstoi, and thinker Nikolai Stankevich, walked among the exotic plants that grew in the estate’s sumptuous park.

All in all, the Pryamukhino harmony, as the contemporaries described life on the estate, shared little of the rebellious spirit of its most famous resident—the man who was all passion and bustle and pure will, the prototype of Richard Wagner’s Siegfried and the very model of a thunderbolt-hurling revolutionary.

Bakunin believed that the state and capitalism are evil and must be destroyed. He fought for a society based upon justice, equality and freedom. Being more of a doer than a writer, he threw himself into the insurrections that burst across Europe like thunderstorms in his day. Bakunin is often contrasted with Karl Marx, and credited with forecasting the inevitable connection between state communism and the Gulag.

Bakunin’s prophecies came true in the Soviet Union, and although streets across the country were named after him, his legacy was forgotten or distorted, and anarchy became almost a swearword. Similarly, his family’s country estate was plundered and destroyed. The great park, with fish ponds, artificial waterfalls and hills, became neglected and overgrown.

Today, Bakunin’s followers include the ragtag members of the international New Left movement, who share the values of anti-globalism, pacifism, environmentalism and human rights. In Russia, they are few and have little formal organization, with few exceptions, including the groups Avtonomnoye Deistviye, or Autonomous Action, and the Russian branch of the Rainbow Keepers, a radical eco-anarchist group.

“Collective social activity is much more important than setting up formal organizations,” said Mikhail, 31, one of the founders of the Pryamukhino Free Co-Op, who asked that his last name not to be used. “In Russia, people don’t have faith left in collective action and social change. But it’s necessary to keep trying.”

The anarchists occasionally participate in joint actions and social protests like the annual anti-capitalism rally in Moscow. Otherwise they are largely invisible on Russia’s political landscape.

On a recent Sunday morning, a group of anarchists, looking slightly woozy from the night before, trickled into a garden. While some camp goers are serious about anarchism, others are clearly there for the lifestyle that the relaxed environment provides, especially given the fact that the Bakunin Foundation covers all transportation and food costs.

The anarchists settled on the grass among flowers and buzzing bees, where they conducted a meeting concerning the areas of the camp that needed the most work. Soon, armed with a variety of garden tools, they began trimming plants in the park and cleaning up a pond under the supervision of Sergei Kornilov.

Kornilov is a director of the Bakunin Foundation, which was created to promote the legacy of the Bakunin family and restore the estate. A former theater director who says he was too brainwashed to care about anarchism in Soviet times, Kornilov, 65, has dedicated his life to the Pryamukhino estate since he moved there from Moscow in 1998.

A tanned and energetic man who looks like a 19th-century aristocrat, Kornilov mapped out Pryamukhino’s future as an artist would. Tourists were to stay in the recreated interiors of the Bakunin house, and church services, grand balls and theater plays would be staged in the vaulted basement of the remaining south wing of the estate.

“I looked up plays about Mikhail Bakunin, and there weren’t any,” Kornilov said. “So I decided to write one myself.” Kornilov has written a trilogy of plays about Bakunin.

Meanwhile, Glazkov, the Bakunin scholar from Tambov, wrestles with applying his ideas to contemporary realities.

“Go tell a Muscovite whose relative was killed in a terrorist act that Russia needs anarchism and they’ll tell you, ‘What are you, crazy?'” he said. “People are tired of terrorism, Marxism, and other isms. What they want is stability and strong leadership.”

Yuri Shchekochikhin to Vladimir Putin, March 25, 2002

shchekochikhinYuri Shchekochikhin (June 9, 1950–July 3, 2003)

Oleg Pshenichny
Facebook
June 19, 2018

A letter from Yuri Shchekochikhin to Vladimir Putin. Thanks to Dmitry Nosachev for the heads-up.

I heard with my own ears how arrogantly young journalists then spoke of him. They claimed he was paranoid. They claimed he was obsessed with the mafia and the KGB’s machinations. They all but called him a clown. I won’t point fingers. There is no need.

_______________________________________________

March 25, 2002

To: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, President of the Russian Federation

Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich,

I was extremely surprised that, at a time when the whole world has been busy fighting terrorism, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has been busy with little old me, thus violating Article [98] of the Russian Federal Constitution, which guarantees the immunity of State Duma members.

You will remember the Three Whales Scandal, I hope. It was a big surprise to me that, after the hearing of the State Duma’s Security Committee and my article in Novaya Gazeta on the subject, Pavel Zaytsev, the special investigator who had been handling this criminal case, was summoned for questioning by the FSB—not to find out the truth about how the mafia was organized, but only because of me, deputy chair of the State Duma’s Security Committee and a member of its Commission on Combating High-Level Corruption in Government.

I would not have attached much importance to the incident were it not for one circumstance.

Several years ago, Vyacheslav Zharko, a junior field agent in the St. Petersburg Tax Police, gave me documents showing that ships were entering the Russian Navy’s bases in Lebyazhy and Lomonosov[] without being inspected by customs and border control.

There were several signatures on the documents authorizing this financial escapade, including that of the then Deputy Prime Minister [Oleg] Soskovets and yours, Vladimir Vladimirovich.

[Mikhail] Katyshev, who at the time was the First Deputy Prosecutor General, gave orders to open a criminal case and set up an operational investigative group in the Prosecutor General’s Office after reading the documents submitted by Zharko.

It was this criminal case that led to the arrest of Dmitry Rozhdestvensky, head of Russian Video. Unfortunately, however, due to political motives, the investigative team, led by [Vladimir] Lyseiko, dealt only with the embezzlement of funds by Media Most, “forgetting” about the evidence relating to Russian Video’s Marine Department.

During the investigation of this criminal case, I had to fly to St. Petersburg on several occasions to arrange for Zharko’s protection and security, since his life was in real danger. [Georgy] Poltavchenko, then head of the St. Petersburg Tax Police, and [Viktor] Cherkesov, then head of the FSB’s Petersburg office, were simply afraid to help the young field agent in investigating the high-profile criminal case. I was quite surprised it was Zharko who was summoned from St. Petersburg to handle the arrest of [Vladimir] Gusinsky.

I don’t want to bother you with the details of the criminal case, although I imagine you are familiar with them. It is a different matter that concerns me. In December 2001, Zharko, who had transferred from the Tax Police to the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the Russian Defense Ministry, was detained at Sheremetyevo 1 Airport on trumped-up charges of using a counterfeit passport and illegally crossing the border, put under arrest at the behest of the Deputy Prosecutor General, and remanded in custody to Lefortovo Prison. The arrest, especially an arrest sanctioned by such a top-ranking official, on charges of committing a crime that carries a punishment of up to two years in prison, and the subsequent change in his pretrial status, as ordered by Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, would seem incredible were it not for one circumstance. While Zharko was jailed in Lefortovo Remand Prison, FSB field agents tried to “crack” [kololi] him (I use the word “crack” deliberately) while figuring out whether he had in his possession documents bearing your signature and relating to the criminal case. What especially angered me was that the officers attempted to force Zharko to confess that he and I were mixed up with Boris Berezovsky. During their conversations, it was said that I received $50,000 a month from Berezovsky, part of which I gave to Zharko, who in turn gave some to Mikhail Katyshev.

Vladimir Vladimorovich, I have spoken with Berezovsky once and only once in my life. It was in the State Duma building. It just happened.

Most important, however, I don’t like it that I, deputy chair of a State Duma committee, have been targeted by the FSB. I don’t like it that my phones have been bugged and that someone has been trying hard to find means to discredit me.

Vladimir Vladimirovich, I don’t think this letter will end up in your hands. I once sent you a letter about Mr. [Nazir] Khapsirokov, one of the most notorious characters investigated by the Commission on Combating Corruption, during the last sitting of the State Duma. It was when he was appointed deputy head of your administration. In that letter, I wrote to you that you wanted to put together a team while a pack of dogs was circling you. After receiving a reply from a clerk in your administration, I realized the pack had encircled you once and for all, and that it was stronger than the team. Therefore, I am sending a copy this letter to the chair of the State Duma and the head of the Yabloko Party faction in the State Duma, of which I am a member.

Respectfully,

Yuri P. Shchekochikin
Deputy Chair, State Duma Security Committee
Member, State Duma Commission on Combating High-Level Corruption in Government
Member, State Duma (Yabloko Party Faction)

It is widely believed Mr. Shchekochikhin was poisoned to death. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Pinterest

Double Jeopardy: Yuri Dmitriev’s Acquittal Quashed by Karelian Supreme Court

dmitrievYuri Dmitriev. Photo by Anna Yarovaya. Courtesy of 7X7

Karelian Supreme Court Overturns Karelian Researcher Yuri Dmitriev’s Acquittal 
Anna Yarovaya
7X7
June 14, 2018

The Karelian Supreme Court has overturned the acquittal of Yuri Dmitriev, head of the Karelian branch of the International Memorial Society. His defense counsel, Viktor Anufriev, reported the news after the June 14 court hearing.

According to Anufriev, the prosecution made a motion to summon the children’s ombudsman and a psychologist who had examined Dmitriev’s foster daughter to testify. Anufriev opposed the motion, while the court supported it. The court heard from the girl’s grandmother, who had filed an appeal against the acquittal.

After the Petrozavodsk City Court acquitted Dmitriev of the charge of producing pornography involving a juvenile, his foster daughter was referred to a psychologist for an examination. According to Anufriev, during the examination, Dmitriev’s foster daughter was coerced into making a statement that she was upset and disgraced. This was one of the reasons Anufriev’s acquittal was overturned. Anufriev called the fact the authorities had involved the child in the case an “abomination.”

Consequently, the Karelian Supreme Court overturned the acquittal and returned the case to the Petrozavodsk City Court to be retried.

Yuri Dmitriev is head of the Karelian branch of the International Memorial Society who researches the Stalinist Terror. He was detained on December 13, 2016, and charged with producing pornography. According to police investigators, Dmitriev had photographed his foster daughter in the nude. The defense argued that the photographs were part of a diary monitoring the girl’s growth, which Dmitriev kept for children’s protective services. The expert witnesses concurred with this argument.

Dmitriev’s trial began on June 1, 2017. The case was heard in closed chambers. Dmitriev stood accused of violating three articles of the Russian Criminal Code: Article 242.2 (“Producing pornography involving the depiction of minors”); Article 135 (“Sexual abuse not involving violence”), and Article 222 (“Illegal possession of a firearm”).

At the request of Petrozavodsk City Prosecutor Elena Askerova, the Serbsky Institute performed a forensic psychiatric examination on Dmitriev on January 22, 2018, for which purpose the historian was specially transported under armed guard to Moscow. On January 27, 2018, Dmitriev was released from remand prison on his own recognizance. On February 27, 2018, the court release the findings of the examination: Dmitriev had been deemed healthy.

Prosecutor Askerova asked the court to sentence Dmitriev to nine years in a maximum security penal colony. Defense counsel Anufriev called the Dmitriev case a mockery of the historian’s daughter. On April 5, 2018, the court acquitted Dmitriev on the charge of producing pornography. The judge found Dmitriev guilty of the charge of illegally possessing a firearm and sentenced him two years and six months of parole. Considering the time Dmitriev had already served in the remand prison, the sentence was reduced to three months.

On May 12, 2018, with the court’s permission, Dmitriev was able to attend the Moscow Helsinki Group’s Human Rights Awards ceremony. He was awarded a prize for his historic contribution to the defense of human rights.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Read my previous postings on the Dmitriev case and the context in which it has taken place.

The Cabbies Left While the Cossacks Stayed: Rostov-on-Don on the Eve of the World Cup

rostov arena-2Rostov Arena. Photo courtesy of ftbl.ru

The Cabbies Left, The Cossacks Stayed
Gleb Golod
Takie Dela
June 8, 2018

The banks of the Don River in Rostov were always quite different. The right bank was landscaped, featuring bars and restaurants suited to every taste, singing fountains, and amusements. The left bank featured a wild beach chockablock with sand and trees. It was a favorite spot for picnickers and outdoor shish kebab cookouts. People used to swim there until the Don was completely polluted.

The new Rostov Arena has been built on the the left bank. Nine months and 913 million rubles [approx. 123 million euros] turned the wild beach into a landscaped park and river embankment. All that is left of the levberdon, as Rostovians call it, is a pier that extends nearly to the middle of the mighty river.  Over the long years it has been there, it has rusted, and there are holes in its covering here and there. The locals loved it, however. In the evenings, you would always find a couple in love, a photographer and his model, a small group of friends, and an old fisherman who had good luck catching herring in the middle of the Don.

Since May 1, when the park on the left bank officially opened, it has been standing room only on the pier. Locals stroll there with their children, joined by the foreigners who have arrived earlier in Rostov-on-Don. Someone worried about safety decided to limit the number of people on the pier and welded an iron grille to the entrance, but this has not stopped the flood of visitors. Cyclists toss their bikes over it, men help their female companions climb over it, and parents ferry their children from one side of the grille to the other.

Every half hour, an improvised river taxi docks alongside the pier. It charges adults 500 rubles for a ride. Children sail for free.

“Business? What business? The main thing we sell are emotions. River cruises are soothing. Adults can relax while the kids doze,” a man in a sailor’s hat and striped shirt advertises a short cruise on the Don while docking at the pier.

“Business has been good, of course, since so many people started coming here,” he admits. “I would give the embankment a ‘C’ for now. There is not much in the way of infrastructure or development. We’ll see how it looks a year from now.”

The boat pilot does not waste any time. He has struck up a conversation with a young boy, whom he has given a tennis ball. The boy persuades his parents to go for a ride on the boat. They quickly give in. The vessel weighs anchor and speeds off toward the other shore.

The Stadium and the Park
The boat pilot gave the new park a “C,” but the locals like the new sports facilities and playgrounds, and the fact the park is well maintained. But it lacks trees, many of which were cut down during the beautification.

“There is a lot of exercise equipment, and the air is fresh, but I probably won’t be coming here in the summer. There are few trees and little shade. But you know what the heat is like here in July. You could kick the bucket,” says a young woman in workout gear.

The local are not imagining things. There really are many fewer trees. The park was built without consideration of the place’s specific features. Consequently, the “city’s green shield” was left with huge gaps in it, says Alexander Vodyanik, environmentalist and assistant secretary of the Russian Public Chamber.

The “wild” green area on the left bank, which stretched all the way to Bataysk, a suburb of Rostov-on-Don, moistened the winds sweeping in from the Kalmyk steppes, winds that are especially palpable in the spring. It was the primary source of fresh air, supplying it just as ably as a forest, says Vodyanik. The place had to be beautified, but a completely different park should have been built, a wetlands park.

“Historically, this place functioned as a city beach, and it should have been turned into a city beach. People swim at a beach, but the Don has been so badly polluted for so long that swimming was definitely off limits in this part. In that case, swimming pools could have been set up while simultaneously purifying the water. This has been done in Germany on the Rhine, which is much dirtier than the Don, and the project has been a success,” says Vodyankik. “But a park was built here instead. An instant lawn, which has already gone bad, was rolled out. Eighty percent of the poplars were cut down. We had problems with our woodlands as it was, but they were damaged even further.”

The so-called Tourist Police are identified as such on the armbands they wear. A female student from Namibia leads a tour for her friends, who have arrived to enroll at the Don State Technical University. A young man named Aman hopes to get a ticket to the match between Brazil and Switzerland. If it does not work out, however, he will just go for a stroll around the city.

“I really like it here. The city is pretty and has an interesting history. Things are good, the park is good. Everything is terrific and cozy,” he says in English. “By the way, could you tell me where the stadium is? All the signs are in Russian, which I don’t actually understand.”

Rostov Arena was built at a distance from residential areas, so loud fans will not bother locals even on match days. The stadium is accessible by bus and taxi. True, fans will have to walk the last 500 meters to the turnstiles. This decision was made for security reasons.

Cabbies Leave the Fan Zone
Specially accredited taxi drivers will ferry fans from the left bank to the right bank and the fan zone on Theater Square. The most popular taxi services in Rostov-on-Don, Uber and Leader, accessible on the Rutaxi app, will not be working during the World Cup because they are not officially registered as commercial transport services.

Among the major cab companies, Yandex Taxi and Taxi 306 have been accredited to work during the World Cup. Roman Glushchenko, executive director of Taxi 306, told us  a total of 500 cars had been accredited in Rostov-on-Don, but he refused to discuss whether that would be enough cars to handle all comers.

According to gypsy cab driver Leonid, around 150 drivers of the ten thousand drivers affiliated with the company 2-306-306 have been accredited. Cabbies like Leonid mainly work for themselves rather than licensed carriers, which are practically nonexistent in the city, he explains. The gypsy cabbies use Yandex, Uber, Gett, and Leader as dispatchers, either directly or through small intermediary firms. So, when the issue of accreditation for the World Cup arose, it was a problem for drivers, who had to obtain permits, sign a contract with a licensed carrier, and paint their cars yellow or white. The Rostov Regional Transport Ministry issued the full list of requirements for accreditation.

“I’m not going to lift a finger to get accreditation,” Leonid admits. “Why should I give myself a headache by getting permits that would mean I would start making a loss? Licensed cars must be stickered with the taxi company’s ID tag. I don’t want to have this for a number of reasons. I would also have to register as an independent entrepreneur, get a license from the Transport Ministry, which was free until this year, and insure my cab, although premiums are higher than usual. And that’s over and above the 25% cut I give to Yandex. I know lots of gypsy cabbies. Not a single one of them has bothered to get accreditation. It’s just bad business for them.”

To prevent the few accredited taxis from jacking up rates for Rostovians and fans, the Transport Ministry has established a single rate for the entire World Cup.

Leonid plans to spend the World Cup in Sochi. He says the transport system there is better, applying for a license is easier, and the city is generally better prepared after hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“Who wants to sit in traffic jams driving back and forth to the stadium?” he grumbles.

Although the World Cup lasts only four weeks, Theater Square, which will house a fan zone that can accommodate 22,000 fans, was closed to car traffic and public transport on May 13 and will remain closed until July 21. In the mornings and evenings, buses are already stuck in traffic on Sholokhov Avenue. When the World Cup kicks off, share taxis (marshrutki) will be removed from Red Army Street. Officials have promised they will be replaced with new buses.

There are plans to show all the matches on giant screens, organize entertainment for fans, and open food courts on Theater Square. The fan zone is a few hundred meters from the ruins of an entire residential neighborhood, destroyed by fire last year.

The square itself is home of the Gorky Drama Theater, hence the square’s name. It is one of two Russian buildings whose models are exhibited in the Museum of Architecture in London. (The other is St. Basil’s Cathedral.) The late constructivist landmark resembles a stylized caterpillar tractor. Corbusier called it a “gem of Soviet architecture.” Unfortunately, the fan will not be able to see it. The theater could not be cleaned up in time for the World Cup and has been draped with several banners.

Rostov-on-Don-Maxim-Gorky-Drama-TheatreThe Maxim Gorky Drama Theater in Rostov-on-Don. Postcard image courtesy of Colnect

Painted Residents Greet Cossacks
The authorities promised to repair and reconstruct many historic buildings and entire streets in preparation for the 2018 World Cup, but with a few weeks left before the championship, it was clear they would run out time.

Residents of Stanislavsky Street, in the downtown, recount how workers have been laboring outside their houses round the clock, trying to finish their work not by June 1, as city officials had promised, but at least by June 14, when the World Cup kicks off. When you are in a hurry, mistakes are inevitable: a female pensioner was unable to exit her building because the door was blocked by paving slabs. Other houses wound up a meter lower than the newly beautified street, and residents have had to jury-rig stairways to the pavements.

Around fifty buildings in Rostov-on-Don’s historic center have been hung with giant photographs of the buildings or World Cup banners because they could not be repaired in time. Among them is the famous house of Baron Wrangel, where the leader of the Whites during the Russian Civil War spent his childhood and youth. The house is a neoclassical architectural landmark. The mansion was nationalized during the Soviet period and turned into a kindergarten. The kindergarten shut down in the nineties, and the building was abandoned. Over the years, it has become quite dilapidated and has been repeatedly vandalized, so it looks hideous.

But when only a few months remained until the World Cup, no one had any brighter idea than to drape the landmark with a picture.

2010_04_24_domvrangelyaThe Wrangel House in Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of RostovNews.Net

The Rostov branch of the Russian Society for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Landmarks (VOOPIK) tried to persuade city officials a dilapidated Wrangel House would look better than a picture emblazoned on a tarp. They circulated a petition and sent a letter to Governor Vasily Golubev, all to no avail.

“We got a reply less than half a page long. It acknowledged receipt of our letter, but there had been an onsite meeting of a commission chaired by Deputy Governor Sergei Sidash. On the basis of arguments made by commission members, they had decided to drape it in banners,” says Alexander Kozhin, head of VOOPIK’s Rostov branch.

800px-Гостиница__Московская_The Moscow Hotel, in downtown Rostov-on-Don, before the 2007 fire. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The same plight befell the Moscow Hotel, a nineteenth-century eclecticist building. In 2007, it was badly damaged in a fire and has been awaiting reconstruction ever since. The dilapidated Gorky Library (originally the Sagiyev Family Tenement House, an Art Nouveau landmark) is covered in scaffolding. It has been decided to demolish the Pavlenkova Tenement House, on long-suffering Stanislavsky Street, altogether.

sar-htosThe Sagiyev Family Tenement House aka the Gorky Library, in downtown Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of voopiik-don.ru

 

1526621588_pavlenkovoyThe ruins of the Pavlenkova Tenement House, in downtown Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of Rostov.ru

A few weeks before the start of the World Cup, images of a building on Sholokhov Avenue appeared in the news and social media. Happy residents peered from the windows: a fiddler holding his instrument, an artist at an easel, a girl blowing soap bubbles, a football fan wearing a Spartak FC scarf, and patriots with the Russian tricolor draped on their backs. The balconies are adorned with balloons and potted plants.

All of them were painted images on yet another banner covering up unfinished repairs.

The upcoming championship has not changed the life of Rostov-on-Don’s real residents all that much. Schoolchildren and university students started and finished their final exams earlier, so schools and universities would be closed when the World Cup kicked off. The old airport was shut down, replaced by the new Platov Airport outside the city. All political rallies and marches have been prohibited during the World Cup.

The police will not be alone in enforcing this and other prohibitions. In early May, Don Cossacks in Rostov announced that three hundred Cossacks, included mounted Cossacks, would be keeping the peace on the streets as “volunteers.” They have assured the public that, at their own behest, they would not engage in violence and would leave their whips at home. If the police, however, are breaking up a fight, the Cossacks will back them up. The volunteers in papakha hats will pay particular attention to LGBT fans.

TASS_1044980_673“Cossacks.” Photo courtesy of Russia Beyond

“If two men kiss at the World Cup, we will tell the police to check them out,” they said.

The first World Cup match in Rostov-on-Don kicks off on June 17. A total of five matches will be played on the left bank of the Don: four matches in the group stage and one match in the round of sixteen.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Last Address: Nikolai Yushkevich

last address-nikolai yushkevichHere lived Nikolai Ignatyevich Yushkevich, clerk. Born 1900. Arrested 23 October 1937. Shot 10 November 1937. Exonerated 1957.

Last Address Foundation
45 Tavricheskaya Street, St. Petersburg
April 8, 2018

The Shulgin Tenement House, named after its proprietor, is situated at the corner of Tavricheskaya Street and Tavrichesky Alley. The house was built in 1914, designed by architects Vladimir Upatchev and Mikhail von Wilken in the neoclassicist Art Nouveau style, then popular in Petersburg.

We know that, during the Great Terror, twelve residents of the house were shot on trumped-up charges. Among them was Nikolai Ignatyevich Yushkevich, who lived in the house with his wife and two sons.

Yushkevich was born in 1900 in Vilna Province. He had a primary education. He joined the Party in 1924.

As his wife Maria recalled, “My husband finished four grades of school in 1914 and, since he cane from a family of poor peasants, he had to quit school and work on the farm. In 1917, he left for the city to earn money.”

24_20180406171639YushkFrom May 1917 till his arrest, Yushevich worked at the Main Waterworks Station (Vodokanal) in Petrograd-Leningrad, where he served as an unskilled laborer, a woodcutter, and then a coalman, machinist, and electrician. His last post was head of the supply department. Acccording to a record in the Vodokanal Archives, Yushkevich was “dismissed due to his arrest.”

The arrest took place on October 23, 1937. On November 3, the Vodokanal employee was sentenced to death.

According to the indictment, Yushkevich “was a member of a counterrevolutionary espionage and sabotage organization, into which he had been recruited by Polish intelligence agent V.S. Tomashevich, who had tasked him with collecting intelligence and planning acts of sabotage.”

The NKVD investigators likewise noted that “the espionage information had to do with the structure and location of the city’s water main, and supplies and storage sites of poisonous substances.”

That was not enough for the NKVD officers, however, so they dreamed up the notion that Yushkevich had, supposedly, “accepted the assignment of carrying out acts of sabotage by poisoning the water supplied to the populace during wartime.”

The death sentence was carried out on November 10, 1937. Yushkevich was thirty-seven. He was survived by his wife, Maria, and two sons, six-year-old Boris and two-year-old Vladimir.

In 1942, the Yushkevich family was administratively exiled from Leningrad.

“The authorities insisted on evacuating us, but I refused,” Maria later recalled. “Mother was seriously ill and could not be moved. But the NKVD investigator forced me, since my husband had been arrested. On March 31, 1942, the children and I were forced to leave Leningrad. Mom died two days later. Our group of Leningraders arrived in the Vyselki District of Krasnodar Territory. The family was sent to the Dzerzhinsky Collective Farm. […] In 1945, I returned to my hometown on a summons issued by the Leningrad City Council of Workers’ Deputies, but I was refused a residence permit, since my husband was under arrest. […] I did not want the children to face incidents of mistrust in their lives and work due to their father’s arrest. Since I did not believe my husband was guilty, I kept everything from the children. However, there were incidents. My eldest son was expelled from vocational college […] and refused admission to university.”

The room where the family had lived before their exile from Leningrad in 1942 had been occupied by a secret police officer.

Maria Yushkevich regularly wrote letters and complaints to various authorities in her attempt to find out what had happened to her arrested husband.

“In 1938, [I wrote] to Vyshinsky, in 1939, to Beria, in 1940, to the Central Administration of Prison Camps (Gulag) in Moscow, and later, to Khrushchev.”

The family archives contains a document from the Leningrad City Prosecutor’s Office about a review of the case in 1940. The family received the notification only in 1957, when the decision to fully exonerate Yushkevich had been made.

The decision in the 1940 review contains the following passage: “The verdict against N.I. Yushkevich should be considered correct. […] His activities as a spy and saboteur were wholly corroborated by his personal confession.”

The Shulgin Tenement House at 45 Tavricheskaya Street in St. Petersburg. Photo by Natalya Shkuryonok

Before Yushkevich was exonerated in 1957, the authorities replied to his family’s inquiries in various ways. Maria later recalled one such reply.

“‘The case is not subject to review, since N.I. Yushkevich is an enemy of the people, convicted by a special collegium under Article 58 and sentenced to ten years [in a prison camp] without the right to correspondence.’ [They wrote] that my husband would never come back and insisted I remarry. In 1940, I received a reply claiming my husband was alive and well, and that he was in the northern camps without the right to correspondence. […] In 1955, after I sent an inquiry about my husband’s plight to the head of the Gulag at the Interior Ministry, I was informed my husband had gone missing in action during the war.”

As the Military Tribunal of the Belorussian Military District determined when reviewing the case in 1956–1957, “The charge was not based on objectively corroborated testimony. The baselessness of the charge against Yushkevich was established during an supplementary review of the case. Yushkevich was not involved in the case of Tomashevich, who had allegedly recruited the former. There is no compromising information about Yushkevich in the relevant archival agencies. Former NKVD officers Altwarg and Perelmutter, involved in investigating the case, were convicted of falsifying cases under investigation.”

Thanks to Dmitri Evmenov and Jenya Kulakova for the heads-up. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader