Vera Ermolaeva

Until recently, a plaque memorializing the Leningrad artist Vera Ermolaeva, executed in the Gulag during the Great Terror,  hung here. Photo: MR7.ru

Last Address Plaque for Artist Vera Ermolaeva Removed in Petersburg
Galina Artemenko
MR7.ru
December 8, 2020

The Last Address plaque memorializing artist Vera Ermolaeva has been removed in Petersburg. The news was broken by the Moscow publisher Kirill Zakharov on his social media page after visiting the city.

“[This is] the house on whose first floor Vera Ermolaeva lived. A couple of years ago, a memorial plaque was installed here, but now it has been conveniently removed,” he wrote.

The initiator of the Last Address project, Sergei Parkhomenko, is already aware of the incident and is waiting for information from his colleagues in Petersburg.

“Sometimes it happens that [the plaques] are removed for repairs, then returned. Sometimes it’s different,” he said.

МR7.ru wrote on March 25, 2018, about the installation of a Last Address plaque in memory of Vera Ermolaeva at house no. 13 on the 10th Line of Vasilyevsky Island in Petersburg.

Ermolaeva was arrested on December 25, 1934, as part of the so-called Kirov cohort. As an “anti-Soviet element,” she was sentenced to three years in the camps and sent to Karlag in Kazakhstan. On September 20, 1937, three months before her scheduled release, an NKVD troika sentenced the 43-year-old Ermolaeva to death. She was executed on September 27, 1937 [sic]. She has no grave. We know only the place where the prisoners who died or were murdered in the camp were buried: the village of Dolinka in the Karaganda Region. Ermolaeva had no relatives, so when the 20th Party Congress was held, there was no one who could apply to have her exonerated. She was finally exonerated 1989, due to “lack of evidence of a crime.”

Now you can find everything or almost everything on the internet, including the weather report for December 25, 1934. It was a frosty and clear day in Leningrad— minus 12 degrees centigrade—and the night was cold, too. Ermolaeva’s apartment was probably heated when she left the warm house forever. She lived on the first floor, in apartment number two. She had always lived on ground floors, including at her previous apartment in Baskov Lane, which her father, a landowner and liberal publisher, had bought for her before the revolution. Ermolaeva fell off a horse as a child and could only walk on crutches, so the apartment was purchased because it was next door to her high school and on the first floor. For many years, Ermolaeva lived abroad, studying and getting medical treatment there.

Ermolaeva was a brilliant artist. A member of the Futurist group Bloodless Murder in 1915-16, she was interested in history and graduated from the Archaeological Institute. She was a pioneer of the genre now known as the artist’s book: she designed children’s books as cohesive entities. Her illustrations for the works of Daniil Kharms and Yevgeny Schwartz, and Ivan Krylov’s fables are admired and studied. The famous book written and illustrated by Ermolaeva in 1929—Dogs—has recently been published as a reprint.

The cover of Ermolaeva’s 1929 book Dogs. Courtesy of MR7.ru

Antonina Zainchkovskaya, Ermolaeva’s biographer and the author of a dissertation about her, said during the plaque installation ceremony that it was very important for Russians not to forget about the Last Address plaques. She said that when she was writing her dissertation and studying the relevant NKVD documents, she became psychologically ill. It is impossible to imagine the last three years of Ermolaeva’s life (in the camp, on crutches), nor the last six days, between her verdict and her execution.

Vera Ermolaeva’s Last Address plaque in 2018. Photo: Galina Artemenko/MR7.ru

The person who initiated the installation of the Last Address plaque on the house where Ermolaeva lieved was Ekaterina Yevseyeva, art historian, granddaughter of the collector and Great Terror victim Iosif Rybakov, and wife of the artist Alexei Gostintsev, who was a student of Vladimir Sterligov. Sterligov and Ermolaeva were part of a group of artists pursuing “pictorial and plastic realism.” It was in Ermolaeva’s apartment on Vasilevsky that they met, talked, drank tea, and organized exhibitions. Someone denounced them, and they became part of the Kirov cohort. Sterligov, a student of Malevich, was also arrested, but survived his sentence Karlag and lived until 1975. Gostintsev recalls that it was at the apartment of Sterligov and his wife, the artist Tatyana Glebova, in Peterhof, that he heard from Glebova that Anna Akhmatova had informed her about Ermolaeva’s arrest the very next day.

In mid-October, a property management company decided to remove fifteen Last Address plaques from the wall of a residential building on Rubinstein street. The plaques were found by Petersburg legislator Boris Vishnevsky at the management company’s offices. He was promised that the plaques would be reinstalled after the wall was repaired, but they were not put back in place when the wall was painted.

Thanks to Galina Artemenko for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

__________________

 

Vera Ermolaeva

1989 saw the publication of the well-known art album and anthology of articles An Avant-Garde Stopped on the Run. The book’s dustcover bore the caption “A book about how the artist Vera Ermolaeva went missing on the shores of the Aral Sea, and then the sea disappeared, too.” If Kazakhstan has been currently tackling the problem of restoring the Aral Sea, along with its salty waves, a truth that was hushed for many years has been reemerging in society, albeit little by little, a truth that should be openly accessible in the history of all countries that have gone through dictatorships and are seeking to go forward democratically, a truth, however, that should include the actual story of what happened to Ermolaeva. The truth is often not as intriguing and mysterious as the caption on a book’s dustcover.

Researchers at the Karaganda Regional Fine Arts Museum established in the same year, 1989, that Ermolaeva, a colleague and comrade of Marc Chagall and Kazimir Malevich, co-founder of UNOVIS (Champions of the New Art), and Ginkhuk faculty member, had been shot on September 26, 1937, in a labor camp in the village of Dolinka, the headquarters of the Karlag (Karaganda Corrective Labor Camp). How did Ermolaeva end up in Kazakhstan? Why was she shot?

The Karaganda Corrective Labor Camp was established in the Kazakh steppes. It was the largest camp in the NKVD’s Gulag. It was based on the Giant State Farm, and its mission was rural and industrial development. Large-scale arrests in the Soviet Union and forced deportation of whole peoples to Kazakhstan were underway. To this end, the indigenous Kazakh population was driven from their native lands, which caused a famine in 1932–1933 that killed fifty percent of the Kazakh people. Only camp staff, their families, and inmates—an unpaid labor force—lived in the camp. The first inmates were peasant families, accused of being kulaks in Russia, and clergymen. They built the first barracks and railways. They were followed by political prisoners, people convicted of “counterrevolutionary” crimes.

People were left to live in the Karlag in perpetuity, stripped of their right to move elsewhere, which was tantamount to exile, and it was they who built the first labor settlements in the Karlag. The flow of political prisoners and exiles was so overwhelming that so-called troikas—groups of three officials who decided in lieu of the courts whether prisoners would live or die—were set up nationwide.

The murder of the popular Communist Party leader Sergei Kirov, in 1934, sparked a huge wave of arrests. Artists were caught up in this wave, including Ermolaeva, who hosted exhibitions and gatherings of artists in her flat, a fact noted by the NKVD. Everything about Ermolaeva worked against her: her aristocratic pedigree, her education and free thinking, her trips to Paris and Berlin, and her links to Malevich, who had been arrested twice, jailed a year for “espionage,” and was dying of cancer. By order of the Leningrad NKVD, on December 25, 1934, Ermolaeva was denounced as a purveyor of anti-Soviet propaganda and member of a counterrevolutionary group that had tried to establish illegal communications channels with foreigners. She was charged under Articles 58-10 (“anti-Soviet agitation”) and 58-11 (“organizing anti-Soviet activity”) of the Soviet Criminal Code. Article 58 had a total of fourteen clauses, and the first of these dealt with crimes punishable by death. On March 29, 1935, Ermolaeva was convicted by an NKVD Special Council as a “socially dangerous element.” Although her exact crime was not specified, she was sentenced to three years in a labor camp and dispatched to the Karlag. Her sentence went into effect on March 27, 1935, rather than retroactively on the day she was arrested. She was arrested, convicted, and transported to Dolinka along with Vladimir Sterligov, who later founded a painterly system derived from Suprematism, and several other of Malevich’s disciples.

During interrogations, the NKVD staged one-on-one confrontations between Ermolaeva and Sterligov. When they were sent to Kazakhstan, they were assigned to the same train car. Disabled since childhood and paralyzed in both legs, Ermolaeva walked on crutches. She found the trip to Kazakhstan quite agonizing, especially when the guards ordered the convicts to lie down and get up during stops and when exiting the train in the steppes. Emaciated after his spell in prison, Sterligov would help Ermolaeva get up from the ground, scarcely able to lift the tall, stout, heavy woman.

After arriving in Dolinka in April, Ermolaeva was immediately assigned to work as an artist in the Karlag’s agitprop and cultural education unit. Ermolaeva worked a great deal, designed posters, and showed her work at exhibitions in the camp. Her pieces were even sent to a show in Moscow. In Dolinka, she lived among the exiles at 56 First Street. She was noted for her politeness, discipline, and ability to get things done. She attended political education classes, was generally enthusiastic about everything and interested in everything, and was involved in clubs, amateur art activities, and theatrical productions, which she staged along with Sterligov and fellow avant-gardist Pyotr Sokolov, productions in which other convicts performed. She worked overtime, earning the title of “shock worker,” which meant that more workdays were added to her record and, consequently, were supposed to lead to her early release.

The reasons why Ermolaeva was shot and the circumstances of her final days in the camp have been ascertained. On September 14, 1937, Ermolaeva was issued a release warrant, but on the evening of the same day she was indicted under Criminal Code Articles 58-10 and 58-11. She was interrogated, searched, and accused of associating with four counterrevolutionaries, members of anti-Soviet political parties who were convicts in the camp. She had, allegedly, allowed them to use her apartment for secret meetings and sent illegal letters to other sections of the Karlag. Ermolaeva made a huge mistake by pleading partly guilty to the charges, claiming she was merely acquainted with the convicts in question and had conversed with them only about literature, art, and their families. Although her partial conviction was sufficient, eyewitness testimony was also included in the case against her. Thus, on September 17, 1937, Ermolaeva was indicted along with eight other people.

On September 18, due to a bureaucratic mix-up, Ermolaeva was told her release papers were being drafted, and she would be sent under armed escort to Karabas, where her case file (No. 3744/37) was being processed. On September 20, Ermolaeva successfully applied for release from Dolinka and left for Karabas. The very same day, she was retried in absentia by a NKVD troika and sentenced to death. Meanwhile, her case file did not turn up in Karabas, and her name was not on the lists of convicts scheduled for release. Ermolaeva was held in a remand prison in Karabas until September 25, when she was sent back to Dolinka. Upon arrival, she submitted a written explanation of where she had been the past several days. The next day, September 26, 1937, she was shot.

Ermolaeva was exonerated posthumously, due to a lack of evidence, by the Karaganda Regional Prosecutor on November 21, 1989.

Ermolaeva’s life came to a tragic end during the height of the Great Terror of 1937–1938. During this period, Stalin’s totalitarian regime destroyed the pride of the Soviet people, mainly members of the intelligentsia—scholars, educators, artists, and cultural workers—sparing neither women nor children.

Excerpted from Aigul Omarova, “The Tragic Lives of the Artists in Karlag,” Bread & Roses: Four Generations of Kazakh Women Artists (Berlin: Momentum, 2018), pp. 34-43. Translated by Thomas H. Campbell. Photo of Vera Ermolaeva courtesy of MR7.ru

Facebook Is Not Your Friend

mr7-block

“This message violates our community standards on spam.” Screenshot of a message from Facebook informing Petersburg news website MR7.ru that the world’s mightiest social network was blocking the public’s access to the website’s articles on the city’s battle with the coronavirus—and the battle of Petersburg doctors and other healthcare workers with a corrupt, mendacious regime. Courtesy of Vit New and Galina Artemenko

Galina Artemenko
Facebook
May 27, 2020

Friends, please share this information as widely as possible and don’t rule out the possibility that my account and the accounts of my colleagues MR7.ru editor-in-chief Sergei Kvalchenko and MR7.ru journalist Anastasia Gavrielova may also be blocked in the near future, unfortunately.

What happened was that the Facebook page of our publication and all our texts were allegedly blocked “due to numerous complaints.”

The social network has blocked our articles about the coronavirus in Petersburg after receiving multiple complaints about “distributing spam.” There was no spam, however, only numerous articles about how Petersburg doctors do not have enough PPE, how doctors are not paid extra for working with Covid-19 patients, how hospitals have become overcrowded, and how health workers have been quitting or getting sick on the job.

Facebook has started blocking our posts containing texts about the fight against the coronavirus in Petersburg. The social network’s messages state that the posts “violate community rules” and have been blocked due to spam complaints. It is likely that the page was blocked after someone sent them numerous complaints about spam and offensive posts.

During the pandemic, MR7.ru has been constantly covering current hot-button issues in a timely manner. Now, however, Facebook has closed access to articles by Galina Artemenko and Anastasia Gavrielova. These correspondents have told readers about how doctors have been looking for PPE for their employees and face a shortage of specialists (“As in a shop, the head doctor looks for PPE for his people”), about how medical workers in Petersburg have not received promised bonuses or have been paid kopecks for risky work with coronavirus patients (“We were paid not for the risk, but for hours and minutes”), and about how doctors have been infected while saving people (“Covid brought Alexandra to Moscow”).

In addition, MR7.ru has been covering the situation in Lenexpo [a trade show center in Petersburg where a temporary coronavirus hospital has been set up], telling the stories of people who have been forced to go there, and in psychoneurological resident treatment facilities, which house thousands of patients with disabilities and which have also been compromised by the coronavirus. There are many examples of such publications, but they can no longer be read on [Facebook].

Editor-in-chief Sergei Kovalchenko has written to Facebook, refuting the allegations that MR7.ru has been spreading spam, but has not yet received a reply.

Translated by the Russian Reader

And Now We Have to Prove We Got Sick on the Job

pni-no 10Psychoneurological Resident Treatment Facility (PRTF) No. 10 in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of City Walls

And Now We Have to Prove We Got Sick on the Job
Galina Artemenko
MR7.ru (Moy Rayon)
May 18, 2020

The first case of COVID-19 at Psychoneurological Resident Treatment Facility (PRTF) No. 10 in Petersburg was at the very beginning of April. All efforts were made to hush up the story, but they failed. MR7.ru reported that the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection and three other relevant agencies had recommended that the regions remove the most severely disabled people from PRTFs. The ministry had also recommended that  social welfare facilities switch their employees to long live-in rotations while raising their salaries. Finally, the chief public health physician in the Petersburg office of Rospotrebnadzor had issued an order permitting volunteers to work at PRTFs.

The virus spreads most quickly in closed places such as hospitals, barracks, and residential treatment facilities. And we have heard the sad stories of infection at the nursing home in Vyazma, and the deaths of elderly people in nursing homes in Italy and Sweden. I hope that, after the pandemic, the conclusions will be clear. PRTFs are factories of misery, and facilities housing over a thousand patients should not exist.

On condition of anonymity, Nastya (her name has been changed), a young attendant at PTRF No. 10 told us about her experiences during this time. PTRF No. 10 houses more than a thousand people living with severe disabilities, who are cared for by approximately 400 staff members. According to official reports, more than 400 people at the facility have been infected, and two disabled girls who lived there have died.

At the beginning of April, we all got phone calls: they were asking people whether they were willing to volunteer for long rotations. We were told everyone would be under observation to make sure covid did not get into the residential treatment facility and to keep the patients from getting ill. But the director said there would be no long rotations, because there was no money, and we were supposed to get extra pay for that. But he was unable to pay bonuses to the staff. So we were not shut down and kept working as normal. As during an ordinary quarantine, access to the residents was closed to their parents. But we kept coming in for our shifts as usual—until April 8, when our residents started going off to hospital with pneumonia, while the first case of covid was confirmed on April 10. The same day, the tenth, people from the district office of Rospotrebnadzor came to the facility. There was a meeting, where we were told the decision had been made to shut us down. So we began working on long rotations. Right now, while I’m in hospital, only two wards [at the PRTF] are on watch. They’re under quarantine, while all the rest are clean.

So when they had called and assembled all us volunteers, all of us were locked up in the facility. Hermetically sealed.

We had been promised the ward would be divided into a red zone and a clean zone, but that had not been done. We made the zones ourselves. Well, what I mean is that we assigned the residents to one of two stations so, at least, they wouldn’t be going back and forth. We had two stations on the ward, connected by corridors.

Yes, we have one doctor on duty on the ward, but he or she is a psychiatrist, not an infectious disease specialist.

We did not have any PPE, only gloves, which have always been issued in the residential treatment facility, and the cotton-gauze bandages that we sewed ourselves. The first week was more or less okay. We worked. And then everyone began to get sick—both residents and staff. Everyone’s temperature started to rise. At first, everyone on the ward tried to treat themselves with Antigrippine. We had smears taken on April 13. There were still smears that came back negative, but on April 22, everyone’s smears came back positive, so I think that of the sixty people or so whose smears had come back negative [on April 13], they were false negatives, meaning that the entire facility was sick. Staff who had mild cases went home, while those with more severe cases went to hospital. And the residents also went to hospital.

I was also taken to hospital. When I got there, we were heavily fed malaria pills. I had almost no fever, but I had a cough and was gasping for breath. I have been in hospital since April 20.

The money? I don’t know whether they will pay us—they didn’t even pay all the wages they had promised. We didn’t sign anything about agreeing to work with covid. We took our management’s word for it. Now we have to prove that we worked with covid and got sick at work.

I know that [Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov] came to the facility, and he and the director agreed that not only the doctors would get paid, but also the nurses, and the attendants, and the cafeteria workers, because everyone had worked directly with covid.

The residents didn’t understand what was happening. And we didn’t understand at first either, we didn’t know what the condition was until we got sick ourselves.

No, I wasn’t scared, I just wanted to go home. Well, it was scary when the young male residents on the ward started having disorders, and the psychiatric hospital wouldn’t accept them because our facility was under quarantine.

Residents who were ill with covid were taken to regular hospitals without being given psychiatric medication. That’s rough. I ended up at the same hospital as an old woman from our facility. I saw how the hospital nurses could not cope with her—they simply could not put her diapers on. Until she was transferred to the psychosomatic ward, I took care of her. Ordinary nurses and attendants don’t have the skills to interact with such people. They don’t know how to dress them, how to feed them, how to give them medicine. I think it was very wrong on the part of the municipal health committee or whoever was involved in this, that such people were sent to ordinary hospitals. This is intolerable. They pissed and shat themselves, and they yelled, and some of them smashed everything up and behaved badly. The staff at ordinary hospitals do not encounter this [ordinarily]. And they were without psychiatric medication. Later, they learned how to tie them down.

What will happen next? As long as we all sit on our asses waiting for something to happen, there is no hope that everyone who was cheated will be paid properly. But we are afraid that if we start this commotion, it will bounce back on us quite hard. So far I have started alone, but one soldier does not make a battle. They will take it out on me and my family. I will be fired and fired with cause, and then I will not be able to get a job anywhere.

PRTF No. 10 in Petersburg had previously been closed for quarantine due to the coronavirus. A patient at the facility had recently returned from treatment for other ailments at another facility, where he contracted the coronavirus. Ivan Veryovkin, the head of PRTF No. 10, then suddenly removed his facility’s intensive care unit from infection surveillance and suggested that volunteers come in the morning and leave in the evening.

As MR7.ru has argued recently, the epidemic has shown that PRTFs are “factories of misery,” and it is time to shut them down.

Translated by the Russian Reader. In case you were wondering who, exactly, was housed in Psychoneurological Residential Treatment Facility No. 10 in Petersburg, the Russian version of Wikipedia has the depressing answer. (The only other language in which there is an article on the subject is French, but the French article merely explains what PRTFs are in Russia.)

By the end of the twentieth century, there were 442 official PRTFs in the Russian Federation, but by the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, their number was 505. According to data for 2019, there are about 650 PRTFS in the Russian Federation, housing 155,157 patients. Most of these patients (112,157) are officially incapacitated.

According to the data for 2003, more than half of all patients in PRTFS (68.9%) were people with reduced intelligence: people who had been diagnosed with mental retardation and various types of dementia. At the same time, intellectual disabilities in persons transferred from orphanages are often associated not so much with a real decrease in intellectual capabilities, as with pedagogical neglect [sic], lack of proper training and education, insufficient rehabilitation programs, and lack of rehabilitation centers for post-orphanage training.

According to information for 2013, during the year, about a thousand people were admitted to PRTFs in Moscow; in total, 10,500 patients lived in PRTFs in the city (of which 8,245 were men aged 18-58 years). About 5,000 were admitted to PRTFs from orphanages without undergoing psychiatric re-examination.