People of Our City

When you’re a real artist, you make art with whatever comes to hand. Legendary Petersburg artist Oleg Kotelnikov (a driving force behind the New Artists of Leningrad) is definitely the real thing. Here, the late Yuri “Compass” Krasev (of the necrorealists and Pop Mechanics) displays a shower curtain that Mr. Kotelnikov repurposed back in the good bad old days. Photo by the late Oleg Kuptsov, as posted on his Facebook page on 2 June 2015.


The equally legendary Petersburg rock music and grassroots politics journalist Sergey Chernov snapped these latter-day post-Soviet “socialist” icons and posted them on his Facebook page on 3 June 2013.


Sometimes a picture is worth more than a thousand words, as when a whole time and a place is captured in a single snapshot, as in this one taken in Petersburg by the fantastic photographer, anthropologist, photo archivist, and frequent TRR contributor Vadim F. Lurie, who posted it on his Facebook page on 3 June 2015.


On 3 June 2019, I posted this announcement from Last Address in Petersburg: “Next Thursday, June 6, at 12 p.m., a Last Address plaque will be installed at 12th Line, No. 9, on Vasilievsky Island in Petersburg, in memory of Konstantin Andreyevich Poplavsky, who served as a seaman on the battleship Marat and worked at the Bolshevik Factory. A father of two children, he was shot by order of an NKVD troika on 28 October 1938, a few days after his 28th birthday. His great-granddaughter will install the plaque for him.”

But by way of illustrating this announcement I used a snapshot I had taken in 2018 during an inventory of Last Address plaques in my neighborhood to check on their condition. (The inventory was a citywide affair performed by numerous volunteers.) The plaque pictured above memorializes Andrian Nikolayevich Paparigopulo, whose story is told on the Last Address Foundation’s website (and duplicated on the Open List project’s website):

Andrian Nikolayevich Paparigopulo was born in Narva in 1903 to a family of hereditary nobles. His father was a retired major general who died in 1915. Andrian Nikolayevich and his mother presumably moved to Petrograd in the early 1920s. His investigative file in the archives records that in 1922 they traveled to Estonia to sell a dacha located near Narva that belonged to his mother. After the sale, they went back to Petrograd without having their passports checked at the Soviet Consulate in Reval. This was regarded as an illegal border crossing, for which Andrian Nikolayevich was consequently sentenced to three months of forced labor.

After moving to the city on the Neva, Andrian enrolled at the Institute of Technology, but failed to finish his studies. On 23 March 1935, he was arrested, and later, along with his mother Vera Nikolayevna, he was exiled to Kuibyshev for five years as a “family member of a socially dangerous element.” However, a year later, the Special Council of the NKVD canceled the expulsion order, and the family returned to Leningrad.

Andrian got a job at the Krasnyi Rabochii [Red Worker] plant as a planning technician. The Great Terror did not spare him: on 23 May 1937, he was arrested for the third time. For nine months, NKVD officers cooked up a case against him that was based on two interrogations that took place in May and September 1937. During the May interrogation, Paparigopulo denies his involvement in counter-revolutionary and espionage work. The September 28th interrogation begins on the same note. But there soon appears in the interrogation record a reference to the testimony of Georgy Kirillovich Kolychev (whom Andrian Nikolayevich mentions as an artist friend in the 1935 case file): “There is a group of artists bonded by their common counter-revolutionary beliefs who organized their c-r gatherings at Paparigopulo’s apartment.” Later in the record, Andrian Nikolayevich admits his guilt: “I have to admit that Kolychev is telling the truth… Indeed, I have been an active member of the c-r fascist group and its leader since 1933.

According to the fabricated evidence, the group’s members included Viktor Konstantinovich Lavrovsky, Georgy Kirillovich Kolychev, Ivan Ivanovich Bogdanov, Mikhail Vasilyevich Ivanov, and Terenty Romanovich Romanov.

On 20 February 1938, a military collegium sentenced Paparigopulo to death in a closed court hearing for involvement in a “terrorist organization.” Andrian Nikolayevich did not admit his guilt at the trial, nor did he corroborate the testimony he had given, allegedly, during the preliminary investigation, calling it phony. He was shot on the day of his sentencing. He was thirty-four years old.

The list of items seized from Paparigopulo during the search of his home includes letters and photographs, as well as four tickets to the Hermitage. The confiscated correspondence was destroyed in its entirety on 13 March 1938, after Andrian Nikolayevich’s execution. His wife (whose name, like his mother’s, was Vera Nikolayevna) was sentenced to eight years in correctional labor camps as a “family member of a traitor to the Motherland.” She served her sentence in Karlag.

Andrian Paparigopulo was fully exonerated only twenty years later, in 1958.

Source: Last Address Foundation, “Malaya Moskovskaya Street, 4, St. Petersburg.” Translated by the Russian Reader. The pictures below were taken by Jenya Kulakova at the ceremony to install Andrian Paparigopulo’s Last Address plaque.

Russian Ways of Death

The grave of Mikhail Vasilyevich Sergeyev, the author’s grandfather

If you’re looking for something that binds the Russian people, it is, perhaps, the cult of the dead. I’m coming back now from the cemetery where my grandfather is buried. The number of bright plastic flowers, pots, baskets, and wreaths per square meter there is off the charts. As long as a person is alive, you can torment them, shout obscenities at them, and even get good and drunk and beat them up. But as soon as he or she is gone, a competition breaks out to make the most solemn graveside speeches and sumptuous graves. In a way, this is the underside of human life’s insecurity and lack of value. Death is a stable condition. As my grandfather’s widow told my father, “You can sit on the bench by a grave. The owners are unlikely to object.”

There is also a lot of ground for indulging in superstition. Should the cross on a gravestone be on the left or on the right? Can you visit a cemetery after two in the afternoon? Should a temporary cross be thrown in the trash or should it be burned? Can you drink vodka in remembrance of the dead and leave them sweets? These customs are mostly pagan, partly Soviet, and they are widespread. Nobody wants to die, and superstitions give us firm ground to stand on. They are like rules and magical charms.

And death is a serious business, of course. Less than ten minutes after I arrived, a cemetery employee drove up on a bicycle and offered his services.

Source: Alexei Sergeyev, Facebook, 21 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


In March, the Krasnoyarsk photographer Maria Minina got a phone call from an unknown woman. She did not give her name — she only said that she had suffered two strokes. Minina’s caller asked her to do a “Vogue-style photo shoot,” only the woman needed the pictures for her own tombstone. So Maria began providing a new service — photographing people for their gravestones. Takie Dela talked to the photographer and her clients about how they feel during such shoots and why they do them.

“I’m afraid that every day might be my last”
This past winter, Minina dreamed that she died. In her dream, she found out about her death from a work chat in which money was raised for her funeral. The dream made a huge impression on Maria, and she began thinking about what she would leave behind when she was gone. Just then she got a call from her first client who asked to take a picture of her for a future tombstone. She asked her to take the pictures in the Vogue style in which Minina works.

A “Vogue-style” photo by Maria Minina. Courtesy of Takie Dela

“I came to Masha’s photo shoot after having two strokes,” says Minina’s client Anna R., whose name we have changed at her request. “I wanted to memorialize myself as beautiful in life, I wanted to have glossy-style photos. I’m afraid that every day may be my last, so I’m doing everything to live to the fullest.”

Anna asked Minina to do a photo shoot of her for her gravestone. Firstly, she wanted to have a photo of her ready in case she died. Secondly, she decided to “train [her] psyche.”

“I thought that I would be sad, that I would feel my imminent departure, but Masha did not let me think about death for a second. During the photo shoot, I felt like a model and a woman being photographed on the red carpet. The feelings were quite strange, but I liked them.”

“They will bury me, and everything will be fine”
After Anna’s photo shoot, Minina told her subscribers on social media that she could do a similar shoot for anyone else.

“In fact, many relatives of people who have passed away ask this question: where can I find decent photos?” Maria explains. “About four months ago, my uncle’s sister passed away, and relatives could not find good photos of her, although she had lived for over sixty years. That is, there were no high-quality photos of just her.”

Maria wants to use the photo shoots to ease some of the burden experienced by the relatives of deceased people. Relatives who are preparing for a funeral will, at least, not have to look for a suitable picture, she hopes.

One of Maria’s clients is the well-known Krasnoyarsk blogger Rustam Umarov, whose Instagram account has 370,000 subscribers. He has stage four cancer, and the doctors told him that he had six months to live. That was six months ago. The diagnosis and prognoses shocked Rustam. When he got over the shock, he decided to take care of his own funeral to relieve his beloved wife of the hardship of having to organize it.

Rustam Umarov. Photo: Maria Minina. Courtesy of Takie Dela

“I have already made arrangements with a funeral service. So that if something happens to me, my wife doesn’t panic and go into hysterics. So that they call her and say, ‘Anna Igorevna, we will take care of everything. We don’t need anything from you — no money, no worries.’ They will bury me, and everything will be fine,” says Rustam.

Having set about organizing his future funeral, Umarov thought about a photo for his tombstone. He says that when he buried his mother three years ago, he could not find a single good picture of her. Because of his diagnosis, Rustam decided to do a photo shoot.

“I don’t want people to cry at my funeral. I want people to dance and smile at my funeral. I’m not going to the worms in hell, I’m going somewhere that is maybe a million times better, so why worry?” says Rustam. “Everyone has their own time on this earth. I have talked to my children and my wife. They know that I have a terminal illness, that I can die at any moment, and for them, at least, it will not be a shock. Even at the photo shoot, they knew that it was partly being done for my funeral, and partly for my family, for memory’s sake.”

“Each of our days is unique
Maria herself is certain “there is a calm acceptance of death” in the tombstone photo shoots. But, in her opinion, a person begins to work out their attitude to life’s finiteness even before meeting with the photographer, not during the shoot.

“I always try to make the shoot itself a celebration — no matter what we are getting photographed for. It is a mood-lifting therapy, a means of working out that each of our days is unique. No one in this world is immortal — the wheel of fortune can break, and life can turn abruptly in the other direction,” Minina notes.

According to her, such shoots provide psychological relief to people with incurable diseases. But among Minina’s clients there are also people who are not getting ready to die, but working through psychological problems, for example. This was why Elena D. signed up for a photo shoot with Maria. (Elena’s name has been changed at her request.)

“I asked Maria to do a Vogue magazine-style photo shoot of me for a tombstone,” says the client. “Before that, I had had a nervous breakdown. I decided to let it all hang out. I wouldn’t go to a spa or a club, but to a photo shoot with Masha! By pure chance I came across her advertisement and called her. To be honest, I don’t regret it at all.”

Maria believes that such photo shoots can interest different people for different reasons. According to her, some people really are preparing for death in advance or want to overcome psychological difficulties in this way, while others are trying to shock the people in their lives.

“Perhaps Insta divas will want to look on their tombstones the way they do now. They will want everything to be clear and beautiful. Or some will want to update their content and shock people. A blogger gets their picture taken and tells [subscribers] that it’s going to be on their tombstone, and their account goes viral,” the photographer says.

Maria is also using her new service to work through her own fear of death.

“Gradually, I began to accept that sooner or later we all find ourselves on the other side of life, but we don’t know when and how it will happen. Perhaps I will help people with the service I provide.”

“It can be important and thrillingly reconciling”
Psychotherapist Lisa Zaslavskaya deals with subject of dealing with death. The specialist notes that techniques involving photographs can actually be used in psychotherapy. These can be photos from a family archive, self-portraits or just pictures of clients taken by another person. Psychologists use such photos during therapy to treat various conditions. Zaslavskaya notes that taking pictures for a tombstone can be a therapeutic process. It can help people to realize that “death is near, that perhaps it will come soon,” and to live through it.

“It is one of the ways of abiding in the real world. And it can be useful for loved ones. After all, if this issue is talked through, if it is discussed that I am doing a photo shoot for a tombstone, it may be important for relationships — within the family, with loved ones. It can be another occasion to tell each other about your feelings and desires. It can be important and thrillingly reconciling,” the specialist argues.

When a person is photographed for their tombstone, they touch on the various fears evoked by death. Because of this, it can be difficult for others to accept the process.

“It is also important to take into account the modern context. The topic of death is taboo, and if in the past, theoretically, people saw other people dying and died at home, nowadays there are specialized institutions for this and people often die in hospitals, ambulances, or hospices. Even if a person dies at home, they are taken away. They are not left in the home after they die, as used to be the case. So, death scares us, of course. It is tabooed and concealed in everyday life,” the psychotherapist argues.

Zaslavskaya notes that there are different ways of coming to terms with death, and not all of them suit a particular person. In her opinion, the most important thing about the process is a sensitive attitude towards oneself and others.

“We need to somehow measure [how much a person is able to] withstand this confrontation with death,” she argues. “A photo shoot like this is suitable for some people, but not for others — everyone decides for themselves. There is no universal [way of making peace] with death. If it is matters for someone to be remembered in this way, in this style, it is their right.”

Source: Sabina Babayeva, “‘I don’t want people to cry at my funeral’: How Russians order glossy photo shoots for their tombstones,” Takie Dela, 17 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


The three Last Address plaques in the gateway to our house in Petersburg’s Central District

On Sunday, May 22, four new Last Address plaques will be installed in downtown Petersburg.

At 11 a.m., residents of Zagorodny Prospekt, 24, will install three plaques memorializing people who lived in their house and were shot during the Great Terror.

35-year-old Elizaveta Ivanovna Mullo, an ethnic Finn and at teacher at School No. 16 in Leningrad’s Volodarsky District of Leningrad, was arrested on September 5, 1937. She was shot on November 15, 1937, after being sentenced to death by a “twosome” [an NKVD officer and a prosecutor]. Her three-year-old Albert was left motherless.

Iosif Abramovich Dorner, a 45-year-old Jew, was head of the sales office at the Printing House. He was arrested on November 2, 1937, and shot on May 5, 1938. He was survived by his wife Sarra and four-year-old daughter Larisa.

Yakov Venediktovich Adamchik, a 55-year-old Pole and train conductor, was arrested on January 18, 1938, and shot on April 2, 1938. He was survived by his wife Feodosia and their four children — Olga, Mikhail, Lydia, and Nina.

All three victims were later officially exonerated for lack of evidence of a crime — Yakov Adamchik and Iosif Dorner, in 1957 and 1958, respectively; and Elizaveta Mullo, in 1989.

At 12 noon at Kuznechny Lane, 8, next to the plaque installed in 2016 for Nikolai Ivanovich Konyaev, a memorial plaque for his relative Boris Petrovich Matskevich will be installed. They lived in the same apartment and were arrested on the same day (March 11, 1935) as “socially dangerous elements.” A technician at an enterprise and a former Tsarist army colonel, Boris Petrovich was exiled to Kazakhstan for five years. In 1938, he was arrested in Atbasar and sentenced to death by firing squad. He was exonerated in both cases in 1959 and 1960, respectively. His granddaughter will be installing the plaque in his memory.

We invite you to join the installation ceremonies.

Source: Last Address in Petersburg email newsletter, 17 May 2022. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Historian Yuri Dmitriev Transferred to Maximum Security Penal Colony

Karelian historian and human rights activist Yuri Dmitriev, who was sentenced to fifteen years in prison in late 2021, has been transferred to a maximum security penal colony in Mordovia, Interfax reports, citing Dmitriev’s attorney Viktor Anufriev as its source.

The historian will serve his sentence in Correctional Colony No. 18 in the village of Potma. Dmitriev must spend another ten years in the colony [to serve out his sentence].

The first criminal case against Yuri Dmitriev was launched in 2016. The historian was accused of making child pornography involving an adopted daughter. He denied any wrongdoing. The court acquitted Dmitriev, but in 2018 new charges were filed against him. In addition to making pornography, he was accused of sexually abusing his daughter and illegally possessing a weapon.

Yuri Dmitriev
Photo: Peter Kovalev/TASS. Courtesy of Radio Svoboda

In the summer of 2020, a court in Petrozavodsk sentenced Dmitriev to three and a half years in a maximum security penal colony. In September of the same year, the Supreme Court of Karelia toughened Dmitriev’s sentence to thirteen years in a maximum security penal colony. In December of last year, the court increased Dmitriev’s sentence to fifteen years in a penal colony. The court found him guilty of producing child pornography, committing indecent acts, and illegally possessing a weapon. He had previously been acquitted on all three charges.

A historian and the head of the Karelian branch of Memorial, Dmitriev and his colleagues discovered, in the 1990s, the killing fields at Sandarmokh, where people were shot during the Great Terror. In total, about 150 grave pits were identified and marked, in which the remains of approximately four and a half thousand people could be located.

A journalistic investigation [by Proekt] alleged that the historian’s persecution was linked to Anatoly Seryshev, an aide to President Vladimir Putin, who previously headed the Karelian FSB, where he was charged, among other things, with purging the opposition from the region.

Source: Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda), 10 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

“One Person and God Are Already a Majority”: The Petersburg Teacher Fired for Reading Kharms and Vvedensky to High-Schoolers

“She had never read Vvedensky. It was so disgusting that I still feel physically sick.”Teacher Serafima Saprykina recounts how Kharms and Vvedensky were put on trial during an emergency meeting at a Petersburg high school • Venera Galeyeva • Fontanka.ru • February 6, 2022

The class in which tenth graders listened to poems written by “fascist accomplices” and “enemies of the people” was guest-taught by the young teacher-organizer, who had been invited by the social studies teacher. Everything started because the school’s “literary sector was lagging” and they had been having a hard time finding a library director.

Serafima Saprykina, whose Facebook post detailing the unusual approach of the 168th Gymnasium’s principal to the avant-garde OBERIU poets has gone viral, spoke to us about what exactly the director didn’t like about the work of [poets Daniil] Kharms and [Alexander] Vvedensky, why she decided to make the story public only now, and what she hopes will come about as a result.

Serafima Saprykina

Serafima, why did you decide to tell the story of your departure from Gymnasium No. 168 just now?

I watched the latest film from [journalist] Katerina Gordeyeva, about the children of people who were persecuted [under Stalin]: Mama Won’t Come Back: Women of the Gulag. I became terribly ashamed, I even started crying. I realized that I was doing the wrong thing. I had a chance to stand up for the repressed and I didn’t do it. I don’t hold a personal grudge against the person who fired me, otherwise I would have made the situation public right away. I just want evil to be called by name.

So why did you keep mum back in December?

I figured that I would go on working in the school, or maybe in a different one. And if I told the story no school would ever hire me. But after working in various schools for seven years I have seen all kinds of things and I understand that school, the system that schools are part of, is not going to change. When I was in school in Volgograd I was subjected to bullying. I was different, I read a lot and my classmates disliked me. I would never have thought that I would become a teacher myself but at a certain point I found my calling there.

How did you come to teach the OBERIU poets?

I wrote a dissertation about religious imagery in the work of the OBERIU poets for my master’s at the St. Petersburg State University philosophy department. I’ve been into this topic for a long time and wanted to tell the kids about it. But this wasn’t a one-off lecture, it was part of a series of lessons. The first one was about the [classical modernist] Silver Age poets, then the OBERIU poets, then a lesson about the stadium poets [of the late 1950s—Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Bella Akhmadulina, and others—trans.] and [Joseph] Brodsky, with contemporary literature at the end. Unfortunately, I only got to the second lesson. The series had been officially approved and accepted by my immediate supervisor, head teacher Tatyana Nikolayevna Golerbakh.

The lesson on the OBERIU poets came after the students’ regular classes?

No, I taught it in place of their social studies class—the teacher had invited me to take over that hour. This is standard procedure at the school, the librarian must ask the other teachers for permission to run a “library hour” during their classes. But I didn’t talk to the kids about the precise circumstances in which Kharms and Vvedensky died after their arrests in 1941, or about the arrests either. What’s the point in scaring the kids like that, anyway? I told them about the OBERIU group.

OBERIU (the Association of Real Art—Obedinenie realnogo iskusstva) was a group of writers and cultural figures that existed between 1927 and the early 1930s in Leningrad (now Petersburg).

When we got to Vvedensky, I gave the kids his poem “I regret that I’m not a beast” [Mne zhalko, chto ia ne zver’]. And that really sparked the whole situation that followed. All the people who participated in the emergency meeting called by the principal, including the director of the school museum, had been working with me for half a year and had nothing but praise for me. If the principal had said that I needed to quit because she didn’t approve of my work, I would have understood. But she said, “What a filthy title: he regrets, you know, that he’s not a beast.” She had never read Vvedensky. It was so disgusting that I still feel physically sick.

Actor Boris Dragilev reading Alexander Vvedensky’s poem “I regret that I’m not a beast” at the Anna Akhmatova Museum at Fountain House in Petersburg in 2013. Courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Your Facebook post went viral within three hours, it’s all over social networks and the media. What has changed in your life since then?

Absolutely everything in my world has changed. When I was writing the post, I thought that I’d get like five likes and three comments, with two of those claiming I was making it all up. I didn’t think that my post would elicit such a response and that people would start calling me a hero. What kind of hero am I? I haven’t even read all the messages and comments yet. But I am sure that the homeroom teacher for the tenth-grade class where I taught the Kharms/Vvedensky class will confirm that I didn’t tell the kids anything horrible during the lesson.

How long did you work at the 168th?

I was hired there in late August of 2021. The school was looking for a library director, and they saw my resume on a recruiting site and liked it. The principal called me and said that the school was very interested in me. At the interview she explained that their literary curriculum was lagging, and they really needed lessons on extracurricular reading, which I as library director could teach. When I came in to get registered for employment, it turned out that they couldn’t hire me as director without my having librarian experience or education, so they hired me as a teacher-organizer and tacked on 25% of the librarian salary.

Surely that is no grounds for firing someone?

Within this system it’s enough for there to be even a hint that they don’t want you around anymore. And whatever you do after that, however hard you try, you just have to leave. I’ve never had a serious conflict with anyone in my life, that’s just not who I am. This is just the systematic stigmatization of teachers with initiative. It’s happening everywhere.  

What exactly were your duties at the 168th?

What does the school library director do? There are two options. Either she just sits there and doesn’t let anyone into the library, and if a pupil comes and asks for a book, silently hands it over. Or she doesn’t [hand it over], if the book isn’t in the library. Or the director runs classes on extracurricular reading, reading competitions, talks about what’s going on in contemporary literature. For instance, I invited Kira Anatolyevna Groznaya, head editor of [youth journal] Aurora, and she talked to the kids about literary journals and how to publish in them. They really liked it.

And how much were you paid for this work?

Schools pay well, I never had any problems with how I was paid. But I won’t tell you exactly how much. Even if I never have work ever again, it won’t turn me into a person who thinks the wrong way. I really want to do research, to do graduate study. And more than anything I would like to work for Memorial (an organization declared to be an “NGO-foreign agent” by the Russian Justice Ministry and liquidated in December 2021 by order of the Russian Supreme Court—Fontanka.ru), to help keep alive the memory of repressed people. But Memorial is gone. I really love my country and don’t want to emigrate. Everyone is ruled by fear right now. You asked what I experienced in the three hours after publishing my post. It would be better to ask what I experienced during the month and a half since getting fired. And what I experienced was, probably, everything that a person in the 1930s experienced.

Why? No one’s being lined up for the firing squad and there’s no Gulag, right?

It seems like that, yeah. But meanwhile I’m being fired for reading poems by “enemies of the people.” And I’m afraid that no one will hire me again if I speak up. But what does it mean for me to speak up? My voice is the voice of one little person who wants to live her little life. I’m not a hero. I’m a coward who was brave enough to speak up one time. But the worst thing already happened — I got fired, because the principal thinks that Kharms and Vvedensky are “German accomplices” and “enemies of the people.” There is plenty of work out there, I’ll find something. And if I can’t, I’ll just live with my husband. But maybe with my silly little voice I can inspire others to speak up as well. And then we definitely won’t find ourselves back in 1937.  

Are you not afraid that the school will accuse you of making everything up? You don’t have a recording of that meeting, after all.

No, I’m not afraid. I know I’m telling the truth. One person and God are already a majority. Now I’m not afraid of anything. And you shouldn’t be either.

Translated by the Fabulous AM. Photo courtesy of Fontanka.ru via Serafima Saprykina

Last Address in Petersburg: Isaak Mechik

Isaak Mechik

A plaque memorializing Isaak Moiseyevich Mechik will be installed at 3 Dnepropetrovsk Street in St. Petersburg on Sunday, February 13, at 12 p.m. At the time of his arrest, 56-year-old Isaak Mechik worked as the manager of the workers’ dormitory of the Leningrad mirror factory, but during his life he had had many different occupations: he was involved in winemaking, had worked on the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway, had fought in the First World War, and had laid tram rails. He was arrested in October 1937. He was shot on charges of espionage and counter-revolutionary activities in January 1938.

Isaak Mechik was the grandfather of the writer Sergei Dovlatov, who devoted the first chapter of his book Ours: A Russian Family Album [1983; English translation, 1989] to him.

More than twenty years later, my father, after a long effort, had Grandpa’s name rehabilitated “for lack of corpus delicti.” For me the question is, just what was going on back then? For the sake of what, exactly, was that delightfully senseless and amusing life cut off?

We invite you to join the plaque installation ceremony. We ask you to maintain social distancing and wear a mask to avoid exposing yourself and others to the risk of coronavirus infection. Thank you, and be healthy!

Photo courtesy of Fontanka.ru via bessmertnybarak.ru. Source of text: Last Address in St. Petersburg email newsletter, February 6, 2022; translated by the Russian Reader. Source of Dovlatov quotation: Harper’s Magazine, May 1989, p. 26; translated by Anne Frydman.

“They were right to shoot people”

Natalia Vvedenskaya
Facebook
November 12, 2021

In the early 2000s, our computer broke down. There were few computer repairmen back then, and a passing acquaintance suggested her husband for the job. The young man came over and quickly fixed everything. Over tea it transpired that he worked at the FSB.

This was still amazing then, so we naively asked him how he could work in such a place, for the heirs of criminals and all that. And this twenty-five-year-old man literally said, “They were right to shoot people. They just should have done it more quietly.”

Now the whole country from top to bottom is run by people from the FSB. Of course, they want to ban Memorial. What need is there to remember if it was “right” to shoot people? What need is there to defend human rights if it is “right” to imprison people now?

The liquidation of Memorial is just the final whistle: the boat is leaving the dock. We’ll still put up a bit of a fight, of course. What else can we do?  But all the same.

___________

The acquaintance soon divorced the man because he had begun beating their child.

____________

The document, above, is from the family archive. Roman Troshchenko, a priest, worked as a physician’s assistant in an orphanage after serving time in the camps. He was shot, allegedly, for “spreading rumors among the children and the populace that the Soviet regime would fall and the fascists would come to power.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Russian Supreme Court Rejects Yuri Dmitriev’s Appeals Request

Screenshot of the Russian Supreme Court’s decision to reject Yuri Dmitriev’s request for a review of his verdict

Russian Supreme Court Refuses to Review Historian Yuri Dmitriev’s Verdict
Current Time
October 13, 2021

The Russian Supreme Court will not consider the cassation appeal of the head of Memorial’s Karelian branch, Yuri Dmitriev, who was sentenced to thirteen years in a high-security penal colony on charges of violent acts against a child. This was reported on the court’s website, and human rights activist Zoya Svetova also reported the denial of the request on Facebook.

“Request to transfer the case (cassation complaints, submissions) for consideration at a session of the cassation court has been denied,” the case card on the court’s website says.

This past summer, more than 150 cultural and academic figures sent an open letter to Russian Supreme Court chief justice Vyacheslav Lebedev asking the court to take Dmitriev’s case from the Petrozavodsk courts and render their own verdict.

Svetova reminded her readers that the criminal case against Dmitriev, who was accused of sexual crimes and distributing pornography, has been tried in the courts of Karelia for four and a half years. Twice the courts acquitted the historian, and twice the verdict was overturned.

“That is, [Russian Supreme Court] Judge Abramov read the file of a case in which the Karelian historian was actually acquitted twice, and then these sentences were overturned, but he decided not to review anything at all. That is, he didn’t allow the case to go to the cassation court, so as not to IMITATE justice. Because the outcome had been the same in the cassation court. This is another new low for justice,” Svetova commented on Facebook.

Historian Yuri Dmitriev, who was the first to investigate the mass graves from the Great Terror in Sandarmokh, was initially arrested five years ago, in 2016. He was charged with producing child pornography (punishable under Article 242.2 of the Criminal Code) and committing indecent acts (punishable under Article 135.1 of the Criminal Code) against his adopted daughter, a minor. The charges were occasioned by nude pictures of the child found at Dmitriev’s house, which, as he explained, he had taken so that the children’s welfare authorities could verify at any time that the child was healthy and not injured.

In 2018, he was acquitted of the charges of producing pornography and committing indecent acts, but was sentenced to two and a half years of supervised release for possession of a weapon (punishable under Article 222.1 of the Criminal Code): during a search of Dmitriev’s house, police had found part of the barrel from a hunting rifle.

Dmitriev’s adopted daughter was immediately removed from his custody after the first arrest, and since then she has been living with her grandmother.

In June 2018, Dmitriev was arrested again: a new criminal case was opened against him, this time into commission of violent acts, and the lower court’s initial acquittal in the case was also overturned. According to the new charges, Dmitriev had not only photographed the girl, but also touched her crotch. Dmitriev himself said that he was checking the dryness of the child’s underwear. (The girl had suffered from bedwetting.)

The new trial ended in July 2020 with an acquittal on the indecent acts and pornography charges. However, the Petrozavodsk City Court ruled that Dmitriev was guilty of committing violent acts and sentenced him to three and a half years in a high-security penal colony.

In September 2020, the Karelian Supreme Court, after considering the appeals of the defense and the prosecution against the verdict, increased Dmitriev’s sentence to thirteen years in a high-security penal colony.

On the day of the third cassation court hearing in the Dmitriev case, the investigative journalism website Proekt published an article in which it named a possible “high-ranking curator” overseeing the case. According to Proekt, it could be the Russian presidential aide Anatoly Seryshev, who was head of the FSB in Karelia from 2011 to 2016.

Очень серый кардинал

Translated by the Russian Reader

Last Address (Moscow): Natalia Totskaya

A photograph of the young Natalia Totskaya, taken at a photo studio in Irkutsk. On January 2, 1938, Totskaya was executed for “counterrevolutionary terrorist propaganda” and “espionage.” Courtesy of Oksana Matiyevskaya

Oksana Matiyevskaya
Facebook
August 28, 2021

Here’s what’s new.

I was just writing an announcement for tomorrow’s Last Address ceremony for a neighborhood group.

Suddenly, I realized that five years ago, when I started doing this, the charges of espionage and terrorist propaganda [made against many victims of the Great Terror] seemed to be the distant past, a clear marker of Stalin’s hysterical spy mania. It seemed, well, unreal, hard to believe. What must have it been like to live in such darkness, huh?

The years have gone by, but, people have asked, does it still seem unreal?

This is Natalia Totskaya, a graduate of an Institute for Noble Maidens. She was a teacher of foreign languages and translator. She corresponded with her sister, who had emigrated.

A plaque bearing her name and four dates — of her birth, arrest, execution and exoneration — will be installed and dedicated tomorrow, Sunday, 3:00 p.m, at 1/2 Solyanka Street, bldg. 1 [in Moscow].

Please come and join us!

Thanks to Marina Bobrik for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

David Frenkel: The Year 2020 in Pictures

David Frenkel
Facebook
December 30, 2020

I had a poor year shooting photographs: there were few events in [Petersburg], and I missed some important stories due to my arm being broken. But in the end, it seems that the photos still piled up.

January 19, 2020. Activists of the Vesna Movement say goodbye to the Russia Constitution near the Constitutional Court in Petersburg.

January 31, 2020. Authorities analyze the debris after the Sport and Concert Complex (SKK) in Petersburg collapses.

February 1, 2020. Police detain a man for a picketing against proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution on Senate Square in Petersburg.

February 9, 2020. A solo picket in Penza before the verdict in the Network Case was announced.

February 10, 2020. Defendants in the Network Case after the verdict was announced in the Penza Regional Court.

Continue reading “David Frenkel: The Year 2020 in Pictures”

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