Minus one:Yan Sidorov, a former political prisoner in the Rostov Case, has volunteered for the war.
Sidorov served four years in prison in the Rostov Case, in which the court decided that two posters and thirty leaflets were evidence of “attempted organization of mass disturbances.” The Memorial Human Rights Center recognized him as a political prisoner.
Yan was released from prison a year ago, and he had planned to work in human rights protection. There were no vacancies in human rights organizations, however, and so he had to get a job as a food delivery courier.
Yan socialized with many leftist and liberal activists, but he also maintained relations with the red-brown National Bolsheviks.
Apparently, the latter were nicer to him. Several mutual friends have informed me that Yan Sidorov has joined the ranks of Eduard Limonov’s Other Russia and gone to the front.
I still don’t get how the National Bolsheviks degenerated from a flamboyant opposition party into the vanguard of the Kremlin regime. The late Limonov was always an imperialist, however.
But how — how?! — former political prisoners become defenders of Putin’s dictatorship, no one seems to understand. As one of my cellmates used to say, “Everyone has gone off their fucking gourd!”
Well, before he starts shooting, it’s not too late for him to change his mind. Maybe he will shake himself free of this delusion after all.
Russian human rights activist Yan Sidorov is facing the prospect of three years under harsh probation conditions, when he is released next week from the penal colony where he has spent the last two years, Amnesty International said today.
Yan Sidorov is a prisoner of conscience, whose attempts to hold a peaceful protest in 2017 resulted in an imprisonment at a Dimitrovgrad penal colony after he had spent two years in pre-trial detention. He is set to be released on 3 November, but on 29 October Dimitrovgrad City Court will hear a request by the authorities to impose a severely restrictive probation period.
“Russian authorities are sending a clear signal to all young activists that participation in peaceful protests can come at huge personal cost. Yan Sidorov has already served four years in prison; he may now have to spend three more under strict police surveillance, forbidden to go out after 10 pm and banned from travelling outside the Krasnodar region,” said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.
“The Russian penitentiary authorities must immediately withdraw their request to impose additional arbitrary restrictions on Yan Sidorov and release him unconditionally. Yan Sidorov has done nothing but exercise his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and this outrageous campaign of punishment must end.”
Two weeks ahead of Yan Sidorov’s release from penal colony IK-10 in Dimitrovgrad (Central Russia), the penitentiary administration requested that the court impose a three-year probation period on him. Conditions include obligatory biweekly registration at the local police station and a curfew between 10 pm and 6 am; Sidorov would also be banned from leaving his native Krasnodar region, and banned from attending or participating in any mass events. The Dimitrovgrad City Court will hear this case on 29 October. On 15 October, the penal colony authorities accused Yan Sidorov of violation of the prison regime regulations – allegedly for not attending morning workout – and placed him in a punishment cell for seven days.
In October 2019, Yan Sidorov and his friend Vladislav Mordasov, who spent almost two years in pre-trial detention, were found guilty of “attempted organization of mass disturbances”, and each sentenced to more than six years imprisonment for organizing a peaceful protest in November 2017. The protest was in support of dozens of people in Rostov-on-Don (Southern Russia) who had lost their homes in mass fires. Their sentences were subsequently reduced to four years on cassation. Vladislav Mordasov serving his sentence in IK-9 penal colony in Shakhty (Rostov-on-Don region) is due to be released on 3 November as well.
Although I am certain that the Memorial Human Rights Center knows what Hamid Igamberdyev looks like, there is no photograph in his “case file” on their website. Igamberdyev might be one of the men captured in the photo, originally published in Kommersant, that I posted along with my translation of OVD Info‘s report on the original verdict in the case, in February 2019. ||| TRR
Man convicted in Moscow Hizb ut-Tahrir case receives additional sentence for talking to fellow inmates in jail Memorial Human Rights Center
October 4, 2021
On September 28, 2021, a panel of judges with the 2nd Western District Military Court issued a verdict in the case of the 36-year-old stateless person Hamid Igamberdyev, finding him guilty of “condoning terrorism” (punishable under Article 205.2.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code).
Igamberdyev was detained in Moscow in December 2016. In February 2019, he was found guilty under Article 205.5.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code of involvement in the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization banned in Russia, and sentenced to 16 years in prison. In 2020, a new criminal investigation was opened into Igamberdyev on suspicion of “condoning terrorism,” based on an interpretation of his conversations with cellmates in Moscow Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 2 (Butyrka) in 2017.
The court sentenced Igamberdyev to three years in prison. Taking into account his earlier sentence, he will serve a total of seventeen and a half years in a high-security penal colony.
On the day the verdict was announced, the defendant delivered a twenty-minute closing statement, the written text of which the court entered into the case file.
Below are some key points of this speech, revealing important elements of the practice of fabricating charges (so-called hyping) against people previously convicted under the Criminal Code’s anti-extremist provisions.
Memorial Human Rights Center has published reports on the previous hearings in the trial (part 1, part 2).
In his closing statement, Igamberdyev noted that the testimony of witnesses during the investigation and in court was confused and contradictory concerning both the events themselves and the circumstances of how their testimony was taken during the preliminary investigation.
Thus, witness L., contrary to the interrogation record, testified in court that he had spoken only about life and everyday matters with the defendant. Religion was not discussed, since “we have different faiths.” He had not read through the entire interrogation record, signing it on the advice of a lawyer, and could not remember how he had testified. Igamberdyev also noted that L.’s testimony during the preliminary investigation was not corroborated by video footage, recorded around the clock in the pre-trial detention center.
Witness K. also gave testimony in court that seriously differed from the official interrogation record. In particular, he spoke only about a single nighttime conversation with the defendant in which the topic of Hizb ut-Tahrir was discussed, but there is no evidence of such a conversation either in the case file or the video footage. Regarding his testimony during the preliminary investigation, K. made contradictory claims in court, saying a) that he had written his statement himself, b) that he had dictated it, and c) that he does not remember under what circumstances he gave the statement.
Witness B. stated in court that he had not given any evidence at all during the preliminary investigation, and that he had neither read nor signed the statement allegedly written by him personally. Despite his own negative attitude towards Hizb ut-Tahrir, B. testified that the defendant had never condoned terrorism in conversations with him.
Igamberdiyev argued that finding him guilty on the basis of such contradictory and confused eyewitness testimony violated the principle of presumption of innocence.
Igamberdyev also noted that the name “Hizb ut-Tahrir Al-Islami” is mentioned in the interrogation records, while the shorter wording “Hizb ut-Tahrir” is used in the organization’s printed materials and by the defendant himself. Igamberdyev argued that, despite what was written in the interrogation records, the witnesses could not have heard him use the first, longer, name, which appears only in official state documents.
Regarding the expert testimony, the defendant noted that the invited experts had admitted that there had been no attempts to recruit or call for terrorism in his statements, but there had been “condoning of terrorism,” consisting in his alleged denial of the terrorist nature of Hizb ut-Tahrir, of which he still considers himself a member. Igamberdiyev drew the court’s attention to his statements in the submitted video footage, such as “there is no terrorism in our actions,” and “my attitude towards terrorist organizations is negative.” In his opinion, the expert witnesses had incorrectly and subjectively assessed his words of support for the methods of the organization, which is banned in Russia.
Igamberdyev said that he “never condoned terrorism,” and in his conversations with cellmates he had only tried to explain his position while answering their questions.
He also noted the inconsistency of the state prosecutor’s claim of “recidivism,” since at the time when he allegedly committed the actions for which he was charged he was in jail as a suspect in the Hizb ut-Tahrir case.
Concluding his speech, Igamberdiyev asked the court to find him not guilty of publicly condoning terrorism.
After the verdict was read, the presiding judge asked a question.
“Defendant, do you understand the verdict?”
“I still didn’t understand why I was convicted,” Igamberdyev replied.
“You were convicted of committing a crime under Part 1 of Article 205.5 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation,” the presiding judge explained.
As long as charges of involvement in certain manifestations of terrorism (or extremism) are based not on specific evidence, as established in court, but on declaratory judgments, conclusions or statements not based on reliable and clear sources of information, such verbal exchanges will be an inevitability in the Russian legal space.
The success of Putin’s Russia has been determined by a correct-minded approach to solving problems of the development of Russia. Putin’s domestic, socio-economic and international policy ensured great support for him from the majority of Russian citizens. He was supported by the nation not only as a politician, but first of all as a national statesman, responsible for the country and its development.
—Ivan S. Kuznetsov, Elena V. Katyshevtseva (Nikulina), and James Douglas Stuber, Modern Russian History: A Textbook, trans. Liudmila I. Katyshevtseva (Gwangju: Chonnam National University Press, 2012), p. 188
Since the beginning of the year, the number of political prisoners in Russia has increased from 349 to 410. According to the Memorial Human Rights Center (included in the register of foreign agents), the vast majority of them were deprived of their liberty due to their religious affiliation. The list also includes people who were deprived of their liberty after participating in protests in support of Alexey Navalny in January of this year.
—Alina Pinchuk, “‘The growing repressiveness of the regime’: there are more political prisoners,” Radio Svoboda, August 17, 2021
Photo and translation of second quotation by the Russian Reader
Control, Censorship and Foreign Agents: How the Amendments to the Law “On Education” Will Affect All of Us
Ella Rossman Mel
December 24, 2020
On December 23, the State Duma passed in its first reading a bill that would amend the law “On Education.” After the bill is passed into law, “anti-Russian forces” will no longer be able to “freely conduct a wide range of propaganda activities among schoolchildren and university students.” Tatyana Glushkova, a lawyer at the Memorial Human Rights Center, joined us to figure out what is happening.
Regulation International Cooperation
On November 18, 2020, fifteen Russian MPs proposed amendments to the law “On Education” that would regulate international cooperation on the part of educational organizations, as well as all educational activities in Russia itself.
The law would regulate interactions between educational organizations (i.e. licensed organizations) and foreigners. If the law is adopted, schools and universities would, in fact, be banned from engaging in all types of international cooperation without the approval of federal authorities. In this case, any interaction by an educational organization with foreign organizations or individuals would fall under the definition of “international cooperation.”
“International cooperation is when a Russian educational organization develops and implements joint educational programs with an organization or individual, sends pupils, students and instructors abroad (and they receive scholarships there), accepts foreign students and instructors to study and work in Russian organizations, conducts joint scholarly research, organizes international conferences and participates in them, and simply exchanges educational or scholarly literature with an entity or individual. After the law is adopted, all these activities, except for the admission of foreign students, would be possible only with permission from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education or the Ministry of Education.”
—Tatyana Glushkova, lawyer
According to Glushkova, the procedure for issuing permits would be established by the government. “How would this affect international cooperation on the part of educational organizations? Obviously, negatively.”
“This is actually a revival of the idea that instructors should have to obtain permission to take part in international conferences, not to mention more meaningful interactions with foreign colleagues. Moreover, these permits would not even be issued by university administrations, but by a ministry.
“Given such conditions, universities and schools would engage in much less international cooperation. Obtaining any permission is a bureaucratic process that requires resources. It would be easier for some organizations to cancel international events than to get approval for them,” Glushkova says.
According to Glushkova, it is currently unclear what conditions would need to be met in order to obtain permissions. This would be established by new Russian government regulations, and so far we can only guess what they would look like.
Control of All “Educational Activities”
As the bill’s authors write in an explanatory note, the new bill must be adopted, since without it, “anti-Russian forces” can almost freely conduct a “wide range of propaganda activities” among schoolchildren and university students.
The Russian MPs argue that many such events are “aimed at discrediting Russian state policy,” as well as at revising attitudes toward history and “undermining the constitutional order.”
The amendments would affect both official educational organizations in Russia (schools and universities) and those engaged in “educational activities” outside of these institutions. At the same time, the proposed law defines the concept of “educational activities” as broadly as possible—in fact, it encompasses all activities in which new skills, knowledge, values or experiences are taught “outside the framework of educational programs.”
Anyone from tutors to bloggers could fall into this category.
The bill gives the authorities the right to regulate the entire sphere of educational activities. It not yet clear of how this would be organized: the details of what would be controlled and how it would be controlled are not spelled out in the bill.
Sergei Lukashevsky, director of the Sakharov Center, dubbed the amendments “revolutionary in the sad sense of the word,” as they would allow the government to declare the exchange of almost any type of information as “education” and therefore subject to regulation, that is, to what amounts to censorship.
Glushkova outlined the context in the new bill has emerged.
The bill was submitted to the State Duma at the same time as a whole package of other bills that, formally, would significantly limit the activities of different civil society organizations in Russia.
To put it simply, they would simply crush the remnants of Russian civil society that haven’t been killed off yet.
One of these bills would institute full government control over NGOs listed in the register of “foreign agents.” It would give the Ministry of Justice the right to suspend (in whole or in part) the activities of such organizations at any time. Another bill introduces the concept of “unregistered foreign-agent organizations,” and also expands the scope for designating individuals as “foreign agents.”
If an unregistered organization or individual is included in the register of foreign agents, they would be required to report to the Ministry of Justice, including their expenses. At the same time, all founders, members, managers and employees of foreign-agent organizations (whether registered or not) would be required to declare their status as “foreign agents” when making any public statement concerning the government.
For example, if a cleaning lady who works for an NGO wanted to write on her social network page that her apartment is poorly heated, she would have to indicate that she is affiliated with a “foreign agent.” Naturally, sanctions are provided for violations of all these regulations, and in some cases they include criminal liability.
In my opinion, these bills are not a reaction on the part of the authorities to any actual foreign or domestic political events. They are just another round of “tightening the screws” and attacking civil society.
The regime’s ultimate goal is the ability to do anything, however lawless, without suffering the consequences and without having to endure even critical feedback from society. This process has been going on since 2012 at least.
In order to achieve this goal, the regime seeks, first, to declare everything that has at least some connection with foreign countries (which, in its opinion, are the main source of criticism of events in our country) suspicious, unreliable and harmful. Second, it is trying to take maximum control of all public activities related to the dissemination of information and the expression of civic stances.
The amendments to the law “On Education” would affect not only all educators, but also people who probably have never considered themselves educators. For example, if I publish an article on the internet on what to do if you buy a defective product, I am engaged in “activities aimed at disseminating knowledge.”
If I do a master class on embroidery, that would be deemed “an activity aimed at disseminating skills.”
Both activities would fall under the definition of educational activities. In fact, any dissemination of information could be declared an “educational activity.” All educational activities, according to the bill, would now have to be implemented on the terms established by Russian federal government and under its control.
We still do not know what the rules will be. They could be quite mild, or they could be harsh. Don’t forget that an indulgent regime can be tightened at any time. You merely need to adopt a regulation—not a law, whose approval entails a complex procedure, but only a government decree.
Thanks to Valentina Koganzon for the heads-up. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader
Eduard Nizamov. Photo courtesy of Idel.Realii (RFE/RL)
Court Sentences Kazan Resident Eduard Nizamov to 23 Years in Maximum Security for Managing Hizb ut-Tahrir
Regina Gimalova Idel.Realii (Radio Svoboda)
February 10, 2020
Today, February 10, the Central Military District court in Yekaterinburg announced its verdict in the trial of Kazan resident Eduard Nizamov, accused of managing the Russian wing of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Nizamov was sentenced to 23 years in a maximum-security penal colony.
The Kazan resident was charged with financing terrorism (punishable under Article 205.1.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), organizing terrorist activity (Article 205.5.1), and attempting to seize power illegally (Article 278.30.1). Nizamov pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. He and his defense attorney, Rifat Yakhin, consider the case a frame-up.
During the trial, the defense revealed the real identity of a secret witness who testified to investigators. The defense argued that their testimony was used to implicate Nizamov.
“This witness, whose identity was hidden under a man’s name, allegedly donated money to finance Hizb ut-Tahrir’s activities. In fact, the witness is a woman whose child goes to the same school and studies in the same class as my client’s child,” Yakhin said.
“The financing of terrorism” in question was the payment of 200,000 rubles to Nizamov. According to Yakhin, the woman acting as a hidden witness gave his client this amount because Nizamov was building her a house. He argues that the authorities “got to” the woman, whose husband was then serving time for involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir. Investigators were unable to find this amount of money in Nizamov’s possession during the investigation.
The prosecutor asked the court to sentence Nizamov to 25 years in a penal colony and fine him 200,0000 rubles, to be paid to the state treasury. The defense asked the court to acquit Nizamov. The court sided with the prosecution, finding Nizamov guilty on all three counts and sentencing him to 23 years in a maximum-security penal colony and ordering him to pay the 200,000 rubles.
Nizamov was detained on October 10, 2018, at his home in Kazan. He was suspected of running the Russian wing of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir organization. In September of last year, the final version of the charges against Nizamov were made public. In addition to managing the organization, he was charged with financing terrorism and planning the violent seizure of power.
Two other residents of Kazan, Ildar Akhmetzyanov and Rais Gimadeyev, were also detained on the same day as Nizamov. They were identified by authorities as “leaders” of the banned organization in Tatarstan.
All of them have pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. The maximum punishment for the crimes they are alleged to have committed is life in prison.
After his arrest, Nizamov complained that officers at the remand prison had tortured him. He also said that his cellmates had been provoking him. According to our source, Nizamov was moved to another cell after his story went public.
In 2005, Nizamov was convicted of involvement in an extremist organization, as punishable under Article 282.2.2 of the Criminal Code, and sentenced to two years’ probation.
Hizb ut-Tahrir was designated a “terrorist organization” in Russia in 2003. According to human rights activists, the decision was groundless, since there was no evidence that members of the movement had ever planned or carried out terrorist attacks. The Memorial Human Rights Center has placed Nizamov on its list of Russian political prisoners.
Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
Malsag Uzhakhov, Chairman of the Council of Teips of the Ingush People, to Remain in Police Custody Until December 25 Yessentuki City Court Today Extended His Arrest for Three Months Memorial Human Rights Center September 24, 2019
In addition, he has been charged with establishing and/or managing an organization whose activities involved inducing people to refuse to perform their civic obligations or commit illegal acts, per Article 239.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.
If found guilty of the first charge, Uzhakov could face up to ten years in prison, while the maximum sentence for the second alleged offense is three years in prison.
Uzhakov’s custody extension hearing was supposed to take place yesterday, but his defense counsel had moved to have his client take part in the hearing via video link since he was unwell and his condition could have deteriorated if he were transported to Yessentuki from the remand prison in Vladikavkaz.
It transpired that the courtroom was not equipped for video links, so the hearing was postponed to today.
“The term in police custody was extended without any grounds whatsoever,” said Uzhakov’s defense counsel, Jabrail Kuriyev. “Police investigators presented the court with the same documents they presented during the initial custody hearing and the extension hearing on June 6, and they made an identical petition to the court. This runs counter to the recommendation made by the Russian Supreme Court on December 19, 2013, that fresh, updated evidence as to the necessity of keeping accused persons in police custody has to be presented every time an extension is requested. Contrary to this recommendation, no new evidence was presented to the court. The decision to extend Uzhakhov’s arrest was made on the basis of conjectures and assumptions that he would somehow prejudice someone if he were released from remand prison.”
“While he was being taken from the Vladikavkaz Remand Prison to Yessentuki, they had to try and lower his blood pressure twice. They stopped along the way and he was sick. Malgas’s health is poor. His blood pressure was also high during the hearing, even though he had taken a pill. When the court retired to chambers, his pressure was 180. We thought about giving him a shot to bring it down. His blood sugar is two or three times higher than it should be,” Kuriyev said.
At around six in the morning on April 19, 2019, armed security forces officers in masks detained Uzhakhov at his home in the village of Barsuki in Ingushetia’s Nazran District. They took Uzhakhov to Nalchik, where he was placed in a temporary detention center.
On April 20, the Nalchik City Court remanded him in custody for two months, until June 18. The same day, he was charged with violating Article 318 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.
On June 6, the Nalchik City Court extended Uzhakhov’s arrest for three months and seven days, until September 25.
Uzhakhov’s lawyer appealed both extensions, but his appeals were turned down.
On June 20, Uzhakov was charged with another offense per Article 239.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.
Before and after his arrest, Uzhakov was charged and convicted several times of administrative offenses for his involvement in “unauthorized” protest rallies. Kuriyev managed to have some of the fines for these convictions canceled.
On September 11, Kuriyev reported that Uzhakhov’s health had taken a turn for the worse. On September 13, he reported that his client had suffered two heart attacks in a week and needed medical treatment.
Memorial has recognized Uzhakhov and five other leaders of the Ingush protest movement as political prisoners.
Vladimir Balukh’s 100 Days: The Crimean Euromaidan Supporter Has Been on Hunger Strike in Remand Prison for Over Three Months
Anna Kozkina Mediazona
June 27, 2018
Vladimir Balukh. Photo by Anton Naumlyuk. Courtesy of RFE/RL
Today [July 1, 2018] is the [104th] day of a hunger strike by Vladimir Balukh, who awaits a verdict in his third criminal trial in Simferopol Remand Prison. In 2014, he refused to accept Russian citizenship, raising the Ukrainian flag over his house in solidarity with the Euromaidan protests. The first criminal case against Balukh was opened in 2015. It would be followed by two more case. In the article below, Mediazona catalogues the persecution the Crimean activist has endured and describes his hunger strike, during which he has lost at least thirty kilos.
On June 22, 2018, Balukh, who is imprisoned in Simferopol Remand Prison, said he was returning to the harsher form of hunger strike and would now only be drinking water. Balukh had been drinking fruit drink for some time.
Olga Dinze, Balukh’s defense attorney, said the cause was increased pressure from prison wardens. In court, Balukh had spoken of regular searches of his cell, including at night. According to him, prison wardens and guard have hinted it was time for him to “go down in the hole,” i.e., be sent to solitary confinement.
The following day, Ukrainian human rights ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova requested Pierre-Emmanuel Ducruet, head of the International Red Cross’s Simferopol office, visit Balukh at the remand prison and secure professional medical care for him.
The Flag, Heaven’s Hundred Heroes Street, and the Insulted FSB Agent
In late 2013, Crimean farmer Vladimir Balukh raised a Ukrainian flag over his house in the village of Serebryanka in solidarity with the Euromaidan demonstrators. The flag stayed there after the March 2014 referendum. Balukh did not recognize Crimea’s annexation by Russia and refused to apply for a Russian passport.
Police and Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agents first paid him a visit in the spring of 2015. Balukh was not home when they arrived. When he heard about the visit to his home by the security services, he stayed with friends for several days. The police and FSB searched Balukh’s house and also paid his mother a call.
The security services visited Balukh for the second time in November 2015. Claiming he was suspected of auto theft, they searched his house again. After the search, the farmer was charged with insulting a government official, a violation under Article 319 of the Russian Criminal Code. Allegedly, Balukh had used “foul, insulting language when addressing field agent Yevgeny Baranov, which the latter found unpleasant.” Balukh did not deny he could have sworn at the field agent, since FSB officers had punched him in the kidneys and stepped on his head after throwing him on the ground.
In February 2016, the Razdolnoye District Court found Balukh guilty, sentencing him to 320 hours of community service. Subsequently, the Crimean Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court for review, but in June the district court reaffirmed its original guilty verdict, again sentencing Balukh to 320 hours of community service.
The Ukrainian flag was torn down from the farmer’s house again and again, but he put it back up every time. On November 29, 2016, the third anniversary of the Euromaidan protests, Balukh hung a sign on his house, identifying the address as “Heaven’s Hundred Heroes Street, 18.” Two weeks later, police and FSB carried out yet another search of his house. This time, they allegedly found eighty-nine rounds of ammunition and several TNT blocks in the attic. After the search, the flag and the street sign were removed from Balukh’s house. Balukh was detained and later remanded to police custody.
Balukh was charged with illegal possession of weapons and explosives (Article 222 Part 1 and Article 222.1 Part 1 of the Russian Criminal Code). The farmer claimed his innocence and said his political stance was the reason for the criminal prosecution. He claimed the rounds of ammo and explosives were planted during the search. Police allegedly found them in the presence of a single official witness.
The Memorial Human Rights Center designated Balukh a political prisoner. It noted that he had received clear threats after hanging the street sign on his home memorializing the murdered Maidan protesters.
“It was after this that the chair of the village council and his deputies visited Balukh’s home and threatened that his independent behavior would have unpleasant consequences, including the ‘discovery’ in Balukh’s house of weapons or narcotics. He demanded Balukh take the sign down,” wrote Memorial.
Memorial argued that the prosecution had not proven the ammunition actually belonged to Balukh, since his fingerprints were not found on the items.
Vladimir Balukh’s House. Photo courtesy of hromadske.ua
“Go to Ukraine and Treat Your Back There”
On August 4, 2017, the Raznodolnoye District Court sentenced Balukh to three years and seven months in a medium security penal colony and a fine of ₽10,000 [approx. €136] for possession of the ammunition and TNT.
A week after Balukh was sentenced, he had a run-in with Valery Tkachenko, warden of the Razdolnoye Temporary Detention Facility. According to Balukh, Tkachenko punched him in the shoulder and tried to kick him as well. He also, allegedly, made insulting remarks about the ethnicity of Balukh and his parents. Balukh’s attorney filed a complaint with the police.
Two weeks later, the Investigative Committee opened a case against Balukh himself, claiming he had violated Article 318 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (violence against a state official). Subsequently, Balukh’s alleged actions were reclassified as a violation of Article 321 Part 2 (disrupting the operations of penitentiary facilities). According to police investigators, on the morning of August 11, 2017, Balukh had elbowed the warden in the stomach while his cell was being inspected. He then, allegedly, entered his cell and struck Tkachenko’s arm.
In November 2017, the district court commenced its review of the ammunition possession case, and in December Balukh was transferred from the remand prison to house arrest. After complaining of pain in his back and groin, Balukh was soon taken to hospital straight from the courtroom.
At the district hospital, medical staff merely measured his blood pressure and gave him a cardiogram. After listening to Balukh’s complaints, the local doctor said, “My back hurts, too. Should I not go to work or what?”
Balukh asked the court permission to travel to Simferopol or Feodosia for a medical examination, but his request was turned down. During his December 27 court hearing, the ambulance was called several times due to Balukh’s temperature, high blood pressure, and back pain. According to the news website Krym.Realii, the head physician of the local hospital’s emergency department, Nadezhda Drozdenko, told Balukh, “Go to Ukraine and treat your back there.” When the hearing went on for ten hours, Balukh lay down on the floor due to the severe pain.
Balukh was again sent to the remand prison. He has continued to complain of back pain, whose cause doctors have never been able to diagnose.
“He Has Adopted a Stance of Hopelessness”
After the Crimean Supreme Court upheld the verdict in the ammunition possession case, Balukh went on an indefinite hunger strike as of March 19, 2018. He gave up all food, only drinking water and tea, protesting what he regarded as the illegal verdict against him.
In late March, Balukh was assaulted in the remand prison and hospitalized in the infirmary, as reported by Aktivatika, who quoted defense attorney Olga Dinze.
“The hunger strike has been difficult for him. Besides, the prison wardens have engaged in constant provocations. They have brought him delicious food, enticing him to eat. It destabilizes him a bit, but he has hung and kept his word,” said the lawyer.
Vladimir Balukh on June 22, 2018. Photo by Zair Semedlyaev. Courtesy of crimeahrg.rog
In mid April, his social defender, Archbishop Kliment of Simferopol and Crimea, reported Balukh had been assaulted by guards.
A month later, Vladimir Chekrygin, an expert with the Crimean Human Rights Group, toldKrim.Realii Balukh was under pressure in the remand prison.
“We know the guards at the remand prison have periodically threatened Balukh for his actions. They have told him that sooner or latter he would be punished for his willfulness. They have been doing searches in his cell night and mornings. Searches are permitted, but at certain hours and under extraordinary circumstances. They are not letting him rest,” Chekrygin explained.
On May 18, Russian human rights ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova visited the Simferopol Remand Prison. She wrote to her Ukrainian colleague, Lyudmila Denisova, that Balukh had no complaints either about the conditions of his incarceration or cruel treatment.
In May, the Raznodolnoye District Court began hearing the third criminal case against Balukh, involving his run-in with the temporary detention facility warden. During the trial, even the prosecution’s witnesses, guards at the facility, testified Balukh did not assault the wardeb. During the investigation, the alleged victim refused to take part in a face-to-face confrontation with Balukh, who described his behavior in great detail to the judge.
“He would come to my cell and try to insult me, to humiliate me for being Ukrainian and thus, as he thought, for being a member of Right Sector. He would say us Ukrainians should be murdered as a species, and so on,” said Balukh.
On June 10, Balukh was again transferred from Razdolnoye to the Simferopol Remand Prison. There he was put in the “glass,” a narrow cell in which one can only stand or sit, for two hours, Crimean human rights defenders reported.
The following day, it transpired the remand prison wardens no longer believed Balukh was on hunger strike. The guards had learned Balukh was drinking not only water but also oatmeal kissel. Archbishop Kliment had persuaded Balukh to make the compromise a month after he started his hunger strike.
“Vladimir agreed. We know he began consuming only kissel. Sometimes, he has honey and bread crumbs at most. At some point, the prison wardens found out about the kissel and decided not to recognize his actions as a hunger strike. There are special rules when wardens decide a prisoner has gone on hunger strike. They have stopped following these rules when it comes to Balukh, since they believe he is no longer on hunger strike. But Vladimir has continued his protest. He has lost thirty kilos of weight. The doctor from the remand prison infirmary has stopped making regular checkups of Balukh, although he is obliged to do so when inmates go on hunger strike,” explained Olga Skripnik, head of the Crimean Human Rights Group.
Protesting constant inspections in the remand prison, Balukh returned on June 22, 2018, to the original form of his hunger strike. He has again been only drinking water. Olga Dinze explained the frequent searches of Balukh’s cell as a consequence of Balukh’s having filed a motion to be paroled for his first criminal conviction.
On June 25, Dinze told Mediazona her client’s condition had taken a turn for the worse.
“I think Balukh has suffered a pinched nerve. It is a quite serious case. He has been experiencing severe pain in his chest, neck, and shoulder blades. He feels unwell all the time,” Dinze said, adding the new symptoms were probably due to long-term back pain.
According to Dinze, Balukh was not receiving medical care.
“He refuses cares from the doctors in the remand prison. They cannot give him the medical care he needs, diagnose him, and prescribe him appropriate treatment. He has requested doctors from the Red Cross,” said Dinze.
The defense attorney added that, after Balukh stopped drinking oat kissel, he was transferred to a cell in the general population, but the conditions there were decent. He currently has no complaints against the wardens.
Earlier, Dinze told Krym.Realii Balukh had been hoping for a prisoner exchange.
“Vladimir is quite weary. He is emotionally exhausted. He has adopted a stance of hopelessness. He says no one will ever release him from prison. If they cannot keep him in prison on the current convictions, there will be new charges. So now he is finally talking. For the last few months we have been talking about how, if there is a prisoner exchange and everything goes well, he would really, really like to go to mainland Ukraine,” said Dinze.
The Ukrainian authorities have recently repeatedly stated their readiness to exchange Russian convicts for the sixty-four Ukrainian nationals imprisoned in Russian remand prisons and penal colonies, including Balukh and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who has been on hunger strike since mid May.
Closing arguments in Warden Tkachenko’s case against Balukh have been scheduled for July 2.
Thanks to Yegor Skovoroda for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
Jonathan Pryce and Terry McKeown in Brazil (1985). Courtesy of imdb.com
Authorized to Remain Silent Why We Know Nothing about the Outcome of Most Criminal Cases and Verdicts against People Who, According to the Russian Secret Services, Planned or Attempted to Carry Out Terrorist Attacks
Alexandra Taranova Novaya Gazeta
April 27, 2018
High-ranking officials from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian Interior Ministry (MVD), and the Russian National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK) regularly report on the effective measures against terrorism undertaken by their agencies. If we add reports of constant counter-terrorist operations in the North Caucasus, especially in Dagestan and Chechnya, operations involving shootouts and the storming of houses, we might get the impression the level of terrorism in Russia is close to critical, resembling the circumstances somewhere in Afghanistan, the only difference being that Afghanistan does not have the FSB, the MVD, and the NAK to protect it.
Over the past two weeks, there were at least two such stories in the news.
A few days ago, the FSB reported it had “impeded the criminal activity of supporters of the international terrorist organization Islamic State, who […] had begun planning high-profile terrorist attacks using firearms and improvised explosive devices.”
The FSB’s Public Relations Office specified the terrorist attacks were to be carried out in goverment buildings in Stavropol Territory.
Earlier, TASS, citing the FSB’s Public Relations Office, reported that, since the beginning of the 2018, six terrorist attacks had been prevented (including attacks in Ufa, Saratov, and Ingushetia), while three crimes of a terrorist nature had been committed (in Khabarovsk Territory, Dagestan, and Sakhalin Region), and this had been discussed at a meeting of the NAK. Other media outlets quoted FSB director Alexander Bortnikov, who claimed that last year the security services had prevented twenty-five terrorist attacks, but four attacks, alas, had gone ahead.
For the most part, however, it is impossible to verify these reports, because, with rare exceptions, the terrorists, either potential terrorists or those who, allegedly, carried out terrorist attacks, are identified by name. Neither the Russian Investigative Committee (SKR) nor the FSB informs Russians about subsequent investigations, about whether all the terrorists and their accomplices have been rounded up. Likewise, with rare exceptions, we know nothing either about court trials or verdicts handed down in those trials.
Novaya Gazeta monitored reports about prevented terrorist attacks from November 2015 to November 2017. We analyzed all the media publications on this score: the outcome of our analysis has been summarized in the table, below. The veil of secrecy makes it extremely hard to figure out what reports merely repeat each other, that is, what reports relate to one and the same events, and we have thus arrived at an overall figure for the number of such reports. Subsequently, by using media reports and court sentencing databases, we have counted the number of cases that officially resulted in court sentences.
Most news reports about prevented terrorist attacks in Russia are not followed up. For example, at one point it was reported (see below) that five people with ties to Islamic State had been apprehended in Moscow and Ingushetia for planning terrorist attacks, and this same news report mentioned that a criminal case had been launched. But only the surname of the alleged band’s leader was identified, and he was supposedly killed while he was apprehended. There is no more information about the case. Over a year later, we have no idea how the investigation ended, whether the case went to trial, and whether the trial resulted in convictions and verdicts.
Other trends also emerged.
During the two-year period we monitored, reports about prevented terrorist attacks and apprehended terrorists encompassed a particular group of Russian regions: Moscow, Crimea, Petersburg, Kazan, Rostov, Baskortostan, Volgograd, Yekaterinburg, and Krasnoyarsk. When we turn to verdicts handed down in such cases, this list narrows even further. Rostov leads the country, followed by Crimea. There are two reports each from Krasnoyarsk and Kazan, and several isolated incidents. The largest number of news reports about terrorist attacks and acts of sabotage, i.e., 30% of all the reports we compiled and analyzed, originated in Crimea.
Russian Security Council (Sovbez)
Number of reports of prevented terrorists, November 2015–November 2017
3,505 reports (18,560 identical reports in the media)
(3,571 identical reports in the media)
(852 identical reports in the media)
(1,122 identical reports in the media)
Outcomes: arrests, criminal charges, verdicts, etc.
2 incidents: in one case, it was reported that all the detainees had been killed; in the other, that the detainees awaited trial, but were not identified by name.
It is impossible to find out what happened to any detainees, since no information was provided about them. The exception is Lenur Islyamov, who is currently at large and vigorously pursuing his objectives.
The Triumps of the Special Services with No Follow-Up
Here are the most revealing examples.
On November 12, 2016,RBC reported the security services had apprehended a group of ten terrorists, migrants from Central Asia. According to the FSB, they planned “high-profile terrorist attacks” in heavily congested areas of Moscow and Petersburg. Officials confiscated four homemade bombs, firearms, ammunition, and communications devices from the militants. The FSB claimed all the detainees had confessed to their crimes.
In the same news report, the FSB was quoted as having reported that on October 23, 2016 “there occurred an attack on police officers, during which two alleged terrorists were shot dead” in Nizhny Novgorod. The report stressed that, three days later, the banned group ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, just as it had taken responsibility for an attack on a traffic police post in Moscow Region on August 18, 2016.
There were no names and no details. The outcomes of the investigations, the plight of the detainees, and judicial rulings were never made public, nor did state investigators or defense counsel share any information.
This same RBC article mentions that, four days before the alleged incident in Nizhny Novgorod, the SKR had reported the apprehension of an ISIL supporter who had been planning a terrorist attack at a factory in Kazan, while Interfax‘s sources reported the apprehension of a man who had been planning a terrorist attack in Samara. It was also reported that in early May 2016 the FSB had reported the apprehension of Russian nationals in Krasnoyarsk who were “linked to international terrorist organizations and had planned a terrorist attack during the May holidays.”
No names were mentioned at the time. Later, however, details of the case were made public.
Thus, on April 7, 2017, Tatar Inform News Agency reported that the Volga District Military Court in Kazan had handed down a verdict in the case of Robert Sakhiyev. He was found guilty of attempting to establish a terrorist cell in Kazan. The first report that a terrorist attack had been planned at an aviation plant in Kazan was supplied by Artyom Khokhorin, Interior Minister of Tatarstan, during a meeting of MVD heads. According to police investigators, Sakhiyev had been in close contact with a certain Sukhrob Baltabayev, who was allegedly on the international wanted list for involvement in an illegal armed group. Using a smartphone, Sakhiyev had supposedly studied the plant’s layout via a satellite image.
On August 2, 2017, RIA Novosti reported that a visting collegium of judges from the Far East District Military Court in Krasnoyarsk had sentenced Zh.Zh. Mirzayev, M.M. Abdullayev, and Zh.A. Abdusamatov for planning a terrorist attack in Krasnoyarsk in May 2016 during Victory Day celebrations. Mirzayev was sentenced to 18 years in prison; Abdullayev, to 11 years in prison; and Abdusamatov, to 11 years in a maximum security penal colony. According to investigators, Mirzayev worked as a shuttle bus driver in Krasnoyarsk and maintained contact with Islamic State via the internet. Mirzayev decided to carry out a terrorist attack by blowing up a shuttle bus.
On January 26, 2017, TASS reported the police and FSB had identified a group of eight people planning terrorist attacks in Moscow in the run-up to State Duma elections. Oleg Baranov, chief of the Moscow police, had reported on the incident at an expanded collegium of the MVD’s Main Moscow Directorate.
We know nothing more about what happened to the “identified” would-be terrorists.
On January 31, 2017, RBC issued a bulletin that the Russian secret services had prevented an attempt to carry out terrorist attacks in Moscow during the 2016 Ice Hockey World Championships.The source of the news was Igor Kulyagin, deputy head of staff at the NAK. The militants were allegedly detained on May 2.
“We succeed in catching them as a result of a vigorous investigative and search operation in the city of Moscow,” the FSB added.
The names of the militants were not reported nor was there any news about an investigation and trial.
In the same news item, Mr. Kulyagin is quoted as saying, “In total, Russian special services prevented around [sic] 40 terrorist attacks, liquidated [sic] about [sic] 140 militants and 24 underground leaders, and apprehended about [sic] 900 people in 2016.”
According to Mr. Kulyagin, in Ingushetia on November 14, 2016, the authorities uncovered five militants who “had been planning terrorist attacks in crowded places during the New Year’s holidays, including near the French Embassy in Moscow.”
Again, the reading public was not provided with any names or information about the progress of the investigation. The only alleged terrorist who was identified was Rustam Aselderov, who had been murdered.
“According to the special services, [Aselderov] was involved in terrorist attacks in Volgograd in 2013 and Makhachkala in 2011.”
We have no idea whether an official investigation of his murder was ever carried out.
Lenta.Ru reported on February 1, 2017, that FSB officers in Krasnodar Territory had prevented a terrorist attack.The supposed terrorists had planned an explosion at New Year’s celebrations. A possible perpetrator of the terrorist attack, a 38-year-old native of a Northern Caucasus republic, was apprehended. No other particulars of the incident were reported, and they still have not been made public to this day.
On October 2, 2017, Russia Today, citing the FSB, reported an IS cell had been apprehended in Moscow Region. Its members has allegedly planned to carry out “high-profile terrorist attacks” in crowded places, including public transport. The FSB added that foreign emissaries had led the cell, whose members had included Russian nationals.
No names or details were subsequently provided to the public.
The same article reported that, on August 31, 2017, the FSB had apprehended two migrants from Central Asia, who had been planning terrorist attacks in congested places in Moscow and Moscow Region on September 1. RIA Novosti reported the same “news” in August 2017. The detainees were, allegedly, members of IS.
According to the FSB, one of the men had “planned to attack people with knives.” His comrade had planned to become a suicide bomber and blow himself up in a crowd. Supposedly, he had made a confession.
We know nothing about what happened to the two men and the criminal case against them.
On November 7, 2017,Izvestia reported MVD head Vladimir Kolokoltsev’s claim that a Kyrgyzstani national had been apprehended in the Moscow Region town of Khimki. The man had, allegedly, been planning to carry out a terrorist attack outside a subway station using a KamAZ truck. The detained man was not identified. We know nothing about what has happened to him or whether the investigation of the case has been completed.
Trials of Terrorists
On July 19, 2016, RIA Novosti reported the Russian Supreme Court had reduced the sentence (from 16 years to 15.5 years) of one of two radical Islamists convicted of plotting a terrorist attack in the mosque in the town ofPyt-Yakhin theKhanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug.
“The panel of judges has decided the verdict of the court, which sentenced Rizvan Agashirinov and Abdul Magomedaliyev to prison terms of 16 and 20 years, respectively, should be mitigated in the case of Agashirinov, and left in force in the case Magomedaliyev.”
On August 31, 2016,TASS reported the North Caucasus District Military Court had sentenced Russian national Rashid Yevloyev, a militant with the so-called Caucasus Emirate, to six years in a penal colony for planning terrorist attacks.
On February 15, 2017, Moskovsky Komsomolets reported the Moscow District Military Court had sentenced Aslan Baysultanov, Mokhmad Mezhidov, and Elman Ashayev. According to investigators, after returning in 2015 from Syria, where they had fought on the side of ISIL, Baysultanov and his accomplices had manufactured a homemade explosive device in order to carry out a terrorist attack on public transport in Moscow.
Baysultanov was sentenced to 14 years in prison; Ashayev, to 12 years, and Mezhidov, to 3 years.
On May 10, 2017,Interfax reported the North Caucasus District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don had sentenced ISIL recruiters who had been apprehended in Volgograd Region. The alleged ringleader, Raman Radzhabov, was sentenced to 4 years in prison after being found guilty of recruiting residents of Volgograd Region. His accomplices—Azamat Kurkumgaliyev, Gayrat Abdurasulov, Nurken Akhetov, and Idris Umarov—were found guilty of aiding and abetting Radzhabov, and given sentences of of 2 to 2.5 years in prison.
On May 30, 2017, RIA Novosti reported the ringleader of a failed terrorist attack in Kabardino-Balkaria, Adam Berezgov, had been sentenced to 7 years in prison. The defendant was found guilty of “planning a terrorist attack, illegally acquiring and carrying explosive substances or devices, and illegally manufacturing an explosive device.”
On July 27, 2017, TV Rain reported the Russian Supreme Court had increased by three years the sentence handed down to Ruslan Zeytullayev, who had been convicted and sentenced to 12 years for organizing in Crimea a cell of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group banned in Russia. Zeytullayev’s sentence is now 15 years in prison.
On July 31, 2017, RIA Novosti reported the North Caucasus District Military Court had sentenced Ukrainian national Alexei Sizonovich to 12 years in a penal colony for involvement in planning a terrorist attack that was to have taken place in September 2016. The court ruled the 61-year-old defendant and an “unidentifed person” had, allegedly, established a group in Kyiv “for the commission of bombings and terrorist attacks in Ukraine and the Russian Federation.” It was reported the defendant “repented.”
On August 11, 2017, Lenta.Ru reported the North Caucasus District Military Court had sentenced 19-year-old Ukrainian national Artur Panov to 8 years in a medium-security penal colony for terrorism. Panov was found guilty of facilitating terrorism, planning a terrorist attack, and illegally manufacturing explosive substances. His accomplice, Maxim Smyshlayev, was sentenced to 10 years in a maximum-security penal colony.
At the trial, Panov pled guilty to calling for terrorism, and manufacturing and possessing explosives, but pled innocent to inducement to terrorism. Smyshlayev pled innocent to all charges.
On September 18, 2017, RIA Novosti reported a court in Rostov-on-Don had convicted defendants Tatyana Karpenko and Natalya Grishina, who were found guilty of planning a terrorist attack in a shopping mall. Karpenko was sentenced to 14.5 years in prison, while Grishina was sentenced to 9 years.
“The investigation and the court established Karpenko and Grishina were supporters of radical Islamist movements. […] From October 2015 to January 2016, the defendants planned to commit a terrorist attack in the guise of a religious suicide,” the Investigative Directorate of the SKR reported.
On April 17, 2017, Memorial Human Rights Center issued a press release stating the case of the planned terrorist attack in the Moscow movie theater Kirghizia had been a frame-up. The human rights activists declared the 15 people convicted in the case political prisoners. It was a high-profile case. Novaya Gazeta wrote at the time that the MVD and FSB had insisted on pursuing terrorism charges, while the SKR had avoided charging the suspects with planning a terrorist attacking, accusing them only of possession of weapons in a multi-room apartment inhabited by several people who barely knew each other. It was then the case was taken away from the SKR.
Whatever the explanation for the trends we have identified, it is vital to note that Russian society is exceedingly poorly informed about the progress of the war on terrorism conducted by Russia’s special services, despite the huge number of reports about planned terrorist attacks. Due to the fact the names of the accused are hidden for some reason, and the court sentences that have been handed down are not made public in due form (even on specially designated official websites), it is impossible to evaluate the scale of the threat and the effectiveness of the special services, and to separate actual criminal cases from those that never went to court because the charges were trumped-up. Meanwhile, using media reports on prevented terrorist attacks for propaganda purposes contributes to an increase in aggressiveness and anxiety among the populace, who has no way of knowing whether all the apprehended terrorists have been punished, and whether this punishment was deserved.
Thanks to George Losev for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
Rewriting Sandarmokh Who Is Trying to Alter the History of Mass Executions and Burials in Karelia, and Why
Anna Yarovaya 7X7
December 13, 2017
The memorial cemetery with the mystical name Sandarmokh. The word has no clear meaning or translation: there are only hypotheses about its origin. But Sandarmokh definitely evokes associations with executions, suffering, and history. Many people are horrified by the place due to what happened there eighty years ago. The site of mass executions of political prisoners, a place where over seven thousand murdered people are buried in 236 mass graves, Sandarmokh is the final resting place of those whose odyssey through the concentration camps in 1937 and 1938 ended with a bullet in the back of the head.
Since 1997, when the cemetery was discovered, Sandarmokh has come to be a nearly sacred site for descendants of the victims, local residents, historians, and social activists. Since then, Sandarmokh has hosted an annual Remembrance Day for Victims of the Great Terror of 1937–1938, an event attended by delegations from various parts of Russia and other countries.
Nearly twenty years later, historians in Petrozavodsk have claimed that, aside from the executions of the 1930s, Soviet POWs could also have been killed and buried there during the Second World War. The hypothesis has provoked much discussion in the academic community, and attracted the attention of the Russian and Finnish media. People who deal with the subject professionally—historians, activists, and scouts who search for bodies of missing servicemen and war relics—are at a loss. What new documents have come to light? Where can they see the declassified papers? The people behind the sensation have been in no hurry to publish documents, thus heating up the circumstances surrounding Sandarmokh.
What are the grounds for the hypothesis that Soviet POWs were shot at Sandarmokh? Who has been pushing the conjectures and why? This is the subject of Anna Yarovaya’s special investigative report for 7х7.
Yuri Dmitriev: A Year in Pretrial Detention
There were only three court bailiffs last time. Sometimes, there have been five, sometimes, as many as ten. The number is always at the discretion of Judge Maria Nosova. The number of bailiff she orders is the number that are dispatched to the courtroom. Even when there are three bailiffs, Yuri Dmitriev, the short, thin leader of Memorial’s Karelian branch, now shaven nearly bald, is barely visible behind their broad shoulders. So, the best place to observe the procession is the little balcony on the third-floor staircase at Petrozavodsk City Courthouse. Knowing that people are waiting for him at the top, Dmitriev climbs the stairs with his head thrown back. He looks for his daughter Katerina, almost always picking her out of the crowd. Of course, she does not always appear on the staircase, because there are always lots of people who want to chat with her, inquire about her father’s health, and find out the latest news from the pretrial detention center, while there are only two people allowed to meet with Dmitriev: Katerina and his defense counsel Viktor Anufriyev. The latter is too businesslike to approach with questions about his client’s personal life.
A group of supporters has lined the walls of the corridor outside the courtroom. Last time, the support group was especially large. It included young students from the Moscow International Film School, old friends of Dmitriev’s and colleagues from Memorial, most of them out-of-towners, ordinary sympathizers (including such extraordinary people as famous Russian novelist Ludmila Ulitskaya), local, national, and foreign reporters, and Petrozavodsk activists.
The support group outside the courtroom is always impressive. Photo courtesy of 7X7
“Four men in the cell. Normal treatment. Yes, he has a TV set. But TV is making Dad dumb. Russia 24 and the like are constantly turned on, and there is nowhere to hide from it,” Katerina relates to someone after the applause from the support group fades.
The trial is being held in camera: no one is admitted into the courtroom. Last time, the judge did not allow a staffer from the office of the human rights ombudsman into the courtroom, although a letter had been sent in advance requesting she be admitted. But people come to the hearings anyway, and they travel from other cities. They come to see Dmitriev twice (when he is led into the courtroom and when he is led out), chat with Katerina, and make trips to the two memorials to victims of the Great Terror that Dmtriev was involved in opening, Krasny Bor and Sandarmokh. Many people are certain that Dmitriev has been jailed because of Sandarmokh.
Bykivnia, Katyn, Kurapaty. Next Station: Sandarmokh
Many people see Dmitriev’s arrest and subsequent trial not as an outcome, but as the latest phase in a war not only against him but also against “foreign agents” in general and Memorial in particular. Until recently, the laws have been made harsher, the Justice Ministry has been pursuing “foreign agents” vigorously, and state media have been attacking “undesirables.” More serious means have now come into play. The “justice machine” has been set in motion in the broadest sense, including investigative bodies and the courts.
A year before Dmitriev’s arrest
The Memorial Research and Information Center in St. Petersburg was designated a “foreign agent.” In 2013, the status of “foreign agent” had been awarded to another Memorial affiliate, the Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow. The International Memorial Society was placed on the “foreign agents” lists in October 2016, two months before Dmitriev’s arrest.
Six months before Dmitriev’s arrest
In early July 2016, the Finnish newspaper Kaleva published an article by a Petrozavodsk-based historian, Yuri Kilin, entitled “Iso osa sotavangeista kuoli jatkosodan leireillä” (“Most POWs Died in Camps during the Continuation War”).* The article is a compilation of findings by Finnish researchers, spiced up with the Kilin’s claims that Finnish historians, poorly informed about certain aspects of military history, had no clue Sandarmokh could have been the burial site of Soviet POWs who were held in Finnish camps in the Medvezhyegorsk area.
There is not even a casual mention of Memorial in Kilin’s article. However, the article “Memorial’s Findings on Repressions in Karelia Could Be Revised,” published two weeks later on the website of Russian national newspaper Izvestia, featured the organization’s name in its headline. And an article on the website of the TV channel Zvezda, hamfistedly entitled “The Second Truth about the Sandarmokh Concentration Camp: How the Finns Tortured Thousands of Our Soldiers,” not only summarized Kilin’s article but also identified the supposed number of victims of Finnish POW camps, allegedly buried at Sandarmokh: “thousands.” The article also featured images of scanned declassified documents, “provided to the channel by the Russian FSB,” documents meant to confirm Kilin’s hypothesis. They did not confirm it, in fact, but we will discuss this, below.
Somewhere in the middle of the Zvezda article, the author mentions in passing, as it were, that since Kilin’s article had been published in a Finnish newspaper “before the archives were declassified,” the “long arm of state security is irrelevant in this case.” Indeed, what could state security have to do with it? Professor Kilin merely voiced a conjecture, and supporting classified documents were then found in the FSB’s archives and immediately declassified. It could only be a coincidence. True, at some point, Sergei Verigin, director of the Institute for History, Political Science, and the Social Sciences, and Kilin’s colleague at Petrozavodsk State University, tried to explain to journalists that Kilin had been working in the FSB archives at the same time as Verigin himself (“independently from each other”). It was there Kilin found the relevant documents and studied them thoroughly. So, the story that Kilin had anticipated the FSB’s discovery holds no water. Why the FSB had handed over documents, documents confirming nothing, to Zvezda remains a mystery. Maybe so no one would get any funny ideas about the “long arm of state security.”
Another mystery is why Verigin decided to distract the attention of journalists and readers from the topic of alleged Finnish war crimes and focus it on Memorial.
“Memorial was not interested in the possibility that Soviet POWs could be in the shooting pits [at Sandarmokh],” the historian told Izvestia‘s reporter.
Five months before Dmitriev’s arrest
A month after Kilin’s article was published in Kaleva, on August 5, 2016, the annual events commemorating the victims of the Great Terror took place at Sandarmokh. For the first time in the nineteen years since the memorial had been unveiled, the authorities did not participated in the memorial ceremony: neither the Karelian government nor the Medvezhyegorsk District council sent anyone to the event. Some officials later admitted they had been issued an order from their superiors not to take part in Memorial’s events at Sandarmokh.
In September 2016, Sergei Verigin spoke at a conference in Vyborg, at which he first presented his theory about the mass burials at Sandarmokh. The conference proceedings were published in a collection that included an article by Verigin. The article cites documents from the FSB Central Archives, the same documents that had been scanned and published on Zvezda’s website.
Three weeks after Dmitriev’s arrest
Yuri Dmitriev was arrested on December 13, 2016, six months after Kilin’s incendiary article in theFinnish newspaper. Three weeks after his arrest, Rossiya 24 TV channel aired a long exposé on Memorial whose takeaway message was that an organization already identified as a “foreign agent” employed rather dubious people who had an appetite for child pornography. In keeping with the spirit of the “long arm of state security is irrelevant in this case,” the exposé featured photographs, allegedly from Dmitriev’s case file, unmasking the immorality of Memorial employees.
Six months after Dmitriev’s arrest
The assault on Sandarmokh began in earnest in June 2017, when Petrozavodsk State University’s fanciest and most well-equipped conference hall hosted a round table entitled “New Documents about Soviet POWs in the Medvezhyegorsk District during the Finnish Occupation (1941–1944).” The round table’s organizers, historians Yuri Kilin and Sergei Verigin, expounded their theory about the mysterious murders of Soviet POWs in Finnish prison camps in the Medvezyegorsk area. The scholars were certain that the murdered men, who might have numbered in the thousands, could have been buried in Sandarmokh.
However, like the author of the article on Zvezda’s website, who could not help but insert the phrase about the “long arm of state security,” Professor Verigin also made an involuntary slip of the tongue.
“We do not in any way cast doubt on the fact that Sandarmokh is a site where political prisoners are buried. There were executions and mass burials there. We admit that. But we argue that our POWs could be buried there as well. It’s like in Katyn. First, the NKVD carried out executions there, and then the Germans did. In the same place. And the burials were in the same place.”
The Germans did not shoot anyone in Katyn: the NKVD did all the shooting there. The Germans shot or, rather, burned people in Khatyn and a hundred villages in the vicinity. The confusion between Katyn and Khatyn, to which military historian Sergei Verigin has also fallen victim, is commonly regarded as a ruse devised by Soviet propaganda to confuse the hoi polloi. A memorial was erected in Khatyn, whereas Soviet authorities tried for many years to hide what had happened in Katyn. People at Memorial now have no doubt that authorities are trying to pull off the trick they once did with Katyn with Sandarmokh: water down the history evoked by the name, cast a shadow on the memorial as a place of historical memory associated with the Great Terror, and confuse people, not so much present generations as future generations.
Memorial, whose staffers and members are Russia’s foremost specialists on political crackdowns and purges, were not invited to the round table. The same day the round table on Sandarmokh was held in Petrozavodsk, Memorial was holding a press briefing on the Dmitriev case in Moscow. Sandarmokh was also recalled at the press briefing as well, and historical parallels were drawn.
“That way of framing the issues smacks heavily of Soviet times. When the burial pits were found at Katyn, outside Smolensk, the Soviet authorities palmed the atrocity off on the Germans to the point of introducing it as evidence at the Nuremberg Trials. When the site at Bykivnia, outside Kiev, was found, the Soviet authorities claimed there had been a German POW camp nearby, that it was the Germans who did it. When the site at Kurapaty, near Minsk, was found, the Soviet authorities also tried to shift the blame on the Germans. Now we see the same thing at Sandarmokh, with the Finns standing in for the Germans. This innuendo about Sandarmokh is not new,” said Anatoly Razumov, archaeologist and head of the Returned Names Center at the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg.
The organizers of the Petrozavodsk round table have established an international working group whose objective is not only gathering and discussing new information about Sandarmokh but also performing new excavations at the memorial to search for the alleged graves of Soviet POWs. Three months after the round table, Sergei Verigin gave me a detailed account of this undertaking, as well as the documents he has found.
Sergei Verigin: We Are Merely Voicing an Opinion
Sergei Verigin, director of the Institute for History, Political Science, and the Social Sciences
Historian Sergei Verigin, who was quoted by Izvestia saying new documents had been uncovered in the FSB archives and claimed that Memorial had ignored the issue of whether Soviet POWs were possibly buried at Sandarmokh, agreed to an interview almost gladly and invited me into his office.
He regaled me at length about his long career as a military historian: he has published a number of papers and books based on declassified FSB archival documents. His books, which had been published in Finnish several years ago, were still sold in Finnish bookstores alongside works by Finnish military historians, he said.
He began studying the new documents, containing information gathered by the military counterintelligence agency SMERSH from 1942 to 1944, in the archives of the Karelian FSB, immediately after they were declassified. Apparently, it was Verigin who uncovered the evidence that, according to him and his colleague Yuri Kilin, pointed to Sandarmokh as a site where Soviet POWs were buried. During our interview, Verigin was much more cautious with numbers, preferring to speak of “dozens and hundreds” of prisoners who had been shot.
“According to our evidence, hundreds of men were killed. The area was near the front lines, a place where civilians had no access, and you could bury people without being noticed. The Finns did not flaunt what they did. More POWs died from hunger, disease, and torture than from executions. Why have we concluded that POWs could have been buried at Sandarmokh? Because the Finns used the infrastructure that had existed in the NKVD’s prison camps. The documents even contain the names of several people who were imprisoned in NKVD camps, released, drafted into the Soviet army, captured by the Finns, and imprisoned in the exact same camps. Why have we voiced this hypothesis? Because the camps were large. There were six camps, containing thousands of people. Hundreds of people died of hunger, cold, and torture. But where are the graves? Clearly, a few could have been buried in the city, but where were dozens and hundreds of men buried?”
“Can these numbers, i.e., the ‘hundreds’ of men buried, be found in the documents you uncovered?”
“The numbers are there, but the burial site isn’t. That’s why I am asking the question. I am currently wrapping up an article entitled ‘Are There Soviet Prisoners of War in the Shooting Pits at Sandarmokh?’ The article contains lists, names, numbers. It names outright the names of the men who were shot.”
One of the arguments bolstering the hypothesis that many Soviet POWs probably perished is that Soviet POWs worked on building the Finnish fortifications near Medvezhyegorsk, since the Finns lacked their own manpower. What happened to these prisoners? The hypothesis is that they were shot. Verigin does not believe the Finns took Russian POW workers with them when they retreated. Under the agreement between Finland and the Soviet Union, mutual prisoner exchanges were carried out. Among the soldiers who were sent back to the Soviet Union, Verigin claims, not a single former POW who worked in Medvezhyegorsk has been discovered.
“I’m not casting a shadow on the burials of political prisoners. Sandarmokh is indeed a central burial site of victims of the Stalinist terror, of the political crackdown of the late 1930s, one of the largest in northern Russia. We have simply voiced the opinion that our POWs could be buried in these graves. We simply have to perform excavations. If we confirm the hypothesis, we will erect a monument to our POWs in the same place where monuments to Terror victims now stand.”
When discussing the work that must be done, Verigin returned to a familiar idea: a working group that included not only Russian scholars but also Finnish and German researchers must be established. (The Germans built POW camps in northern Karelia.) Verigin suggested that members of grassroots organizations, members of the Russian Military History Society, scouts who search for WWII relics and bodies, e.g., Alexander Osiyev, chair of the Karelian Union of Scouts, Sergei Koltyrin, director of the Medvezhyegorsk Museum, and basically everyone who disagreed with the hypothesis or was skeptical about it should be invited to join the working group.
“We are open. We invite everyone to join us. Maybe we won’t prove our hypothesis or maybe we’ll find another burial site. You can understand people: the notion that Sandarmokh is a place where victims of the political purges were shot is an established opinion, and they find it hard to get their heads around the idea there might be Soviet POWs there. The problem with Sandarmokh, you know, is that only five of the 230 graves there have been disinterred. Subsequently, the prosecutor’s office imposed a ban, and currently it is a memorial complex where all excavation has been prohibited. But if we establish an [international] group and argue [our hypothesis] convincingly, perhaps we will be allowed to carry out excavations with scouts and see whether there are POWs there or not. There are telltale clues: the dog tags of POWs and so on. If we could find such clues, we could carry out an exploratory dig there. We would be able to prove or not prove our hypothesis, but the hypothesis exists. The main idea is to pay tribute to the men who died in Finnish concentration camps during the Great Fatherland War [WWII] and erect a memorial of some kind. Because as long we don’t find a single [burial] site, there will be no monument to our POWs.”
Remembrance Day at Sandarmokh, August 5, 2017
Sandarmokh Shmandarmokh, or a Tribute to Perished POWS?
Have the historians from Petrozavodsk State University uncovered or comme into possession of documents testifying to the mass shootings and burials of Soviet POWs in the vicinity of Medvezhyegorsk? What other pros and cons can be advanced for and against the hypothesis? My search for the answers took nearly six months. During this time, I was able to examine the declassified documents myself and conduct a dozen interviews, in person and on the web, in Russia and Finland, with people who have researched Sandarmokh and the political purges, as well as the war and prisoners of war.
I was unable to find either direct or indirect evidence that the Finns engaged in large-scale executions and burials of Soviet POWs near Medvezhyegorsk. This account or, as the Petrozavodsk-based historians say, hypothesis, could not be corroborated either by the archival documents and published matter I studied nor by the specialists I interviewed.
Some of Kilin and Verigin’s historian colleagues flatly, even irritatedly refused to commment on their hypothesis for this article. According to one such historian, serious researchers would not take the accounts of escaped Soviet POWs and Finnish saboteurs, as provided to SMERSH, at face value as sources, as did the editors of a book about the “monstrous atrocities,” allegedly committed by the Finns in Karelia, which I discuss, below. Such sources should be treated critically.
“Issues like this have to be discussed in person, at serious academic conferences, with the documents in hands\, and not by leaking articles to the media,” said a researcher who wished to remain nameless.
Most of the specialists we interviewed were happy to speak on the record, however.
Sandarmokh Discoverers Irina Flige and Vyacheslav Kashtanov: It’s Out of the Question
The Dmitriev trial has generated a lot of buzz. Journalists writing about the case have underscored the significance of Dmitriev’s work as a historian and archaeologist, the fact that he discovered Sandarmokh, was involved in establishing the memorial at Krasny Bor, and worked on excavations on the White Sea-Baltic Canal and the Solovki Islands. Dmitriev usually did not not work alone, however, but in large and small teams of like-minded people and often, which was not surprising at the time, with support from enthusiasts in the regional government and local councils. In the 1990s, secret service officers also often assisted in the search for victims of the Terror.
Irina Flige and Vyacheslav Kashtanov were involved in the expedition during which the shooting pits of Sandarmokh were unearthed. Director of the Memorial Research and Information Center in Petersburg, Flige went to Karelia in the summer of 1997 to work in the archives of the local FSB, where she met Dmitriev. At the time, Kashtanov was deputy head of the Medvezhyegorsk District Council and provided Dmitriev and Flige’s expedition with organizational support. He asked the local army garrison to lend them troops to dig in the spots where Dmitriev and Flige asked them to dig.
Flige emphasized the archival documents relating to Sandarmokh have been thoroughly examined on more than one occasion. She argued there could be no doubt the place was the site of mass executions during the Great Terror. The approximate number of those executed has been documented as well. Dmitriev has compiled a list of the surnames of those executed: there are over 6,200 names on the list.
Flige was reluctant to discuss new hypotheses about the executions in the Medvezhyegorsk District. According to her, superfluous mentions of the conjectures there could have been other executions at Sandarmokh played into the hands of Kilin and Verigin.
“They provide no documents, so we cannot refute them. If they provide documents, they can be studied and refuted, but denying the existence of documents is beneath one’s dignity. The only possible stance at the moment is to demand the documents be made public. Otherwise, this is a publicity stunt meant to downgrade Sandarmokh’s worth. It’s unproductive to demand evidence from them and discuss the question before they do so,” said Flige.
According to Flige, there is no possibility of getting permission to perform excavations on the premises of the memorial complex, which is what the Petrozavodsk-based historians want to do. More serious grounds are needed to justify the excavations than the hypotheses of two men, even if the two men are academic historians.
Irina Flige on the Search for Sandarmokh
We kept working on the case file under conditions in which we had to examine the documents [along with FSB employees], and they would permit us to make photocopies only of excerpts, of quotations from the case file, which was malarkey. In the next interrogation transcript, Matveyev [?] recounts that his apprehensions were not groundless, since once a truck had broken down near a settlement, a kilometer outside of Pindushi [in the Medvezhyegorsk District]. He then tells how afraid he was he had so many people in the truck, who knew where they were being taken, and he was stuck near a village and worried they would be found out. We thus located the second point, Pindushi.
Vyacheslav Kashtanov, who even now organizes people for volunteer workdays at Sandarmokh, is confident that no one except victims of the Great Terror lie in the execution pits there. Kashtanov has not only document proof that executions took place at Sandarmokh but eyewitness testimony as well.
“The Yermolovich family has done a great deal of work on Sandarmokh. Nikolai Yermolovich was editor of the Medvezhyegorsk newspaper Vperyod. He claimed to have spoken with an eyewitness who had been inside the restricted area where the executions occurred. Periodically, the old Povenets road [which passed near the memorial complex] would be closed, and gunshots would be heard in the woods. What we found in the shooting pits themselves, when we unearthed them, was quite recognizable: bodies that had been stripped of clothes and shoes, with typical bullet wounds [to the back of the head].”
Kashtanov is no mere district council employee. He was educated as a historian, and by coincidence, Sergei Verigin was his university classmate. Verigin’s account of executions and burials during the Second World War had come as news to Kashtanov. He admitted that individual Soviet POWs had been executed, but he could not believe mass executions had taken place. When they had visited Medvezhyegorsk, Kashtanov had spoken with Finns about the war and Finnish POW camps, and there was mention of such possibilities during their frank discussions.
“It’s out of the question!” said Kashtanov. “If you examine the layout of the camps, it could not have been a matter of thousands of soldiers executed, because several hundred men were housed there. If we look at the pits [at Sandarmokh], we see they are staggered. This is also evidence of the homogeneity of the executions. Of course, individual executions could have been carried out anywhere. But transporting thousands of people [to Sandarmokh] would have involved unjustifiable risks and costs.”
Kashtanov believes the whole story belittles not only Sandarmokh but also those people who were shot there.
Volunteer workday at Sandarmokh. Photo by Sergei Koltyrin
“Maybe They Want a Sensation?”: The Arguments of Scouts, Local History Buffs, and Historians
Alexander Osiyev, chair of the Karelian Union of Scouts, came to be interested in the topic of executions of POWs at Sandarmokh almost accidentally. He was involved in the round table at Petrograd State University in June. He showed the audience maps of the front lines and tried to persuade them no executions could have taken place at Sandarmokh during the war. Sergei Verigin rudely interrupted him, saying the scout did not have enough evidence. Osiyev did not give up on the idea, gathering that selfsame evidence in Karelia’s archives.
According to Osiyev, the hypothesis advanced by the university scholars had several weak points, and those weak points were underscored by the very same documents to which they referred. After carefully reading the interrogation transcriptions of former POWs from Camps No. 74 and 31, as cited by Kilin and Verigin, Osiyev concluded the prisoners could not have served in the battalions that built fortifications in the Medvezhyegorsk District.
“If you compare the descriptions of the POWs with the photographs of the people who built the fortifications, as preserved in the Finnish Military Archive, things don’t add up. A man wearing a hat and a cloak of some kind bears no resemblance to the description of POWs in the interrogation transcripts.”
Builders of fortifications in the Medvezhyegorsk District. Photo courtesy of SA-Kuva Archive and 7X7
In the above-mentioned transcripts, former inmates of Finnish POW camps who had been arrested by the Soviet authorities described in detail the outward appearance of Russian POWs in the camps of Medvezhyegorsk.
“What kind of clothing and shoes did the prisoners of have?”
“The prisoners mostly wore English overcoats and Finnish trousers and army tunics. In the summer, they went barefoot, but from September 1 they were issued shoes (Russian, English, etc.), wooden clogs, and shoes with wooden soles.”
—Excerpt from the interrogation transcript of Stepan Ivanovich Makarshin, dated October 21, 1943 (POW from May 1942 to September 1943)
“The uniforms of the prisoners in the camp were varied. There were hand-me-down Russian and English trousers and jackets, new and old Finnish jackets, boots, and shoes, and English shoes as well. Except for the Karelians, Finns, Latvians, and Estonians, all the POWs wore special insignia: a white letter V on the fold from the collarbone down on both […]. There were also stripes on both sides of the trousers.”
—Except from the interrogation transcript of arrestee Georgy Andreyevich Chernov, dated July 9, 1943 (POW)
We have to admit either that the Soviet POWs did not work in the places the Petrozavodsk State University historians claim they worked or their interrogation transcripts contain false information. In this case, the question arises as to whether serious scholarly hypotheses can be based on such information.
Osiyev was particularly bothered by the fact that not a single former Soviet POW mentioned that mass executions had occurred there. In the Finnish databases there is a list, keyed by surname, of the POWs who died in the Medvezhyegorsk camps from 1942 to 1944.
fiSoviet POWs who died in the Medvezhyegorsk camps from 1942 to 1944, as listed in a Finnish database
It transpires that only individual cases are mentioned. But even if we assume that executions did occur after all [in fact, there are eight Soviet POWs whose “cause of death” (kuolintapa) is listed as “shot” (ammuttu) or “death sentence” (kuolemantuomio) in the four screenshots depicted above—TRR], what would have been the point of transporting the POWs or their corpses two dozen kilometers away?
“It was the front line. There was long-range artillery in place there. To bury prisoners [at Sandarmokh], they would have had to have been brought from Medvezhyegorsk, nineteen kilometers away. Who would move a murdered POW along a road leading to the front? All the more so when the archives mention a cemetery in Medvezhyegorsk, that is, in Karhumäki [the town’s Finnish name]. Why would they have moved the dead from the city to Sandarmokh? So, I don’t know why these people [Verigin and Kilin] are doing this. Maybe they want a sensation?” wondered Kashtanov
Map indicating the locations of WWII Finnish POW camps in the Medvezhyegorsk District and the Sandarmokh Memorial
Sergei Koltyrin: Nothing of the Sort Happened at Sandarmokh
Sergei Koltyrin is director of the Medvezhyegorsk District Museum, which has overseen the Sandarmokh Memorial since it was established. When a particular religious confession wants to erect a monument at Sandarmokh, they go through the district council, which forwards the matter to the museum. The museum also monitors the state of other monuments, holds volunteer workdays, and organizes the annual Remembrance Days on August 5 and October 30. Koltyrin calls Sandarmokh an “open-air museum,” a place where popular lectures on the Gulag and White Sea-Baltic Canal are held. But Koltyrin does not see Sandmarmokh only as a museum but also as a place of memory, a cemetery where, he says, he silently converses with the people buried in the ground there every time he visits.
Koltyrin was involved in the July round table at Petrozavodsk State University. His arguments dovetail with those of Kashtanov, but with several additions. Koltyrin is convinced the Finns would not have been able to locate a top-secret, then-recent burial ground, and there was no one who could have told them about it.
“When the first five graves were unearthed [in 1997], there was evidence the people in the graves had been shot in the same way. The Finns did not operate this way. They did not shoot people in the back of the head with a pistol. They had a much simpler system: they sprayed their victims with machine-gun fire and killed them that way. The NKVD had concealed and camouflaged Sandarmokh so thoroughly that everyone was afraid to talk about it. Besides, the majority of the local residents retreated beyond the White Sea-Baltic Canal during the Finnish occupation. People would hardly have been to tell the Finns there was a killing field in these parts, a place where they could kill people. And the front line ran through here. What would the point of bringing people to Sandarmokh have been?”
Koltyrin insisted that to continue pursuing the “Finnish” hypothesis, quite weighty arguments were needed to make the case that such shootings and burials were possible at Sandarmokh. For the time being, however, no one had bothered to show him any documents backing up the theory advanced by Kilin and Verigin. Since there was no evidence, Koltyrin called on researchers not to push “hypotheses for the sake of forgetting the place and obscuring the memory and history of the executions.”
Irina Takala: If the Finns Had Found Sandarmokh, All of Europe Would Have Immediately Known about It
Irina Takala, who has a Ph.D. in history from Petrozavodsk State University, was a co-founder of the Karelian branch of Memorial. One of her principal researcch topics has been the political purges and crackdowns in Karelia during the 1920s and 1930s. Takala was a university classmate of Kashtanov and Verigin. After looking at the documents her colleagues cited, Takala summarized them briefly as follows, “They refute claims about ‘thousands of soldiers tortured’ in the [Finnish] camps, rather than vice versa.”
Takala also had doubts about her colleagues’ true intentions.
“To wonder where POWs are buried, you don’t need ‘newly declassified archival documents,’ especially documents like those. Why weren’t the professors asking these questions ten or twenty years ago? They have been researching the war for a fairly long time. If their objective was to find the dead prisoners, they should have started looking for them near where the camps were located, not along the front lines. So, how is Sandarmokh relevant in this case? So that thousands of executed political prisoners can be turned into thousands of Soviet POWs?”
Takala voiced another important thought about the possible burials of Soviet war prisoners at Sandarmokh. Later, Finnish scholars also echoed this thought in my conversations with them. The thought, it would seem, smashed to smithereens all the possible hypotheses or “sleaze,” as Takala dubbed them, the people attacking Sandarmokh have been spreading.
“I am convinced that if the Finns had discovered Stalin’s mass burial sites, super secret sites, during the war, all of Europe would have known about it immediately. What fuel for propaganda! [Burial sites of Great Terror victims] were located all over the Soviet Union, but they were not found anywhere in the occupied territories. In short, if there are no other documents that have not been shown to anyone, Kilin and Verigin’s claims smack more of political sleaze, sleaze based on nothing, having little to do with historical research, and aimed at Memorial, rather than at paying tribute to the memory of Soviet POWs.”
“I Hope You Don’t Hate Us”: Finnish Historians on the Unlawful Executions of Soviet POWs
In his article in Kaleva, Yuri Kilin claims, “Finland knows very little about POW camps.” It is a serious charge, a swipe at Finnish historians. However, it turned out Finnish researchers had dealt seriously with the problem of the camps, and the academics who have written about the topic teach in various parts of the country, including Turku, Tampere, and Helsinki. They include such scholars as Ville Kivimäki, Oula Silvennoinen, Lars Westerlund, Antti Kujala, and Mirkka Danielsbacka. I was able to interview some of them personally, while I corresponded with other or simply examined their works.
Ville Kivimäki, a researcher at the University of Tampere, studies the social and cultural history of the Second World War. He admits he is no expert on the conditions in which POWs lived. As someone who studies the history of the war, however, it was no secret to him that Soviet POWs had been kept in terrible conditions. A third of Soviet POWs held by the Finns died or were executed, and they had to be buried somewhere.
“I recently visited the mass grave of Soviet POWs in Köyliö: 122 soldiers are buried there. There must be an awful lot of such graves, considering the huge numbers of Soviet POWs who died in Finnish camps. I admit some of the dead could have been buried at Sandarmokh.”
Why were Soviet POWs killed? Why were they treated so badly? Kivimäki hass answered these questions unequivocally in his articles.
“There was no better enemy for Finnish soldiers than the Russians. Since the Civil War of 1918, Russians had been typically dehumanized, imagined as ‘others,’ ‘aliens,’ and ‘savages,’ the opposite of the humane Finns. Finnish wartime propaganda spread these stereotypes, thus sanctioning the murder of ‘monsters.’ This also explains the treatment of their corpses, dismemberment, photography, etc. This was the outcome of propaganda, and it helped maintain the martial spirit, serving as a unifying factor.” (See Ville Kivimäki, Battled Nerves: Finnish Soldiers’ War Experience, Trauma, and Military Psychiatry, 1941–44, PhD dissertation, University of Tampere, 2013, p. 438.)
The historian Lars Westerlund has written about the numbers of POWs executed in his works. He directed a project, entitled POW Deaths and People Handed Over in Finland in 1939–55, carried out by a team of researchers at the Finnish National Archives from 2004 to 2008.
Books edited by Lars Westerlund
In Westerlund’s article “The Mortality Rate of Prisoners of War in Finnish Custody between 1939 and 1944,” published in the edited volume POW Deaths and People Handed Over to Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939–55: A Research Report by the Finnish National Archives, mortality figures for POWs are provided per camp. [In fact, no such figures are provided in Westerlund’s article—The Russian Reader.] We read that 6,484 POWs died in the large camps, none of which were located in the Medvezhyegorsk District. Another 3,197 POWs died in medium camps, small camps, and “camp companies” (p. 30). We could probably try and search for the alleged “mass executions and burials” at Sandarmokh among these statistics. The same article cites causes of death (pp. 35–36). 2,296 POWS died “violent deaths” while another 1,663 died of “unknown causes.” Westerlund also mentions that “at least dozens and dozens of prisoners of war were probably killed in prison of war camps without just cause” (p. 76).**
Thus, Finnish researchers do not deny that illegal executions (meaning carried out in the absence of an investigation and trial), including mass executions, took place. But the figures per camp [sic] testify to the fact that “thousands of POWs” could not have been shot and then buried at Sandarmokh, because there were only small camps and POW companies in the Medvezhyegorsk District. [In fact, Westerlund reports that a total of 1,412 Soviet POWs died of all causes in the small camps and POW companies—The Russian Reader.] For this account to sound plausible, we would have to believe that of the probable 4,000 people shot [sic], more than half would have had to have been shot at Sandarmokh, which was only a small part of the long front lines, and moreover not the most tense part.
Since I was unable to locate Lars Westerlund in the summer of 2017 (colleagues said and wrote that he no longer works at the University of Turku and rarely visits the archives), I turned to his colleagues in the POW project, Antti Kujala and Mirkka Danielsbacka.
Mirkka Danielsbacka and Antti Kujala
In 2008, University of Helsinki historian Antti Kujala published Vankisurmat: neuvostovankien laittomat ampumiset jatkosodassa (The Unlawful Killings of POWs during the Continuation War). The book was the outcome of five years of work on the above-mentioned project POW Deaths and People Handed Over in Finland in 1939–55. Kujala is, perhaps, Finland’s foremost specialist on unlawful executions of Soviet POWs. He admits there were incidents in whihch Finnish soldiers shot Red Army soldiers who had surrendered or been wounded. The victims numbered in the dozens. He gives three examples off the top of his head, since while he worked on the book, he researched the archives of Finnish courts, where for several years after the war had ended, alleged [Finnish] war criminals were tried. In several cases, the trials resulted in guilty verdicts, but more often than not the defendants were acquitted. The main reason was a lack of arguments and evidence. Soviet POWs, whom Finland repatriated under the terms of its peace treaty with the Soviet Union, were given the opportunity to testify against Finnish soldiers and officers before they were sent home in 1944. But the information received in this way was not brimming with details, and although it was admitted into evidence in court, it did not lead to the recognition of mass crimes, executions, and the like. Moreover, many Finnish soldiers who were called as witnesses at these trials testified against their former army commanders, and if they had known about such incidents, they would have been revealed in court. On these grounds, Kujala has argued it would be wrong to talk about systematic mass shootings and burials.
At the same time, having thoroughly studied the crimes committed by the Finnish military during the Continuation War, Kujala began our conversation as follows, “I hope you won’t hate us after what we discuss today.”
From the very outset of the conversation, it was clear Kujala was irritated by what he had read in Kilin’s article in Kaleva. (Before our conversation he had only heard about it, but not read it.) He was even more irritated by how the Russian national media had pounced on the Karelian historian’s conjectures.
“The article in Kaleva refers to my  book [on unlawful executions] and interrogations of Soviet POWs who had escaped from Finnish camps. I think the escapees somewhat exaggerated an already unpleasant situation [in the camps], which is understandable. But claiming the German, Finnish, and Japanese camps were the worst is not quite right, and I don’t understand why the author serves up this half-truth. In reality, the highest mortality rates were in the German and Soviet POW camps, while the Finnish camps ranked third. The evidence of mass executions [of Soviet POWs by Finns], as presented in the article, is quite unreliable. The author seemingly follows the simple rationale that the Stalin regime’s crimes were terrible, but other regimes committed crimes as well.”
According to the information Kujala had assembled, the official number of Soviet POWs in Finnish camps, 64,000, was artificially low. Three or four thousand Red Army soldiers who were not officially registered as POWs should be added to this figure. Kujala believes they were executed during or after battles, right on the front lines. The causes of these war crimes were various, from the trivial fear of being shot in the back by a wounded Soviet soldier to a reluctance to deal with prisoners, especially wounded prisoners. Another reason for unlawful executions, on the front lines and in the camps, was the hatred Finns felt toward Russians. In the camps, this was exacerbated by the fact “second-rate” soldiers predominantly served as guards.
Kujala’s colleague Mirkka Danielsback knows a lot about the relationships between guards and prisoners, and the living conditions in Finnish POW camps. In 2013, with Kujala serving as her adviser, she defended her doctoral dissertation, Vankien vartijat: Ihmislajin psykologia, neuvostosotavangit ja Suomi 1941–1944 (Captors of Prisoners of War: The Psychology of the Human Species, Soviet Prisoners of War, and Finland, 1941–1944).
“I don’t believe that mass shootings of hundreds or thousands of [Soviet] POWs took place. First, everyone was aware that shooting prisoners was illegal. Second, if there really had been incidents of mass shootings, we would know about it for certain, because someone would have talked about it. After researching the archives about conditions in the camps, I can confirm the principal causes of death were not executions at all, but hunger, disease, and hard labor. All this has been documented in sufficient detail.”
Kujala agreed with his colleague and elaborated on her arguments.
“If a considerable number of POWs had been shot somewhere simultaneously or over a brief period of time, this would have necessarily surfaced during the war, although no one could have been punished for it at the time. But it definitely would have come up during the postwar trials. Of course, we cannot rule out anything, if we have no documents [confirming or refuting the hypothesis of mass shootings]. However, we also cannot claim there were mass shootings of POWs. Of course, there were shootings. A dozen POWs could have been shot at the same time, but not hundreds and, especially, not thousands. I don’t believe it. Besides, Finns ordinarily do not solve problems this way.”
When I asked directly whether Kujala believed mass shootings had taken place at Sandarmokh and, therefore, we should look for mass burial sites there, Kujala answered in the negative.
In his article, Kujala quotes what Finnish researchers know about the numbers of POWs who perished. The Finnish National Archives produced a database on all POWS, including POWs who died. The causes of death have been indicated. Shooting is indicated as the cause of death of 1,019 people listed in the database. Kujala argues we could easily add another 200 people to that number. Thus, a total of approximately 1,200 POWs or 5.5% of all Soviet servicemen who died in while imprisoned in Finnish camps were shot. It would be wrong to suggest or assert that the majority of them were murdered near Medvezhyegorsk and buried at Sandarmokh. In addition, the greatest number of executions of unregistered prisoners, as witnessed by the archives of the Finnish courts, occurred in 1941. The number of shootings dropped off in early 1942, and when Finland came to have grave doubts about the possibility of its winning the war, in 1943, it took better care of the POWs.
Both researchers unanimously affirmed that Finnish historians have done a quite good, finely detailed job of studying issues relating to Soviet POWs and could make reasoned conclusions. One of these was the extremely low likelihood of mass killings and burials of Soviet POWS in occupied territories, i.e., behind the front lines. The largest such incident occurred right after the war broke out, when, in a matter of a few months, tens of thousands of Soviet POWs fell into the hands of the Finns on the southern front, especially on the Karelian Isthmus. It is there, most likely, that it would worth looking for burial sites containing three or four thousand unregistered POWs, that is, prisoners unlawfully shot before they were imprisoned in camps. The possibility there were mass graves of Soviet prisoners at Sandarmokh wasquite low, and the likelihood that mass killings of Soviet POWs took place there was close to zero.
In any case, according to Kujala and Danielsbacka, the camp wardens would not have dared to transport prisoners twenty kilometers away from Medvezyegorsk to shoot them in the midst of constant battles and with the front lines near at hand, and they would have been even less inclined to transport the bodies of murdered prisoners there for burial. All dead prisoners would have been buried right outside the camps. No one would have bothered with the extra work. They would have been buried, if not in the camps themselves, then in places where inmates worked and often died or could have been shot. Kujala and Danielsbacka argued that the hypothesis of mass killings and burials of Soviet POWs at Sandarmokh could not be ruled out entirely if only because there were no archival documents clearly indicating the absence of graves containing the executed inmates of the POW camps in Medvezhyegorsk.
“Finnish Researchers Have Got to the Bottom of the Question”
Kujala and Danielsbacka claimed that Finnish researchers had examined the issue in detail. Despite the fact a portion of the documentary evidence had been destroyed in 1944, the main set of documents had survived, and they could be studied freely. In addition, Finnish researchers had also worked in Russian archives and published matter. One such published works is the book The Monstrous Crimes of the Finnish Fascist Invaders in the Karelo-Finnish SSR, published in 1945. The book, however, contains mere references to individual crimes against Soviet POWs, to executions and incidents of torture, reported from the entire front. Researchers are aware that the Medvezyegorsk POW camps are likewise mentioned in the book, but they are certain this is not grounds for making conclusions about mass shootings, and this despite the fact the book should be seen more as propaganda, and less as documentary proof of crimes.
“Repatriated POWs were treated as criminals, in keeping with the Soviet Criminal Code. So the testimony they gave was the testimony of defendants, not of witnesses. In such circumstances, people could have said exactly what authorities wanted to hear them say. I believe the Soviet Union missed the opportunity to obtain really valuable, objective information,” Kujala said.
Silvennoinen agreed with Kujala. In her article “The Limits of Intended Actions: Soviet Soldiers and Civilians in Finnish Captivity,” published in the book Finland in the Second World War: History, Memory, Interpretations (2012), which is used as a Finnish university textbook, she evaluates Monstrous Crimes.
“This report, published in 1945 by a commission headed by General Gennady Kupriyanov, includes eyewitness testimony and documents. It is impossible to credibly affirm the truthfulness of the shocking stories recounted in the report, but the process of assembling the report seems to be a very disturbing sign. In any case, the incidents related in the book did not serve as grounds for actual criminal cases. It seems the report was compiled mainly as domestic propaganda, hence the large print run: 20,000 copies were distributed around the Soviet Union.”
Cover of the book The Monstrous Crimes of the Finnish Fascist Invaders in the Karelo-Finnish SSR (1945)
Kupriyanov’s report does indeed contain many account of torture and cruelty visited on Soviet soldiers and war prisoners. Many of the stories (see, e.g., pp. 203, 221–223, 257–259, 261–262, 290, 294, 297) were recorded in the Medvezhyegorsk District and include details of numerous executions, some of them mass executions, but these incidents occurred on the battlefield, and those killed were most often were Red Army soldiers wounded in battle. Not even General Kupriyanov’s report contains direct evidence the Finns could have shot hundred or thousands of Soviet POWs in the camps of the Medvezhyegorsk District or buried them en masse twenty kilometers from the city.
A critical attitude towards Soviet sources does not preclude a critical evaluation of of the crimes perpetrated by Finnish soldiers against prisoners. In the same article, Silvennoinen recounts incidents of cruel treatment of POWs and reports of executions. She quotes a directive issued by General Karl Lennart Oesch: “Treatment of war prisoners should be quite strict. […] Everyone should remember that a Russky is always a Russky, and he should be treated appropriately. […] It is necessary to mercilessly get rid of [Red Army] political instructors. If prisoners are executed, they should be marked as ‘removed.'”
Silvennoinen also knows that treatment of certain groups of POWS, not only political instructors but also Jews, for example, was the worst, and it was they who were often marked out as victims of unlawful mass murders. At the same time, Silvennoinen acknowledges that the rank-and-file “imprisoned [Soviet] soldier, finding himself at a place where POWs were assembled and registered, in a transit or permanent camps behind the front lines, was in relatively safe circumstances.” It would therefore be inaccurate to speak of mass executions.
During the Winter War of 1939–1940, 135 Soviet POWs out of a total of 6,000 died, i.e., 2.5% of all prisoners. The figure shows that, despite the attitude of Finns to Russian, which in those years was no better than during the Continuation War, there were no mass shootings of POWs. Indirectly, this might go to show that such shootings could not have become systematic in 1941–1944, either.
When Kujala and Danielsback heard about the idea of assembling an “international working group,” that would engage in affirming or refuting the hypothesis of mass burials of Soviet POWs at Sandarmokh, their reaction was extremely clear.
“I cannot speak for my [Finnish] colleagues, but I would definitely not be involved in the work of some ‘international group.’ After reading the articles published in Russian [on the websites of Zvezda TV and Izvestia], I understand the main idea of the authors or the people who commissioned the articles was to show that the Stalin regime’s crimes were awful, but others committed awful crimes, too. So, we are no worse than anyone else, and they are no better than us. I think that Finnish newspapers, including Helsingin Sanomat, who have quoted Kilin’s article in Kaleva, do not understand these intentions. People who write in articles about mass executions simply invent the truth rather than relying on the facts. Thus, I would place this ‘Sandarmokh incident’ in a broader context. And this context tells us that some people in your country are try to prove that all foreigners and foreign governments are enemies of Russia, which is really quite wrong,” Antti Kujala said.
When the conversation turned to the thought that if the Finns had accidently discovered Sandarmokh, we would not have had to wait until 1997 for it to be discovered, the Finnish researchers nodded approvingly. There was no doubt that the Finnish military command would not have concealed prewar mass burial sites. On the contrary, they would informed the international community, as it would have been a powerful boost to anti-Soviet propaganda. The same thing would have happened as happened at Katyn, which the Germans discovered and immediately reported to the whole world. Therefore, the Finns had been unaware of Sandarmokh’s existence.
Instead of an Epilogue
At the end of a long, detailed conversation, Kujala returned to the beginning of the interview, in which he had spoken about hatred.
“I would write my book a bit differently now. After it was published, other works on the topic, Mirkka’s dissertation and Oula Silvennoinen’s articles, came out, containing new information about the camps and the treatment of POWs. I would now put more emphasis on how the attitude of Finns to Soviet prisoners resembled Nazi Germany’s. It’s disgusting.”
In order for the reader to make up his or her own mind about the hypothesis advanced by Kilin and Verigin, we add to all the pros and cons voiced here images of the scanned declassified documents from the Russian FSB Central Archives.
The rest of the scanned documents, amounting to a couple dozen pages or more, can be downloaded from the article’s page on 7X7 by clicking on the series of little black dots that appear in sequence below the first scanned document. TRR
Translated by the Russian Reader
* A search of the Kaleva website turned up 24 mentions of “Juri Kilin,” but not the article in question. Following the practice of many Finnish newspapers, however, it could have been published in the Oulu-based newspaper’s print edition, but not posted online. It would, however, have been fitting to provide readers with the date of the article in question in case someone wanted to find and read it. TRR
** According to Westerlund, the total number of Soviet POWs who died in Finnish captivity from 1941 to 1944 (whether in large camps, medium camps, small camps, POW companies, military and field hospitals, and “other” locations) was 19,085. However, of the Soviet POWs who died violent deaths, he identified only 1,019 as having been shot, while 21 were murdered as the result of “death sentences.” Thus, I do not understand what Yarovaya has in mind in the following paragraph, in which she mentions “mass shootings” and “the probable 4,000 people shot.” The word “shot” is mentioned 16 times in the book edited by Westerlund: one of those mentions occurs in connection with the figure of 1,019 Soviet POWs shot in all Finnish camps, hospitals, and other places of detention during the entire period in question. Nowhere in the book is there any mention of a “probable 4,000 people shot.” Meanwhile, a search of the word “executed” in the same book garnered 18 mentions, but nearly all of these were made in connection with Soviet and German POWs who, after they were repatriated by Finland, were executed by their own governments, not by the Finns. Finally, I should point out, as Westerlund does in his article, that all executions of prisoners of war are unlawful under the Geneva Convention. But that is not the focus of his article. On the contrary, as the heading of one section of the article reads, “The Mass Mortality of Soviet Prisoners of War between 1941 and 1942 Stemmed from Neglect.” In the paragraph that follows, Westerlund explains what he means by neglect: “Signs of this neglect were the insufficient rations for the people in the camps, deficient accommodation, partially inferior equipment, the unsatisfactory hygienic conditions in the camps, inadequate health care, and the harsh and occasionally inhumane treatment of Soviet prisoners of war.” The careful reader will note that Westerlund does not mention “mass executions” among the causes of “mass mortality” among Soviet POWs in Finnish custody. Even “violent deaths” (which included suicides, accidents, bombing, etc., not only summary executions) taken together accounted for only 10% of all deaths among Soviet POWs. Yarovaya’s reference to “4,000 people shot” is all the more surprising because, later in the article, in her discussion with Finnish historians Antti Kujala and Mirkka Danielsbacka, she quotes Kujala, who cites the figure of 1,019 prisoners shot, as arrived at by Westerlund. TRR
Why Is Nikita Mikhalkov Not in Jail with Yuri Dmitriev?
Emilia Slabunova Echo of Moscow
October 24, 2017
Tomorrow, October 25, a court in Petrozavodsk will hold the latest hearing in the trial of Yuri Dmitriev, a historian and head of the International Memorial Society’s Karelian branch. I should explain a few things for those of you unfamiliar with the case. Dmitriev established the names of thousands of victims of the Stalinist terror, and has published several volumes memorializing the victims of political terror during the 1930s and 1940s in Karelia. For thirty years, he searched for secret burial sites of Gulag prisoners in the republic, discovering in the process the mass graves of executed political prisoners at Sandarmokh and Krasny Bor. One of the cofounders of the memorial complex at Sandarmokh, Dmitriev has researched the history of how the White Sea-Baltic Canal was built.
Dmitriev was arrested in December 2016. According to police investigators, from 2012 to to 2015, he photographed his foster daughter, who turned eleven in 2016, in the nude, but did not published the snapshots. The only evidence in the case that has been made public is a photograph of his granddaughter and foster daughter running naked into the bathroom. Dmitriev himself has claimed that he took the snapshots of his underage foster daughter as a record of her health and physical growth after he took her from an orphanage, where she had shown signs of being unwell. Dmitriev stored the photos of his foster daughter on his home computer. They were not posted in the internet.
What does Nikita Mikhalkov have do with this, you ask? Because the world-famous filmmaker shot a quite well-known documentary film, Anna from Six to Eighteen(1993). In the film, Mikhalkov’s eldest daughter Anna responds to the same questions each year over thirteen years. Her responses are edited together with a newsreel of the year’s events. There are shots in which Anna is shown completely nude. It is easy enough to verify this, because the film is accessible on the Web. For example, watch the scene that begins at the thirteen-minute mark.
Mikhalkov won several awards for the film: a Silver Dove at the 1994 Leipzig International Documentary Film Festival, the Grand Prix at the 1994 Golden Knight International Film Festival of Slavic and Orthodox Peoples, and the Prize for Best Documentary at the 1996 Hamptons International Film Festival.
Why has one man been jailed for doing something for which another man has been celebrated? Why can you show your naked daughter to the whole word, while it is a crime to record your foster daughter’s maturation for child protection services and not show the photos to anyone else?
Is it because Mikhalkov supports the current regime, while Dmitriev investigates the crimes of the Stalin regime, restores the names of those who perished in the Great Terror, and unmasks the executioners? It is noteworthy that the day after tomorrow, October 26, is the seventh anniversary of Mikhalkov’s “Manifesto of Enlightened Conservatism,” in which he singled out “loyalty to the regime, the ability to obey authoritative power gracefully,” and consolidating the so-called power vertical as primary values.
Dmitriev’s arrest was clearly provoked his human rights work. Many people in Karelia know Dmitriev as an honest, decent man not afraid to tell the truth, a truth that is sometimes unpleasant to the authorities and law enforcement agencies. The Memorial Human Rights Center has declared Dmitriev a political prisoner.
The Dmitriev case is politically motivated. This is obvious to everyone, including such well-known Russian public figures as writer Dmitry Bykov, musician Boris Grebenshchikov, actor Veniamin Smekhov, writer Ludmila Ulitskaya, and their numerous colleagues who have recorded video messages in support of Dmitriev. Nikita Mikhalkov was not among them.
Russian filmmaker and screenwriter Oleg Dorman speaks in support of Yuri Dmitriev. Published on YouTube, 22 November 2017