“Really Frightening”: Trees Dry Up and Toadstools Vanish in Karelia After Explosion near Severodvinsk Guberniya Daily
August 22, 2019
Residents of Karelia’s Kem District have sounded the alarm. Tree in the district have turned yellow and mushrooms have disappeared after the explosion near Severodvinsk, they claim.
“Ten days after [the accident], the vegetation on the islands in the White Sea near the settlement of Rabocheostrovsk took on a very unhealthy appearance. I get the impression the trees, grass, and moss burned flamelessly. Even toadstools and fly agaric, habitues of these locales, have disappeared on the islands. I would like you to clarify whether any tests will be made, what the republic’s government plans to do in general in response to this issue, and how people’s health will be affected,” a user identified as “Irina Kudryashova” wrote in a letter to Karelian Governor Arthur Parfenchikov, which she also posted on the VK wall “City of Kem Public Oversight.“
In the same thread, someone identified as “Galina Ivankova” wrote that she was “really frightened.”
“Some men from Belomorsk went out to sea, but when they got to Shuyiretskoye there were warships at anchor there and a yellow cloud overhead. They got turned back: they weren’t allowed to go out into the sea. So welcome to Chernobyl Karelia. Thanks to the mad nuclear scientists,” a person identified as “Oleg Bachanov” wrote in another discussion on the same wall.
“The situation is the same on Yak Island: everything withered and dried in no time. In recent years, especially after 2009, I have noticed that, from the north and the northeast, all the woods and grass on the islands look as if they have been covered in brown paint. There are no berries or mushrooms in these patches,” replied a user identified as “Sandro Avtushenko.”
On August 8, a liquid rocket propulsion system exploded during testing on an offshore platform in the Arkhangelsk Region. Eight Rosatom employees [sic] were hurt; five of them were killed. Fearing radiation, residents of Severodvinsk and Arkhangelsk made a run on iodine in pharmacies.
After the explosion, radiation levels were sixteen times higher than normal in Severodvinsk. Higher levels of background radiation were also recorded in Norway a week after the blast.
Translated by the Russian Reader. NB. The original text was heavily edited to reflect the fact that the claims cited in the article were made by four discrete users on a VK community wall in Kem, Republic of Karelia, not by an indefinitely large number of “residents.”
The area of Northwest Russia, encompassing parts of the Republic of Karelia and Arkhangelsk Region, discussed in the article. Image courtesy of Google Maps
Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted Wednesday that a recent deadly explosion at a military testing site in northwestern Russia hasn’t posed any radiation threat, but he remained coy about the circumstances of the mysterious incident.
Speaking after talks in Helsinki with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Putin emphasized that neighboring nations haven’t recorded any spike in radioactivity.
“These are the objective data,” he said. “These things can be tracked.”
The Aug. 8 incident at the Russian navy’s range in Nyonoksa on the White Sea killed two servicemen and five nuclear engineers. It was followed by a brief rise in radiation levels in nearby Severodvinsk, but the authorities insisted the recorded levels didn’t pose any danger to local residents.
Russian officials’ changing and contradictory accounts of the incident drew comparisons to Soviet attempts to cover up the 1986 explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
The Russian Defense Ministry at first denied any radiation leak in the incident even as the authorities in nearby Severodvinsk reported a brief rise in radiation levels and advised residents to stay indoors and close the windows. Frightened residents rushed to buy iodine, which can help reduce risks from exposure to radiation.
Russia’s state weather and environmental monitoring agency said the peak radiation reading in Severodvinsk on Aug. 8 was 1.78 microsieverts per hour in just one neighborhood, about 16 times the average. Peak readings in other parts of Severodvinsk varied between 0.45 and 1.33 microsieverts.
The announced peak levels were indeed lower than the cosmic radiation that plane passengers are exposed to on longer flights or doses that patients get during some medical scans.
No detail on weapon tested
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CNTBTO) said earlier this week that several Russian radiation monitoring stations went silent shortly after the explosion in Nyonoksa. Lassina Zebro, the organization’s executive secretary, said Tuesday that the two Russian stations reported to be offline were back in operation and are now backfilling the data.
Observers said that several stations coming offline at the same time appeared to reflect a coordinated effort to conceal the radiation data, which could help identify the technology that was being tested at the time of the explosion.
Putin hailed the victims, saying they were doing “very important work for the nation’s security,” but kept mum on what type of weapon they were testing.
Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom said the explosion occurred on an offshore platform during tests of a “nuclear isotope power source” for a rocket engine, a statement that led some experts to conclude that the weapon undergoing tests was the Burevestnik (Storm Petrel), a prospective nuclear-powered cruise missile first mentioned by Putin in 2018 that was code-named Skyfall by NATO.
U.S. President Donald Trump has backed that theory in a tweet, saying that the U.S. is “learning much” from the deadly explosion. In a tweet, he said, “The Russian Skyfall explosion has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond. Not good!”
The U.S. worked to develop a nuclear-powered missile in the 1960s under Project Pluto, but abandoned the technology as too unstable and risky.
Resident of Karelian Village Käppäselgä: My House Might Not Survive the Winter
Maria Dmitriyeva 7X7
November 28, 2017
Galina Ryaziyeva, a pensioner living in the Karelian village of Käppäselgä, is afraid the roof of her home might collapse. The adjacent flats are dilapidated and are pulling the only remaining habitable section of the wooden barracks down with them. A lawsuit filed against the district council, which owns most of the house, has dragged on. Our correspondent tried to get to the bottom of the story.
The Back of Beyond Käppäselgä is located the backwoods of the Kondopoga District. It is not just that you can encounter real bears in the village but also that it is one of the district’s northernmost corners. It is closer to the town of Medvezhyegorsk [Bear Hill] than the district’s seat, Kondopoga. Despite the seeming proximity of the Kola Highway, it is no easy trick getting to Käppäselgä, due to twenty kilometers of dirt road, reduced to rubble by lumber trucks. It took us three hours to drive to Käppäselgä from Petrozavodsk, capital of the Republic of Karelia. The last hour of the trip was spent traveling over those twenty kilometers of dirt road.
Käppäselgä’s train station. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Socially, the circumstances in Käppäselgä are typical of Karelian villages. Nearly all the young people have left for the city long ago. There are ever fewer jobs available, and children can study at the local school only until the ninth form. The housing stock consists entirely of wooden houses. The amenities are outside, and fresh water is truck into the villaged. When a house is uninhabited, it rapidly deteriorates, and the roof eventually caves in. Currently, there are many such dilapidated barracks-style houses in Käppäselgä. There are also problems with transportation. A commuter train used to run twice a day (Käppäselgä has its own train station), but several years ago the schedule was reduced to once a day. So, if they want to go to Kondopoga or Petrozavodsky, villagers have to be at the station at four in the morning. The bus runs only once a week.
Ramshackle roofs, broken windows, and empty houses are a common sight in Käppäselgä.
Given these conditions, living in Käppäselgä is an accomplishment in itself. But the villagers face another obstacle: the unwillingness of the district council, which owns a considerable portion of the housing stock, to fulfill its responsibilities.
“It Could End in Disaster”
“I’m still afraid to sleep at night, because when the roof collapsed, it made such a racket. I jumped out of bed. I couldn’t understand what the cracklonging noise was. I went up to the attic. I could see my part of the roof was still intact, but the rest of the roof had collapsed into the flat next door,” said Ryaziyeva.
Ryaziyeva is sixty-two years old. She has had a stroke, suffers from diabetes and hypertension, and lives in a wooden house whose roof, she argues, could collapse at any moment due to inaction by the district council.
All the locals know Ryaziyeva: she worked at the local hospital for several decades. In the early 1980s, she and her husband moved into a four-flat wooden barracks, built in 1953, on Central Street. In 1984, the house was refurbished. The common corridor shared by the flats was removed, but the roof was not repanelled and reshingled. Consequently, for many years the roof would leak after heavy rains, dousing “either the ceiling lamp or the sofa.” In the 2000s, Ryaziyeva managed to get the council to repair the roof by threatening to take them to court, but according to her, the roofers the council hired for the job repaired only her portion of the roof, and slipped the old roof slats back under the new shingles.
There has not been a thorough renovation since then, and repairs that were carried out from time to time, such as replacing the window frames, were done by the residents themselves. Several years ago, when there was a hullabaloo about the nationwide housing privatization program’s coming to an end, Ryaziyeva privatized her flat. The other three flats in the house remained the council’s property.
Ryaziyeva now lives alone in the deserted barracks. Her children, grown up, have moved to the city, and her neighbors have either moved away, died or gone to prison. So, the other flats in the house are uninhabited and unheated, and so they are falling apart. The damage is so extensive that the roof in one flat has collapsed: this was the incident described by Ryaziyeva, above, when a terrible racket woke her up in the middle of the night. There is still serious danger that the rotten section of the roof above the empty flats will collapse, taking the roof over Ryaziyeva’s flat down with them. She has had to close two rooms in her own flat. The furnaces in those rooms, adjacent to the flats next door, could no longer be heated. The cold and damp swelled the wallpaper on the walls, and the window frames sagged and succumbed to rot.
An uninhabited room in Galina Ryaziyeva’s flat
There is another problem. Uninvited guests have taken to visiting the uninhabited part of the house.
“The housing inspectorate ordered the council to make the house inaccessible to strangers. But this was not done. My son-in-law and I had to drive them out. Two men got blotto in there and fell asleep. Then I boarded up the doors myself. It could end in disaster.”
The Council Was to Blame
Ryaziyeva first sounded the alarm in 2014, but her patience ran out in 2016, when part of the roof collapsed. She made several appeals to the Kondopoga District Council, which has recently been tasked with managing all the housing stock in the district. She also contacted the prosecutor’s office, the housing inspectorate, Alexander Hudilainen, former head of the Karelian Republic, and even federal MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Her son Alexei has twice written to President Putin’s public liaison office and recently sent a letter to Artur Parfyonchikov, the republic’s new head. Their appeals and letters were not dismissed. Recognizing the problem and receiving instructions from the relevant authorities, local officials promised to deal with the situation and carry out repairs, initially, after the snow melted, and later, in the spring or summer. So, in the voluminous archive of official correspondence and documents Ryaziyeva has amassed in recent years, there is a letter, signed by acting district head Dmitry Kirpu, in which the latter writes, “By Decree No. 535, dated 9 September 2016, of the Kondopoga Municipal District, flats no. 2, 3, 4 in the multi-flat house on Central Street in the village of Käppäselgä will be demolished in 2017. (The work is tentatively scheduled for the spring or summer of 2017). You will receive more information about the dates and deadlines of the work.”
The letter even mentioned a specific estimate of the repair’s cost: 300,000 rubles [approx. 4,300 euros]. According to Yelena Paltseva, who represented the Ryaziyev family in court, this figure was also mentioned later in the process. However, an independent inspection, which the family later commissioned, showed that more money would be required to rebuild the house.
Spring and summer came and went, but no work was done. Ryaziyeva appealed to Parfyonchikov’s community liaison office on several occasions, and Anna Lopatkina and Andrei Pogodin insisted she file a lawsuit, which she finally did.
The independent inspection determined the list of repairs necessary to save the Ryaziyev family flat. While reconstructing the house, it would be necessary to separate their portion of the house from the other, uninhabited parts of house, which would involve dismantling the chimneys and removing the roof, and then partly restoring the roof, the walls, and the foundation. Currently, assessors have evaluated the physical state of their flat as unsatisfactory: “It can be inhabited provided capital repairs and reconstruction are carried out.” The work should cost approximately 400,000 rubles.
An excerpt from the court’s ruling on the inspection: “An inspection has established that part of the residential building (flats no. 2, 3, 4) are dilapidated. Major leaks in the roof, deformation of the walls, subsidence of the foundation, and buckling of the window frames and door frames have been detected. The walls are subject to massive worsening cracks, severe rotting, and penetration by draughts and frost. Flats no. 2, 3, 4 are not heated. Their furnaces and chimneys have been destroyed. The wiring is in disrepair, and the load-bearing structures are dilapidated and partly destroyed. The dilapidation of the load-bearing structures in flats no. 2, 3, 4 has caused the deformation and destruction of the adjacent walls and ceiling beams in flat no. 1, and consequently the dilapidated flats should be dismantled. It is technically possible to eliminate their negative impact[.]”
The district council has questioned the outcome of the assessment.
“Actually, the house is not currently dilapidated,” claims Dmitry Kipru, now deputy head of the Kondopoga Municipal District. “I agree that things look bad. But currently there is no danger to the Ryaziyev flat. There are all sorts of independent assessors. We could commission a second assessment and get a different finding and a different estimate.”
In court, however, the defense refrained from challenging the assessment’s objectivity.
The adjacent flats are in this condition.
The trial spanned several hearings. The plaintiff was present for all of them except the final hearing. Ryaziyeva would often have to get up at night, in the dark, to go to the train station to catch the train that would bring her to Kondopoga at five in the morning—sometimes only to hear that the defendant was not ready for the hearing and had asked it be postponed.
“Those trips have really worn me out over the past two years,” Ryaziyeva confesses.
In turn, Paltseva claims the defense sometimes came to hearings unprepared.
“For example, we wanted to hear the testimony of the engineer who had declared the house dilapidated. But we were constantly offered supposedly valid reasons why he could not make it to the trial. Since their lawyer was not an engineer, he could not comment on certain matters, and he would ask that the hearings be postponed. I think they were dragging things out,” says Paltseva.
Judge Olga Sysoyeva personally traveled to Käppäselgä and saw the picture with her own eyes, a picture that had earlier consisted only of testimony, documents, and photographs.
The condition of the roof worries Ryaziyeva most of all.
The Ryaziyevs won the lawsuit. According to the court, it was the district council’s inaction, which has the three empty flats on its books, that reduced the house to its current condition.
“The court has sufficient grounds to conclude there is a causal link between the condition of the residential building and inaction on the part of the proprietor of the council flats and the common property in the house, who has failed to carry out capital repairs,” reads the court’s ruling.
Taking into account the nature and scope of the reconstruction work and the time needed to complete it, the court set a deadline: three months from the day the ruling entered into legal force.
But this is not the end of the story. The Kondopoga District Council has appealed the ruling in the Karelian Supreme Court. In particular, according to the appeal, the defense was not satisfied the lower court had “removed the plaintiffs from equity involvement, having assigned the duty to reconstruct the multi-flat residential building singlehandedly to one of the proprietors […] the Kondopoga Muncipal District.”
During the trial, the defense attorney requested the Ryaziyevs should, in keeping with their share of the house’s overall floor space, pay 33% of the repairs. The court declined the request.
Commenting on the situation, deputy district head Kirpu repeated the demand that the Ryaziyevs co-finance the repairs, as indicated in the appellate complaint. When we asked him why no such demand had been made when he issued the decree, which was never carried out, to demolish the dilapidated flats during the spring or summer of 2017, he found it difficult to respond.
“Our lawyers vet every decree. Maybe someone overlooked something,” Kirpu speculated.
Moreover, at the end of our conversation, Kirpu informed me that money for reconstruction of the house (around 500,000 rubles) had been found among the district’s nonappropriated funds, but they had not been allocated, because the Ryaziyevs had filed suit against the council.
Galina Ryaziyeva has to take care of her half of the house and the adjoining half of the house.
“In Karelia’s districts, people are held hostage by the inaction of the local authorities. They file lawsuits not for the fun of it, but to force councils to look for funds and fulfill their direct responsibilities in maintaining the housing stock,” argues Paltseva. “Besides, by law, a propietor can demand satisfaction if their rights have been violated, although the violations were not connected with dispossessing them of their property. A lawsuit petitioning the court to compel a defendant to act must be upheld even in cases in which the proprietor shows there is a real threat of violation of their rights due to inaction by the authorities. The assessment commissioned by the Ryaziyevs proved there was a direct causal link between the destruction of their flat and the council’s behavior. A date for the appeal hearing has not yet been set, but Karelia is already snowbound.”
This means that 25 Central Street will have to survive yet another winter. Who knows whether the roof will hold out or the lintel will collapse. According to the Ryaziyevs, the the local council has deliberately delayed the process so that there will be nothing left to save and restore.
All photos by Maria Dmitriyeva and courtesy of 7X7. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to the always reliable Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up
The Dmitriev Affair
Anna Yarovaya 7X7
March 1, 2017
March 12 is, technically, the last day of historian Yuri Dmitriev’s term in police custody during the investigation of the accusations made against him. The 61-year-old researcher has spent nearly the last three months in Pretrial Detention Facility No. 1 in Petrozavodsk. During this time, solo pickets supporting Dmitriev have been held on the streets of the Karelian capital, his case has been discussed at a traveling session of the Presidential Human Rights Council, and the republic got a new governor.
According to Dmitriev’s attorney, the historian will probably be indicted and his case sent to court. Yuri Dmitriev has been accused of producing pornography.
Neither his colleagues, friends or people who have worked at some time with Yuri Dmitriev believe the charges are true. Many link his arrest to the work he has done his whole life: searching for the places where political prisoners were shot, compiling lists of victims of political crackdowns during the Soviet period, and heading Memorial’s Karelian branch.
But this article is not about the criminal case, which falls within the jurisdiction of law enforcement. Hoping for a objective investigation, we can only wait for a fair resolution to this situation. We decided it was important to tell readers about the cause to which the arrested historian has devoted his life.
This article might be called a series of interviews about Dmitriev. It has transpired we knew almost nothing about him. On the other hand, it has become clear why a man like him might have been seen as “inconvenient” by the current regime.
From the Author
I met Yuri Dmitriev in 2012. I was on assignment, shooting a story about the construction of houses on the site of a former cemetery, and it led me to the historian. The story first grew into a ten-minute TV program, and then ballooned into an investigative film. We visited archives and former burial sites, traveled to working cemeteries, sat at a computer for hours on end searching for documents, read articles from conventions and laws, and basically worked on the film, Northern Point, together.
What always struck me about Dmitriev was his enthusiasm, which materialized less in the help he gave me and more in his attitude to history, to events that had occurred many years ago. For example, in the same cemetery where I shot the film, he found the remains of a POW. None of the local authorities was in a hurry to bury the exhumed “youth,” as Dmitriev called him. So Dmitriev put the bones in his garage. A while later, he secured a spot in Peski Cemetery, found a sponsor to help him buy a gravestone, and asked the philologist Valentina Dvinskaya to translate the phrase “To the victims of war, disappeared but not forgotten” into German so that it could be engraved on the headstone. He did all this for an unknown man who had been killed over sixty years ago.
The news of Dmitriev’s arrest was a shock to me. We had not communicated in a long while. A couple of years ago, we had planned to make a film about the burial of prisoners in the locks of the White Sea-Baltic Channel and the so-called Solovki execution transports. Dmitriev is indefatigable and has always been researching numerous topics. But it turns out that I’m not writing about them now.
Anatoly Razumov: The Solovki Quotas Anatoly Razumov came to Petrozavodsk from Petersburg on Dmitriev’s birthday, January 28. His longtime friend and colleague was not allowed to visit Dmitriev in the pretrial detention facility.
“I am here, nearby, and he knows it,” Razumov said to me then.
Indeed, he was nearby. He held a solo picket in support of his arrested comrade. For over an hour, Razumov stood on Petrozavodsk’s main street holding a placard that read, “Happy birthday, Yuri Dmitriev,” enthusiastically telling passersby about what his friend had worked on his whole life. It would have been an unpardonable mistake to turn down such a conversation.
Razumov and I spoke on the phone a couple of days later. I had a sense of déjà vu. The same thing had happened when Dmitriev had told me about the military cemeteries in Petrozavodsk. He had not just spoken, but had asked me a lot of questions whose answers I hadn’t known. “Ig-no-rance,” he would kindly drawl, ordering me to jot down the title of yet another book I “should have read before meeting” with him.
Razumov did not point out the gaps in my knowledge, but I heard about many things for the first time during our conversation. That was probably why the conversation did not turn into a proper interview. It was more of a monologue, a story about his friend, his cause, and his contribution to history. I decided it was vital to reproduce it verbatim, as Razumov told it to me, so readers could understand what a difficult and profound business Dmitriev had been involved in before his arrest.
The Book of Remembrance
I have worked in the Russian National Library (the Publichka) since 1978, and for over a quarter of a century I have been compiling and publishing The Book of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression. In 1987, I started gathering material, and in 1990, compiling a card catalogue based on the published lists of the victims. I retyped biographical information about them in their birthplaces: Minsk, Tallinn, Pskov, Petrozavodsk, Murmansk, Tver, Novgorod, Kiev, etc.
The first books of remembrance were published in the late eighties and early nineties. Books of remembrance were only taking shape as a genre then. There had always been lots of talk about the war, about the Great Patriotic War: as a topic it was always at the center of attention. But to compile books of remembrance about the war that included lists of the dead and missing in action was permitted only during the second thaw, in 1985. Prior to this, the names of the dead and the missing were not published. The first books of remembrance about the war were usually quite modest in terms of structure: surname, first name, patronymic. They didn’t even always include information about the place of death, and of course there was no personal information about these people.
But a mere four years passed, and we had permission to publish the names of the victims in newspapers, magazines, and books. We were permitted to clean up the burial sites of those who had been shot or died in captivity that had been found. It had been forbidden to write and say anything about the millions of those who had been killed and gone missing during the purges and crackdowns. Whatever person you asked about, nothing was known about him. Then suddenly we could publish this information.
Different people in different parts of the country were compiling books of remembrance. There were lots of enthusiasts, like me and Yuri Dmitriev, albeit not in every region of Russia. None of us had thought we would live to see this great day.
The first book published, in 1989, was The Book of Remembrance of Soviet Diplomatic Corps Workers, victims of purges during the thirties, forties, and early fifties. There were 130 names in the book.
Other books of remembrance were gradually published, regional books, books dealing with particular ethnic groups, with crackdowns against believers of different faiths, with particular sites where those had been shot were buried.
I kept track of all the new publications on the history of the Soviet purges and crackdowns. We also needed a bibliography for Pages of History, a digest, published by Lenizdat, of which I was a co-editor. I kept track of the search for sites where the executed had been buried. I was educated not only as a historian but also as an archaeologist. Of course, I knew about the famous site of the Katyn massacre near Smolensk, which had been found long ago. But it was not common knowledge in the Soviet Union or, rather, you were not supposed to know about it, much less about other burial grounds. Of course, there were such burial sites near every major town and city in the Soviet Union.
In 1988, it was a bombshell when they found Kurapaty, an execution site from the time of the Great Terror near Minsk. I published the Belarusians’ story of the find in the Leningrad newspaper Smena, and we wrote wrote about Kurapaty in the Pages of History digest. Everything was read hot off the presses. The reporters at Leningradskaya Pravda called on Petersburgers to report all suspicious areas and find “our local Kurapaty.” Thus, in the spring of 1989, a special security facility was found in the village of Levashovo near Leningrad. It was the largest burial site of executed prisoners in the Soviet Union.
I followed all these developments closely. I knew, of course, about the work in the Karelia. Even before we had met, I had heard about Yuri and what he was doing.
In 1996, I was editing the second volume of The Leningrad Martyrology, which dealt with October 1937, and I needed to publish a list of the prisoners at Solovki Prison who had been shot. Where were they executed? Even state security officers in Petersburg didn’t know: they had no information about it. Yeah, they had been shot somewhere, and it was clearly not in Leningrad, because there was a record showing that one of the regular executioners, NKVD Captain Matveev, had been seconded to Kem in connection with this list of prisoners. That was all.
The second volume was published in 1996 with a preface by Dmitry Likhachov, and in July 1997 Sandarmokh was found. My Lord! There was no doubt prisoners transported from Solovki had been shot there in October and November 1937. That was the first time I heard Dmitriev’s name: in the reports about the find and from Petersburg members of Memorial, whom I knew quite well.
But I met Dmitriev later, as part of the Returned Names project. In 2000, an attempt was made to compile a single database containing the names of all victims of political persecution in the Soviet Union. It was an international project: we were supported by the Ford Foundation. During an academic conference in Nizhny Tagil, my colleagues asked me to be the project’s regional coordinator for Northwest Russia. I surveyed the entire region, and that was when I met Yuri personally.
Like Yuri, I’m from a military family. Our family wandered a lot. My father served in different places, mostly in his homeland of Belarus, but also with the Soviet troops in Germany. We lived for a time in Berlin, and then Eberswald. I was never able to make friends with my agemates, and I lost track of many of them. I started to make friends at university, and then on the job, the job I got at the library after finishing university. It was God’s will that I do this, that I found a vocation in life that totally suited me.
I had always been disturbed by the question of why it was wrong to think freely and ask questions, why a person’s life was so little valued that it could be ended just like that. A person should live a long life. Why are the tormented deprived not only of life, but even of a grave? You can imagine how I felt when it was possible to talk about executed prisoners. Nothing had been known about them. Not even their relatives said anything about them: either they lied or didn’t know. I took on the job of restoring memory. All the colleagues I met in this new life became kindred souls, but a select few became close friends. Yura was a close friend from the moment we met.
Yura immediately took me in his jalopy to Sandarmokh. We barely made it to Medvezhyegorsk in that wreck. From time to time, he would roll down the window for Veda (aka the dog Ved’ma, “Witch”), and she would happily bark at everything in the vicinity, thus replacing the horn, which didn’t work in that car, I think.
Yura showed me Sandarmokh. That was important to me. By that time, his book The Karelia Memorial Lists was nearly ready. I soon attended the book’s presentation. I opened up the packages from the printers (Yura taught me not to cut the plastic tapes but undo them), handed copies out to people, and made my own speech. It was a wonderful presentation. Everyone spoke very well, including the relatives of the victims, who regarded Yura as an important, valuable person. Since then he has been one of my greatest friends, and a wonderful person with whom to speak when I want to talk frankly.
He would come to Petersburg for presentations of successive volumes of the Martyrology and do what I had done at his presentation.
I liked Yuri’s position. I absolutely understood him. He would just say, “Old women need to know where their dead are buried, and I’m going to do everything to make that happen.” And he did what he could, and he still does that. I’m more in the habit of listening rather than asking questions, which complements his outgoingness and talkativeness.
The Solovki: A Common Cause
Until the summer of 1937, Karelia was administered by the NKVD’s Leningrad Regional office, meaning that Karelian folk were persecuted here, and people from Leningrad ended up there: their lives crossed. Yura and I exchanged information about the victims: he gave me info about his victims, and I gave him info about mine. Finally, we set about comparing the information about the Solovki execution groups of 1937 and 1938. Sandarmokh had been found, but that was the first group of executed Solovki prisoners. It was the first execution plan, the first “quota.” 1,200 people were supposed to be shot, and 1,111 were shot outside of Medvezhyegorsk. When was the next detachment of executed prisoners? December 1937, the group of prisoners in which Pavel Florensky was shot. Where they were shot remained a mystery. There was no mention of it in the papers I had found in the state security archives in Petersburg. It was forbidden to include information of this sort in the instructions.
Here is an execution order, issued to Commandant Polikarpov: “509 persons [in fact, three people on the list had already been sent to Moscow] from the Solovki Prison should be shot.” But where? Seemingly, since Polikarpov was commandant of the Leningrad office, they would have been sent to Leningrad. At our own peril and risk, when we were editing the fourth volume of the Martyrology (dealing with executions in December 1937), we wrote that the Solovki prisoners had been shot in Leningrad. We published the fourth volume, but questions still remained. After all, there were no documents with accurate information.
A third group of Solovki prisoners, another 200 people, was shot on February 17, 1938. The details about what happened to them were even murkier. If the second group had been transported to the mainland for execution in early December (it was a warm year, and the shipping season ended late), it was altogether unclear where the 200 people were shot in 1938.
In 2004, I decided to go on an expedition. It is each individual’s plight that matters to Yura and me, not statistics. When you read the files, the person appears right before you, and he doesn’t let you go.
Yura and I agreed to travel to Solovki. I couldn’t find a more knowledgeable and closer person to help me look for something on the islands. We were armed with a description of the execution, drawn from the testimony of former Solovki Prisoner officers, interrogated during the Thaw: they claimed the 200 prisoners had been shot on the way from the Solovki Kremlin to the lighthouse on Sekirnaya Hill. I had never been to Solovki. I knew the local places names from looking at maps and papers. So we arrived there in 2004. It was the first tentative expedition. We walked around looking. Yura would immediately stop at any suspicious spot. We would pitch tent in some places and try to probe the soil, but we didn’t find anything.
We went again the next year. By then we had become friends with Father Matfei, rector of the Holy Ascension Hermitage, and he showed us all the suspicious spots on Sekirnaya Hill, drawing our attention to the vegetation, trees, and depressions. But I took ill then, and Yura wouldn’t let me go into the field. Yura is the sort of guy who is endlessly concerned about the people around him, albeit sometimes in a rough way. He laid me down with a temperature in a cell in the hermitage, and he went off with the writer Vasily Firsov, who had come along with us on the trip, to investigate one of the suspicious spots. Suddenly, they came running in: “We’ve found them!” Of course, I ran out to have a look and help them with the work. We then uncovered the remains of two prisoners who had been shot.
I was unable to make the trip in 2006: editing the forthcoming volumes of the Martyrology was taking up all my time. Teachers and students from the Moscow International Film School went to Solovki that year. They helped Yura clear the burial site of dry branches, undergrowth, and deadwood, and discovered many more pits. So the discovery of the cemetery where the executed prisoners were buried dates back to then.
And yet our long-standing goal of finding the site where 200 people were executed, the so-called third Solovki quota, has not been fulfiled. There were no more such mass executions on the islands. The site should be a trench or gigantic pit or series of pits. We haven’t found the place, but we’ll find it someday, just like the place where the group in which Florensky was shot, the so-called second Solovki quota. I think we should search near Lodeynoye Field, because the highly decorated executioner Shalygin was dispatched to the vicinity of the Lodeynoye Field Camp. I have told all this to Yura.
This arrest, you see… Not only did they trash his nest, his apartment, brazenly, tramping all over it in their boots, but they also dealt a blow to the work. I’d been helping Yura edit two new books of remembrance and had been sending him information from time to time. Yuri has edited another book of remembrance long ago: it just needs to be printed.
And when it comes to the search for the execution sites, the only hope lies with Yura’s expeditions. I have outlined the range of places to search, and Yura had set about searching. He had got his film school kids involved in the work. Yura and I have work to do together. I hope he will be released in a good frame of mind and finish the two books of remembrance, and I’ll persuade him to publish the third. And if we have the manpower, we will find the places where the second and third Solovki quotas are buried.
My Friend’s Arrest
Despite the fact Yuri is easy to get along with, he has keen insight into human nature. He is quite good at sizing up a person, sensing the direction his thoughts are moving. When he comes to Petersburg for the presentation of the latest volume of the Martyrology, what with his speeches, jokes, and irony, people here are just ready to idolize him.
I have thought about why this has happened to Yura now. I have my own opinion on this score, of course: how things were going in that direction, how everything was shaping up. I remember the Brezhnev era. I thought then I would not outlive the Soviet leadership, because I tried to speak my mind. Sometimes you’ll end up sweating like a pig, but if you can, you should try and speak your mind. Yura also acts that way and speaks that way, often in an absolutely denuded, harsh form. I imagine lots of people really don’t like either what he does or how he talks and acts.
Basically, it somehow happened the decision was made to shut him down, to knock him out of his work and life. For Yura is one of a kind, there is no one else like him anywhere else in Russia. And if he is shut down in this way, and it’s done a little more dirtily than usually, everyone else will hunker down. I won’t bother speculating about the specifics, but I’ve read my share of Soviet-era investigative files from the archives, and our modern justice system is based on that Soviet system, alas, not on the old Russian system. I know the clichés, we all remember them. “People don’t go to jail in this country for nothing.” “The prosecutor and the police see eye to eye on the case, and that’s how it should be.” “Our courts are the most humane and fairest in the world.”
I think all this will definitely start to recede someday in connection with some case. Will it be Yura’s case? I don’t know. But there is a chance they hung all this on the wrong man and don’t understand the strength of his spirit.
“They Always Existed”
I think about the horrible purges and persecutions of the Soviet era. I don’t think the crackdowns were harsher during one period and less harsh during a different period. They always existed. Only they existed relative to the political moment, and the persecutions were modified only in those terms. However the regime wanted to crack down on its enemies that was how it cracked down on them.
The current Russian legal system can be described as follows. If we call pre-revolutionary Russia Russia 1, it was followed by the Soviet Union, which wasn’t even Soviet Russia, but let’s call it Russia 2 for argument’s sake. Where do live now? At best, in Russia 2+, because there is no Russia 3. It hasn’t come into being. It hasn’t understood or realized itself. It has its roots in the Soviet past and grows out of that past.
The legal system of the current Russian state doesn’t hold a candle to the system that existed prior to 1917. It’s flesh of the flesh of the Soviet system. I have been interviewed on the subject several times, on the question of whether the purges could happen again and whether they could be even worse. But they are already happening: we have crackdowns right now. Could they intensify? Could they become scarier? You can never say never, but our job is to take a stand against political persecution and stand firm.
Dmitriev’s Daughter Katerina Gleb Yarovoi, my husband and colleague, was the first to meet Katerina. He was the first reporter with whom Yuri Dmitriev’s eldest daughter agreed to talk about her father’s arrest. We then communicated through social networks, and there were money transfers for Dmitriev, which different people sent to Katerina through me. Then we finally met in person at Dmitriev’s house.
“When they came for Dad, they made such a mess there. They ripped out all the wiring, so now the lights don’t work and you have to bring your own,” Katya says by way of explaining the lamp sticking out of her bag.
The last time I had been in the apartment was three years ago. Cigarette smoke, the buzz of the computer, a cup of coffee, and a bar of Osobyi chocolate: that is how I remember working on Northern Point. I cannot imagine how I would have managed without Dmitriev. It was he who showed me an entire period in the history of Petrozavodsk, a time of POW camps, POWs who died in the postwar city from being worked to death and were buried, and the modern residential buildings erected a short time later on top of their remains.
The apartment is completely different now: empty, quiet, gloomy. Disturbed by the police, Dmitriev’s workplace is no longer cosy. A lone pack of Belomorkanal cigarettes lies amidst papers, cables from the computer equipment dangle from his desk, and amongst other books I see the blue cover of The Memorial Lists of Karelia, which Dmitriev and Ivan Chukhin worked on for many years. The apartment’s owner, torn on December 13 from his customary working atmosphere, gazes on the scene reproachfully from a portrait hung on the wall.
“He had a dog then, Veda, short for Ved’ma [“Witch”]. She was with him on all the trips, on all the digs. He found her on Friday the thirteenth, so he called her Ved’ma. He never went anywhere without here. When she died, Dad cried over her,” Katerina tells me, showing me a photo of a dappled mongrel, seated at Dmitriev’s feet.
There are lots of photographs, a whole album. We had come to Dmitriev’s apartment to get them.
Did your father tell you and your brother what he did, where he would go, what he was investigating?
Of course. I remember that Dad was constantly going on different digs. He was constantly studying skulls, bringing them home. I was still in kindergarten then. We probably didn’t pay much mind to the particulars of his work. But as long as I can remember, he would sleep a couple of hours day. He would sit poring over those cards, he constantly had to dictate something. When we were a bit older, he tried to explain things to us. For example, my great-grandfather, Mom’s grandfather, had been shot. Dad found Great-Granddad’s burial site in a memorial book: the Zaretsk Cemetery next to Exaltation of the Cross Cathedral in Petrozavodsk. I cannot speak for my brother, but I’m a daddy’s girl, and I have always been around him. We would be sitting together, and he would tell me about the plights of people, how they were arrested, and why they might have been arrested then. He was always interesting to be around. His work has always interested me from a personal viewpoint. It’s frightening and, at the same time, interesting.
Did you help him?
It depends. I think sometimes he would have gladly refused our “help.” Say, when my brother and I were teenagers, we were terribly curious about what was on Dad’s computer. We got on the computer and poked the keys. Dad came in, and he was totally shocked: we had accidentally deleted all his files. So then we had to sit there and help him restore everything. It was interesting at one time, but at a certain point it irritated me. Imagine: I was fifteen years old, my friends were waiting to go for a walk, and he would say, “Help me.” And I would sit and dictate to him, and he would be looking for each letter with one finger, hammering out the dates. I would freak out then.
The trips were probably more exciting? Did you often go on the expeditions?
I can’t say I went that often. But as they say, seldom but to the point. One day, Dad said to us, “Who’s going with me tomorrow to Medvezhyegorsk?” My brother and I immediately said neither of us was going, we didn’t want to. But at six in the morning, for reasons I can’t explain, I jumped out of bed when Dad was getting ready to go and said, “Wait! I’m going with you.” And so we set out for the digs. We lived in a cottage on the shore of a lake. Dad’s colleagues from Petersburg and a group of soldiers were with us. The amount of walking we did then was inexpressible. We were constantly on foot. Dad and his colleagues would split up and discuss things amongst themselves. Dad understood, of course, that I needed to eat, that I needed breaks, that it was hard for me, but all the same we walked and searched a great deal. Ultimately, we found what we were looking for. We found Sandarmokh.
How did a teenage girl react to such a find?
Probably because Dad was calm about it, I reacted to the remains more or less calmly. The soldiers chuckled nervously when they found bones, and there were people who fainted, wailed, and felt sick. I remember there were very many gadflies and horseflies. The mosquitoes seemed like paradise compared with them. I then had the impression (maybe I believed in the transmigration of souls) that the horseflies were the people we had found. And I felt peaceful and scared at the same time. It’s hard to convey the emotions.
Did you understand why your father did this work?
It came with time. I would often ask him why he was always sitting at the computer and writing or retyping something. He would say, “I don’t know who I was in my past life, but I’ve understood the meaning of my life now, and I know I have to do this.” When I was older, I would constantly tell him to relax and ask him how he could spend so much time sitting poring over the lists and working at the computer. He would say, “I can’t relax. I have to finish the book. They’re waiting for me.” Yet he didn’t do it for money. When The Book of Remembrance came out, people would tell him that he could sell it, maybe even for good money. But he would always reply, “I can’t make money off of people for whom these memories matter, because everyone should know where their loved ones are buried.” I came to a new awareness after his arrest. I knew that Dad had a lot of acquaintances, but I didn’t expect such support. When I told him how much his friends and colleagues had supported him, he even shed a tear.
Did you go on any more trips with your father after Sandarmokh and those finds? Do you have any desire to continue his work?
It’s very difficult. Not everyone is psychologically capable of coping with it. After Sandarmokh, I was in Krasny Bor Forest when the cemetery there was opened. We went there several years ago. They had this program: children sang songs, there was a portable belfry that people played, and very poignant poems were recited. I haven’t been to Sandarmokh for a long time. A lot of people used to go there, crowds of people. But nowadays fewer and fewer people make the trip. The last few years, however, my son has gone there. He is now the same age I was when we found Sandarmokh. So the baton has been passed, as they say.
Valentin Kaiser: The Work Is His First Wife Valentin Kaiser is a longtime friend of Yuri Dmitriev. The news of his friend’s arrest certainly shook him, too. Kaiser has been setting up a shipping museum in a basement room at the River Academy. Now he recalls that he once helped Dmitriev establish a Museum of Victims of Political Repression, but city hall evicted it due to the tenant’s utter pennilessness.
Yura and I met in the 1980s, when the Popular Front formed. Back then, Yura cried, “Clobber the Communists!” He was an assistant to Ivan Chukhin, a deputy to the USSR Supreme Soviet. In his book The Practice of Terror in Karelia, Chukhin wrote, “I took up this question to rehabilitate my father, because I found his signature on thirty-four execution orders.” After Chukhin passed away, Yuri continued his cause.
Have you helped Dmitriev in his work?
I have tried to help Yura, but it’s quite difficult to help him. Working with this stuff, especially digging, is quite difficult. I once traveled with him to Krasny Bor Forest, where we found Japanese spies in a common grave. There were these green lacquered shoes in the grave: there was one Japanese woman in the city then. There were also twelve pairs of leather shoes: they belonged to the Japanese spies. I watched the soldiers digging and dragging them out. It’s not my thing. It’s quite heavy psychologically. There are many investigative files where the pages are covered in blood or torn. Only he alone could cope with this specifics of this, as well as the digging and reburials. Moreover, he did it in keeping with the scientific method, measuring and describing everything.
At one time, Yura had a Museum of Victims of Political Oppresion, at 25 Lenin Prospect, in a basement. He had collected wheelbarrows there, hardware, and God knows what else. But then the mayor’s office leased the space commercially, and Yura dragged everything in bags to a garage.
Recently, Dmitriev said something was about to happen. Did he share his thoughts and worries with you?
A year ago, Yuri said they were trying to put the squeeze on him. It’s my opinion, but I think the top brass really didn’t like what he was doing. The children of the people involved in the executions are usually amongst the top brass. They really don’t like it when people start making names and surnames public.
There was this incident. When Ivan Chukhin passed away, his last book, The Practice of Terror in Karelia, was published. The book’s final chapter is untitled: it contains the surnames of the men who did the shooting. During the book’s presentation at the university, a young man expressed his outrage: “Who gave you the right to mention my father’s surname?” Yuri said to him, “First, I didn’t write the book. Go to the cemetery and ask Ivan Chukhin why he did it. Second, if you had any brains, you’d keep your mouth shut. If you had a conscience, you’d hang yourself from a rope for having a dad like that.” Yura is an abrupt fellow by nature. He can tell anyone to go frack himself, even a minister.
You think it’s revenge for being too active?
Well, they sentenced someone from Moscow Memorial to seven years in prison [?], and now they’re trying to get at the rest of them to put an end to their cause. But I don’t think it will work out for them, because human souls are immortal. I’ll give you an example. When we took people to Sandarmokh for the first time, we had just stepped onto the path, and it was quiet in the forest, not a hint of a breeze, and suddenly the crowns of the trees stirred so furiously that this roar resounded over the whole forest. Yura said then that people’s souls had waited so many years to be remembered.
I certainly don’t believe Yura could do the things of which he has been accused. First, he’s not stupid: there’s no point being involved in this nonsense. Second, when I spoke with the police investigator, I told him that in order to do what Yura has been accused of, one would need lots of time, but when would he have managed to do the huge amount of work he was doing? Women avoided him because the work was his first wife.
Olga Kerzina: They Have a Pure, Cheerful Relationship Olga Kerzina is director of the Moscow International Film School. Like many of the people with whom I spoke, she was drawn to Yuri Dmitriev by a passion for history and, specificially in her case, an interest in Solovki. But Kerzina is not simply an associate of Dmitriev’s but also the godmother of his youngest daughter.
Everyone with whom I’ve spoken while writing this article has told me about they met Dmitriev? How did you meet?
In the early 2000s, we had a project entitled Freedom. We were trying to understand how freedom was understood by people imprisoned in the 1930s, for these were people from the aristocracy and the intelligentsia, and how the process works nowadays. We made a film about the Solovki Camp, interviewing the convicts who were still alive then. As part of the expedition, we went to a juvenile penal colony in Vologda. That was our itinerary. But there was one other stop, Petrozavodsk. We were trying to figure out who worked on history here, and that’s how we found Dmitriev. He immediately amended our itinerary and took us to Sandarmokh. Thus, in 2000, the first generation of students met him. That’s when we got the idea to make trips to Solovki. All we knew then was that it was the first camp established under Lenin. So of course when we met Yuri in Petrozavodsk, his stories made a big impression on us. He inspired us with the idea of erecting a monument on Solovki. In 2002, we erected a memorial cross (produced in the Solovki cross-making workshop of Georgy Kozhokar) in the Philipp Pustinya. We regard it as an echo of the inspiration we felt after meeting Dmitriev.
Meaning your relationship began as a working relationship?
Yes, and with stories about how to work with history, what its peculiarities and features are. But we really got to know each other and became friends later. In 2005, Yuri found an burial site on Sekirnaya Hill on Solovki. It was a really serious place for us. In 2006, he asked us to work on a memorial. In the summer of 2006, we had seven days of intense work with Dmitriev on Sekirnaya Hill. We had a lot of help from Father Matfei. He and Yuri supervised the work. So you could say our real collaboration began with the establishment of a cemetery on Sekirnaya Hill in 2006.
The film school kids, as many people call them, are in fact teenagers, children, basically. What was their attitude to work that was anything but childish? Even many adults cannot cope with this work psychologically.
The film school students weren’t involved in the digs, because it’s a serious business. A prayer has to be performed, and the whole thing is complicated. But you should realize this place on a hillside was an impenetrable forest, a pine and spruce forest. It was hard even to walk through it without scratching yourself. Basically, we cleared the whole place from scratch. We pruned the dry branches, carried away fallen trees, and made stairs from the boulders. Then we set up benches, dragged sand from a quarry to fill in the graves, and helped erect the crosses. Vasily Firsov and Yuri were doing the excavations then, and we did everything else, but under Dmitriev’s guidance. For example, we marked the premises of the cemetery. First, we wrapped tape around the trees, and then we drafted a map so the cemetery would be included on the map of Solovki.
As far as I understand, work on the Solovki memorial went on for many years?
And it’s still underway. In 2007, we put up a stand there, and then a chapel. In 2008, a memorial cross in memory of the Solovki neo-martyrs was erected next to the cemetery. That cross was also built in Georgy Kozhokar’s studio. The main breakthroughs happened in 2006 and 2007: they were the most dynamic years. Then we took a break, because Yuri adopted Sveta [name changed] then. We resumed work in 2011. But the cemetery is a burial site from 1929, and Dmitriev was looking for the third group of Solovki prisoners transported off the islands and shot, and then the second group as well, the group in which Pavel Florensky was shot.
Meaning there have been other expeditions to find the Solovki quotas?
After Anatoly Razumov hypothesized that Lodeynoye Field was the next place where prisoners were transported and shot, we organized an expedition there. Yuri and Sveta joined us then, and after that she took part in all our summer expeditions. So it turns out that since 2011, we have gone on two summer expeditions, to Lodeynoye Field and Solovki. Yuri tried to be involved in both trips.
We have somehow impercetibly segued to Sveta’s appearance. I know that you’re her godmother, and this choice mattered a lot both to Dmitriev and to the girl herself. How did you make this decision?
He introduced Sveta to us in 2009. She was still small then, and he wasn’t traveling anywhere then. He just came to see us in Petrozavodsk. And when he took her on an expedition for the first time, our kids made friends with her right away, of course. She’s a wonderful child. Yuri had long spoken of the fact he want to baptise her, and he wanted to do on Sekirnaya Hill, because the place meant so much to him, it was so bound up with his work. It was Father Matfei who baptised her. He took it seriously. I know he discussed it with Katya. And the choice was a serious one to him, an important aspect, partly due to the fact that he had been adopted himself, and as long as he had the strength he wanted to give another person the same chance. At the same time, he took great care of her during these trips, and yet it mattered that she be able to do everything herself: cook, dress herself, and clean up. He raised an independent lady.
The decision was obvious for me. After the Solovki expeditions, after all the hard work we had done (hard both physically and emotionally), when you experiece such extreme moments, you come to know a person and get closer.
We have found out what Yuri Dmitriev is like as a friend, colleague, and father. What is he like to you?
Of course, he’s amazing. What do our students find interesting? His determination to pursue his cause, the fact he fears nothing, that he seeks the means to do something even when obstacles arise and things don’t work. Well, and the goal itself is noble. He has a very profound understanding of his cause. Also, you can always count on him. The summer of 2007 was quite chilly. It was raining buckets the whole time, the temperature was around ten degrees Centigrade, and we had to work in the rain, but the bathhouse hadn’t really been set up yet. The students were really freezing. He then fired up the stove and showed how to caulk the windows, how to start a fire in the rain when the firewood is damp, and how to chop firewood generally. Basically, he was an exemplar of how to survive in difficult conditions. And despite the fact that outwardly he seemed harsh and abrupt, it was only outwardly. In fact, he’s a quite sensitive person on the inside, and a truly good father.
I’ll tell you an interesting story. In 2014, when we worked in Lodeynoye Field, he and Sveta came. He was then still working as a guard at a factory. He got his pay once and brought it home, but Sveta took it to school and handed it out to the children. I was stunned by his reaction. He was glad that the child was growing up to be a generous person, that she didn’t take it all for herself, but gave it to her friends. Meaning he wasn’t angry or upset. He was genuinely glad that his child was generous. And the kids gave nearly all the money back.
In a nutshell, how can you call this a father-daughter relationship?
It’s impossible to convey. They have a pure, cheerful relationship. It’s amazing how one can strike out against a loved one like that. It’s hard to live that down.
Are you planning an expedition to Solovki this summer?
Yes, and we hope to be going with Yuri.
Irina Flige: Sandarmokh Irina Flige is head of Memorial’s Petersburg branch. In 1997, she was a member of the expedition to the Medvezyegorsk District during which she, Venianim Iofe, and Yuri Dmitriev discovered Sandarmokh.
When I found out that Flige was coming to Petrozavodsk with the commission from the Presidential Human Rights Council, I had to see her. We met not just anywhere, but in Sandarmokh. It probably could not been any other way.
Irina, tell me how you met and worked with Yuri Dmitriev. We could probably say that Sandarmokh introduced you?
Quite right. The fact is that Sandarmokh was found thanks to the work of two search teams. Starting in the late 1980s, Veniamin Iofe and I searched for huge number of people who had gone missing on Solovki in 1937. Our search was gradual, and by 1997 we were led to the Medvezyegorsk District by different sources, to this place. But what does it mean to be led to a place by archival documents? It means being led to the place with the accuracy of a single square kilometer. And at that moment, the spring of 1997, we met Yura. He and Ivan Chukhin had been working together for many years searching for people shot on verdicts rendered by the so-called Karelian NKVD troika.
Did he have more accurate information about the execution sites?
It wasn’t quite that way. Basically, the execution site was not listed on certificates of implemented death sentences in all regions. Karelia is an exception in this sense. The place of execution is listed on nearly all the certificates, but to the nearest settlements, for example, Petrozavodsky, Segezha, Medvezhyegorsk, and so on. By the time we met, Yura had been searching for the burial sites of people shot after being sentenced to death by the Karelian troika for many years. He had found Krasny Bor, and different points in the vicinity of Petrozavodsk. And he had his own notions of where this place was located in the vicinity of Medvezhyegorsk. When we met, we immediately had a common research interest and we agreed to make a trip here. That was July 1, 1997. The three of us, Yura and I, led by Veniamin Iofe, came here. Although in fact there were five of us, because Yura’s daughter Katya and his dog were with us.
How much time did you spend searching and digging?
One day. You wouldn’t believe it: one day! The fact was that we were fantastically well prepared. We had found this spot in the archive documents and came here. So set to work. In May, however, Iofe had made an agreement with the Medvezhyegorsk District administration. Its head supported the expedition and had agreed with the nearest military unit, which sent soldiers to do the work of uncovering the burial pits.
The soldiers were digging. It was one empty pity after another, and at the same they were giggling. Yura was dubious that we should search near the quarry mentioned in certain documents. He began running around in circles. Then he walked up and said, “I think I’ve found them!” He showed us two saucer-like shapes on the ground. In summer, they were quite visible: as time passed, the mass burial pit was sinking. We moved to this spot with the soldiers. They dug just as cheerfully, giggling as they did. Then suddenly they jumped out of the two-meter-deep pit (the burial was quite deep) as if they were on springs, frightened. That same day we summoned the prosecutor’s office, and the site was designated a mass grave.
Was the decision that there would be a memorial cemetery here taken promptly?
Yes, a memorial was opened here on October 27. 1997 was the sixtieth anniversay of the Great Terror, the sixtieth anniversary of the executions. At that time, we regarded October 27 as the day the first verifiable executions took, the first executions of the Solovki quota. Later, in 1998, and this is quite important, at Memorial’s behest, the Karelian government and the Medvezhyegorsk District administration established a International Day of Remembrance here at Sandarmokh. Its date, August 5, marks the beginning of mass punitive operations of the Great Terror in 1937. People travel here from every region of Russia and from other countries. This commemoration has gone on for almost twenty years.
How does Sandarmokh differ from other mass execution sites?
Many execution grounds have been located, but many of them do not have clear boundaries. We don’t where they begin and end. Here the entire grounds have been reliably identified and fenced off. The second things is that now we know all the names of the people executed and buried at Sandarmokh.
Are days of remembrance held at all the execution grounds?
Yes, days of remembrance of the victims of the Soviet terror are held in various parts of the country. But these are usually regional commemorative days, attended by people from that region. This is how they are held in Petersburg, Moscow, and all the major cities. Sandarmokh is different, because here there are lots of people who were not inhabitants of Karelia. There were the convicts of Solovki and the Belbaltlag, who were shot in 1937. These people were not free. They were either convicts or so-called special settlers who had remained in Karelia after serving their sentences. So the memory of these people draws people from different parts of Russia and different countries.
Sandarmokh is a unique piece of completed research. It is to Yura’s tremendous merit that he collected all the information, and today we know by name all the people who lie here. In October 2016, we launched the Sandarmokh website and produced a mobile app. We really hope the site will be popular. Indeed, the number of views of the site already shows that it’s popular.
Sandarmokh is unique in another way. When we speak of memory, quite often at many historical commemorative sites these two notions—history and memory— diverge a bit. History and memory only partially intersect, because of traditions, because of legends, because of incomplete historical date, incapable of refuting these legends. This is how it is at Levashovo in Petersburg. If we speak of Levashovo as a commemorative site, it is the Great Terror in Leningrad that is commemorated. If we speak of the historical aspect, it’s all quite confusing. Of the 19,450 people interred there, we can identify only eight thousand. The others are unknown. In this sense, Sandarmokh is also a unique place. The names attached to the site have been completely verified.
You have said that in the past two years the Karelian leadership has either been prejudiced against or has just ignored the days of remembrance held in Sandarmokh. What is the reason for this?
It’s difficult for me to say why this is. I don’t know what motivates them, and I find it hard to assess it. But I can say for certain that the tradition of holding the International Day of Remembrance on August 5 at Sandarmokh cannot be broken. This year marks the eightieth anniversary of the Great Terror and the twentieth anniversary of the discovery of the cemetary at Sandarmokh. So this year the days of remembrance will be especially solemn. In any case, round figures are quite important in human memory. The children of the victims, who are old and have been herew many times, attach a special importance to coming this year. For them, it will be eighty years since their father or grandfather was executed. We’d like to thionk that this year the commeroration will be organized properly, up to par, with the support and involvement of the authorities.
Can you imagine the day without Yuri Dmitriev?
It’s quite hard to imagine. But I’m an optimist, and I think that Yura will be involved in the commemorations on August 5.
There is a rather heated discussion on the political aspect of the case against Dmitriev going on right now in Petrozavodsk, and in Russia per se. What do you think about this?
Like all of us, I am sure that everyone realizes the case is a frame-up. And when a case is a frame-up, it becomes political for that reason alone. But we won’t be guess who ordered the frame-up, although it will come to light sooner or later. Right now we have to do what we can and what we’re able to do: mount a public campaign in defense of Yuri Dmitriev.
Sergei Krivenko: Memorial I had not planned to write about the arrest, but as I wrote the article, the idea that the Dmitriev case was the yet another demonstrative flogging of free-thinking people grew more and more firmly in my head. Many people link Dmitriev’s arrest to Memorial. Memorial itself links the Dmitriev case to the organization’s work.
As Sergei Krivenko, a board member of the International Memorial Society, told me, after the film on nationwide television in which Dmitriev’s case smoothly segued into an account of Memorial, almost no doubts remained that the arrest was linked to the organization’s work.
After Dmitriev’s arrest, there was talk that the Karelian branch of Memorial had not been active, and that Dmitriev himself, allegedly, had nothing to do with the organization’s work. We realize that this is far from the case. As a member of Memorial, tell us how Dmitriev ended up in Memorial?
Yuri Dmitriev has always been in the Memorial movement. We communicated with him, and he took part in events and conferences. There has always been a branch head in Karelia, but in recent years this person was not particularly active since he was elderly. In 2014, however, we underwent re-registration, and we needed a presence in the regions. Dmitriev took over this work in Karelia. He went through the formalities of establishing a Karelian Republican Branch of the Memorial Society and headed it.
So it turns out the opinion that Dmitriev’s arrest is consciously directed against Memorial is not groundless?
You would reach this conclusion based on the segment shown on Rossiya 24. Since two topics, Dmitriev and Memorial, are linked in the segment, you could say there is an underlying cause having to do with Memorial’s work.
At the meetings of the Presidential Human Rights Council in Karelia, when we talked about preserving memory, I detected two clear trends. On the one hand, the local authorities support all commemorative work. Even Dmitriev himself has been awarded a certificate of appreciation from the Republic of Karelia for his work in preserving historical memory. They are grateful for this work. At the same time, however, officials let it slip that this work should not be politicized. We don’t need foreign delegations or any interest on the part of foreigners. We’ll deal with it ourselves. But Dmitriev was quite active. Many foreign delegations went through him. Apparently, this didn’t suit the authorities entirely. At any rate, that was the impression I had.
In mid 2016, the Finnish newspaper Kaleva published an article by Petrozavodsk State University Yuri Kilin, which was subsequently cited by Izvestia and Zvezda TV. These publications argued that Sandarmokh was a place where Finnish invaders executed Soviet prisoners. So again the rhetoric leans toward the notion that Memorial had distorted reality.
I think this is a general trend. There is no single coordination center, where the conspirators sit and lay their plans: now we’ll publish this article, and then we’ll do something else. The article was published in line with the zeitgeist, which is marked by the rehabilitation of Stalin’s name and anti-western rhetoric generally. I think everything has just converged. It resembles the situation in Soviet times when the authorities tried to draw attention away from Katyn, where Polish officers had been executed. The Soviet authorities found a tiny Soviet village called Khatyn, which had been burned to the ground by the Nazis, and they talked about it. It really was burned to the ground: that’s a fact. But subsequently Memorial’s researchers found documents in the archives that confirmed the Central Committee had pushed this news in order to blur the public consciousness: Khatyn/Katyn, either the Germans killed people there or they hadn’t. It is the same thing in this case. They are foisting a certain current of opinion on Sandarmokh. Maybe it was the Finns who did the shooting, maybe not. It produces an ambiguous perception.
What do you know about any changes in Dmitriev’s case after the Human Rights Council’s visit?
I know that during our visit, they sped up the case: they wanted to submit it for trial. That was what the defense attorney said after talking with the police investigator. But after our visit, the case was again sent back for further investigation. They had not filed charges yet. As for Sandarmokh, there will be a request in our recommendations, which are still being drafted, a request we will also send under seperate cover, that the council and the government of Karelia jointly participate in the August 5 International Day of Remembrance at Sandarmokh.
It was interesting to observe society’s reaction after Yuri Dmitriev’s arrest. People seemingly split into two camps, all vying with each other to assert they didn’t or did believe the accusations. Everyone tried to remember something that would tip the majority in his or her favor.
Interestingly, in the arsenal of those who tried to mock Dmitriev, there were no arguments, while many people had never met Dmitriev and knew nothing about him or his work. Yet for some reason they considered it their duty to come up with something and voice it to the public. But let these thoughts remain with the people who thought them.
I decided it was important to publish letters of support from people who knew Dmitriev personally, people who were not afraid to speak out personally in their defense. Of course, these are only a few of them. [The original Russian article contains a selections of such letters — TRR.]
This was where I should have ended the article, and I had finished it and nearly published it. But for some reason I put it off. After I found this letter in my mailbox, I understood why. Apparently, it was a sign.
I publish the following letter with the permission of its author, that is, Yuri Dmitriev.
Good day, Anna!
Thanks for your kind words of support.
I could never imagine that such a trivial event as the arrest of Old Khottabych would cause such a public outcry. What matters is the reaction of normal people to the destruction of our family. The family is the most important thing. It shapes the personality and prompts a person to action. Any encroachment on the family by the state causes outrage among normal people. The enormity and impudence of the accusations against me only confirms the “human” essence of our current government.
I’m not afraid of the future. The worst thing that could happen has already come to pass: Sveta [name changed — Anna Yarovaya] has been taken away from us. She has again been deprived of a family and, at the whim of the state, plunged back into the life from I wrested her with great difficulty eight years ago.
Over the eight years spent in our family, Sveta went from being a tiny, sensitive girl to a completely independent young lady with a well-formed worldview, a variety of interests, the capacity to help people, and quite hardy health. Sveta independently chose the Orthodox faither as her main support in life, and she independently made the decision to take up sport. That was also quite a happy decision. In a year, she won three medals and won the city championship in her weight category. Sveta merged so organically with our family that we had forgotten she hadn’t been with us since birth, and Sveta responded to us with the same love.
How to return Sveta to the family? How to raise her and give her a good education? These are the questions that worry me more now than how many years the state is preparing to send me down for my civic stance. I see no other reasons for my “sudden” prosecution. Whose toes did I step on? I haven’t found an answer yet. But I realize that everything happens according to God’s will.
So far I cannot understand what role the Lord has given me for several years of my next life. Either I have been chosen to be a martyr or preacher or some kind of unifying element. The time will come and I will find out for sure. And then He will show me my way. But for the time being my attorney and I are fighting for our rights, fighting against the bias of the investigators and the blatant lies of the charges.
The meetings with Katya, the kind letters of support that have been arriving from different corners of the country, and daily conversations with God have helped me remain a reasonable, sensible person.
I follow the events in Russia with great anxiety. Unfortunately, the worst predictions are coming true, and I’m afraid that a great sorrow (for everyone) is not long in coming.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. All photos courtesy of Anna Yarovaya and7X7
More Dubious Charges against Jailed Russian Historian of the Terror & Memorial Activist
Halya Coynash Human Rights in Ukraine
March 11, 2017
Three months after Yuri Dmitriev, a Russian historian and head of the Karelia branch of the Memorial Society, was arrested and remanded in custody on bizarre charges, the investigators have come up with two new indictments. There is no evidence to substantiate the original charge, and total mystery over the new accusations. The fact that the prosecutor was originally supposed to have acted on the basis of an anonymous denunciation brings a chilling flashback to the worst Soviet days, as does a great deal about this case. A recent slanderous attack on state-controlled television has only compounded the suspicion that the prosecution is part of a mounted attack on Memorial and its work exposing perpetrators of the Terror.
Everything about Dmitriev’s arrest and the charges elicit concern, and it is no surprise that the Presidential Human Rights Council announced on February 12 that they were taking the case, which appears fabricated, under their personal supervision.
The 61-year-old was originally accused of producing child pornography, with the charges based solely on a folder filed away on his computer with 49 photos of his adopted (in legal terms, fostered) 11-year-old daughter Natasha.
The photos record her height and weight and certainly appear to confirm his explanation that the photos were like a medical journal kept until 2015. The little girl had been painfully thin and in poor health when taken from the children’s home and the authorities had themselves advised him to monitor her development. The photos show her naked, which is logical if you need to see whether her ribs are protruding, etc. It was also, however, to ensure that the authorities saw that she was well-looked after and that there were no suspicious bruises.
Visits are frequent when children are growing up in foster families. Sergei Krivenko from the Human Rights Council spoke with officials from the childcare department involved who had carried out such monitoring over the entire eight years and had never once found any reason for concern. This was confirmed at the child’s school and clinic.
It is impossible to believe that Natasha’s interests have been considered at all. She has been prevented from seeing Dmitriev’s children and grandchildren whom she views as her family, and has now been sent away to live in a village with a grandmother she had not set eyes on for eight years.
The sudden arrest in the absence of any kind of background of concerns, Krivenko stresses, is one of the reasons for immense scepticism about this supposed blitzkrieg reaction to a single anonymous denunciation.
If one of the new charges is linked with Natasha, then it has been made too late in the day to arouse anything but suspicion. At a closed hearing on March 9, Dmitriev was remanded in custody for a further month with the prosecution citing not only the claim of producing pornographic material using a minor, but also charges under Article 135 of the Criminal Code (depravity without the use of force) and Article 222 (illegal possession of a firearm).
Dmitriev’s lawyer Viktor Anufriev believes that the new charges are meant to acquit Dmitriev on the original charge, which has served as pretext for three months in detention to demonstrate ‘objectivity’ while ensuring a hefty prison sentence. He says that the prosecution are taking a tough line, and that this case has obviously been agreed “at all levels”.
All of this supposedly arose from a highly suspicious denunciation regarding only the photos. Elaborate efforts were taken to ensure that Dmitriev spent a few hours at the police station on December 10 and that his partner was suddenly admitted to hospital for an operation she had long been waiting for. Dmitriev immediately understood on his return that somebody had been there, and had been on his computer.
It became clear why on December 12. An anonymous letter informing police of the photos had supposedly been received and this was deemed sufficient to arrest Dmitriev and take him away in handcuffs.
A background steeped in history
Dmitriev is well-known far beyond Karelia, particularly for his discovery of graves of victims of the Terror at the Sandarmokh Clearing (Karelia). It is thanks to him and his colleagues that we know the fate of 1,111 prisoners of the Solovki Prison, including 290 prominent Ukrainian writers, artists, scientists and others, who were executed ‘by quota’ between 27 October and 4 November 1937.
Over the years since Vladimir Putin first became Russian president, there has been a marked increase in the power of the FSB, Russia’s security service, and a deliberate shift towards emphasising the ‘positive’ features of the Soviet Union and downplaying the crimes committed by the Soviet regime. It is no accident that recent Levada Centre polls have shown a record number of Russians viewing bloody dictator Joseph Stalin positively, and found only 22% of respondents seeing the repression and crimes as something that arouses shame.
All of this has set the Memorial Society and the current regime on a collision course. We see, on the one hand Putin’s choice for education minister, Olga Vasilyeva, questioning the scale of Stalin’s crimes and Putin himself having issued a decree keeping huge amounts of documents about Soviet repression secret for another 30 years. Memorial and historians like Dmitriev, on the other hand, are continuing their work in disclosing not just the victims of the Terror, but those directly involved in implementing it.
Katerina Klodt learned after her father’s arrest that he had long received calls, with the main question being whether he would be publishing material about the perpetrators. She told Novaya Gazeta that she believes Dmitriev’s arrest is linked solely with his work: “repression, Sandarmokh, books about the victims and the executioners.”
There seems to be nobody in Karelia who believes in the charges against Dmitriev. Those who know him mention that he can be difficult, stubborn and direct in his efforts to expose crimes of the past and that he is very much a thorn in the side to local officials and FSB officers.
This is not just about personal scores, however. One of the reasons for resistance to publication of information about perpetrators throughout Russia is the fact that some of the people who wrote anonymous denunciations or arrested innocent people are still alive, or their children or grandchildren are in positions of authority and don’t want the information to be made public.
Attack on Memorial
The scale of the attack and the real target can be gauged from a 15-minute program broadcast on Jan 10, 2017, on the government-controlled Rossiya 24 TV channel. Most of the film is in fact an attack on Memorial, with the five minutes about Dmitriev and the photos clearly aimed at spreading dirt and convincing the audience of his guilt. Such films have been produced about Ukrainian political prisoners, like filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, and they demonstrate a profoundly disturbing level of collaboration between the FSB, the Investigative Committee and state-controlled media.
Challenged after the broadcast, an Investigative Committee official, Vitaly Konovalov, denied any leak from his department and said that the photos shown on the program were not from the investigation.
The photos are accompanied by commentary clearly aimed at ensuring that the audience are convinced of Dmitriev’s ‘guilt’, with this serving to discredit Memorial. Like most of the propaganda on Russian media, the film is very effective. Those who know Memorial are disgusted; others, perhaps not convinced, but influenced by the dirt flung about.
Fellow historian of the Terror Anatoly Razumov says that he immediately understood that all of this could not be the work of some local officials. With respect to the film, he was told by media people in Petrozavodsk that “this is not out material, it’s a Moscow matter”.
Memorial’s publication of 40 thousand former NKVD workers was published in 2016 and was widely reported in the international media. Since then Memorial has been forcibly labelled a ‘foreign agent’ and Dmitriev arrested. The charges, like the film on Rossiya 24, serve to spread dirt among those who know nothing of the historian and Memorial’s work. For those who do, their absurdity is doubtless also a warning of what they too could expect.
How the Partisans of Suna Have Spooked Karelian Officials
Valery Potashov Bilberry (Muistoi.ru)
February 7, 2017
It seems the Presidential Human Rights Council’s visit to Karelia, scheduled for February 8, has frightened the republic’s authorities so much that they have made every possible effort, if not to disrupt the council members’ meeting with the defenders of Suna Forest, who for several years running have been trying to assert their constitutional right to a healthy environment, then, at least, to discredit their better-known activists. Several days before the HRC’s on-site meeting, Karelian news websites loyal to the republic’s leadership published articles, written under pseudonyms, meant to persuade the council members that the conflict over Suna Forest had been “sparked” not by the pensioners from the village of Suna, who are opposed to clear-cutting to make way for a sand and gravel quarry in a forest where villagers have traditionally harvested mushrooms, berries, and medicinal herbs. And during a February 6 meeting with members of the Karelian Legislative Assembly, Alexander Hudilainen, head of the republic, stated outright it was not the village’s pensioners who were standing watch in the forest in winter, but young people whom someone had supposedly “stimulated.”
Actually, we could expect nothing else from the current governor of Karelia. Several years ago, when a grassroots campaign calling for his resignation kicked off in the republic, Mr. Hudilainen saw the machinations of “foreign special services” in the mass protests of the Karelian people. However, when a resident of the town of Kondopoga phoned the governor live on Russian Public Television (OTR) and asked him what solution he saw to the issue of Suna Forest, Hudilainen promised to “sort out” the situation.
“We will not allow the environment and the residents to be hurt,” the head of Karelia told the entire country.
In the intervening two and a half months, however, neither Mr. Hudilainen nor anyone from his inner circle has found the time to visit the Suna Forest and see for themselves who exactly is standing watc in the minus thirty degree cold in a tent to stop the clear-cutting of a forest the village’s old-timers call their “provider” and “papa forest.” Moreover, when it transpired that members of the Presidential Human Rights Council planned to meet with the defenders of Suna Forest, Karelian officials attempted to move the meeting to the administration building of the Jänišpuoli Rural Settlement, which includes the village of Suna. But the so-called partisans of Suna insisted council members come to the forest and see what the village’s pensioners have been defending.
“Why should we meet in the administration building? We have been standing vigil in the forest for over six months, in the rain and the frost, and we will stay here until the bitter end,” said pensioner Tatyana Romakhina, one of Suna Forest’s most vigorous defenders.
Romakhina also told Bilberry that the day before she had got a call from the Kondopoga District police department, and a man who identified himself as Captain Viktor Korshakov had cautioned the old-age pensioner against unauthorized protest actions during the visit by the Presidential Human Rights Council. Romakhina regarded the phone call as yet another attempt to put pressure on the defenders of Suna Forest, noting the partisans of Suna had long been ready for anything.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up
Residents of the Village of Suna Address President Vladimir Putin (October 2016)
The Partisans of Suna Karelian pensioners have gone into the woods to save a pine forest from logging
Alexei Vladimirov Fontanka.ru
October 26, 2016
Residents of the small village of Suna in Karelia’s Kondopoga District, mainly pensioners, have rebelled against the authorities, loggers, and a mining company that plans to develop a sand and gravel quarry in the scenic pine wood alongside their village. The area resembles the front lines during a war. The loggers have brought in their equipment, but have been stopped in their tracks by the pensioners, who have set up camp there. The pensioners have been keeping a 24-hour vigil in the woods for four months. Local journalists have dubbed them the “partisans of Suna.”
The conflict flared up much earlier. Saturn Nordstroy, a company specializing in the development of sand and gravel beds in Karelia, had its eye on a plot of land in the vicinity of Suna and decided to open a sand quarry there. The Karelian Nature Management and Ecology Ministry supported the idea. Permissions were received, an auction was held, and the company was awarded a license in 2011 to extract sand and gravel at the site for a period of twenty years. However, neither the officials nor the businessmen suspected they would encounter vigorous resistance from local residents, mainly pensioners, who have strongly opposed the quarry development plan and exercised their inalienable right to a decent life.
There is a pine forest on the site where the businessmen have decided to dig the quarry, the only one in the whole area, a place where the locals harvest berries, mushrooms, and medicinal herbs. The wild plants are a good supplement to their tiny pensions. Once upon a time, the village of Suna was known throughout the Soviet Union for the nearby poultry farm, also called Suna. The farm was considered one of the best in the country, but in the “fat years” of the noughties, it was shut down. This has meant a slow death for the surrounding settlements. Young people have left the area in search of work, while the old people have stayed in the village to live out their lives. The money to index their pensions could not be found, but the prime minister has told them to “hang on.”
The locals learned a quarry would be dug near their village only at the presentation of the development plan. Opponents of the logging of Suna Forest planned to hold a people’s assembly on May 14, but they were forced to abandon the idea. On the eve of the assembly, police visited one resident of Suna, pensioner Nina Shalayeva. According to the elderly woman, the police all but accused her of extremism.
In the autumn of last year, the Center for Extremism Prevention (Center “E”) began investigating the pensioners. One of them had rashly said it would be a good idea to block the Kola Federal Highway, which runs from St. Petersburg to Murmansk, since the village is located a kilometer and a half from the highway. That would get Moscow’s attention right away. Naturally, someone snitched to the proper authorities. Law enforcement and the secret services reacted instantly. The settlements along the Kola Highway were mobbed with large numbers of law enforcement officers, from riot police to the highway patrol. To stop the protest rally in its tracks, the pensioners were threatened with criminal charges for extremism.
“The deputy head of the Kondopoga police was polite. He gave me a warning for extremism and left. I had run into him in the spring, when I had also been accused of organizing an unsanctioned rally. The local beat cop said they had learned we were planning to block the highway, and that I was organizing the whole thing. What kind of organizer am I? There was also an FSB officer from Kondopoga. He asked to talk with me privately. He said flat out that they had specially trained people who did not like to be bothered. They would arrive, break all of us, and imprison us, despite our age,” recounted Nina Shalayeva, an anti-quarry activist.
Then the villagers suddenly had a bit of luck. In the spring of 2015, scientists from Petrozavodsk State University discovered a valuable species of lichen in the Suna Forest, Lobaria pulmonaria. It is listed in the Red Book of Russia as an endangered species: destroying species listed in the Red Book is not only forbidden by law, but is even considered a criminal offense. The scientists’ find occasioned an inspection by the prosecutor’s office in the area of the planned digging. Consequently, the Karelian Interdistrict Environmental Prosecutor’s Office issued a warning to the director of Saturn Nordstroi about the inadmissibility of violating the law while extracting sand and gravel from the South Suna Quarry. The pensioners now had grounds to sue.
The plaintiffs demanded “the license issued to Saturn Nordstroy LLC be terminated and the company prohibited from engaging in all exploratory and economic activity that may lead to the destruction of protected plant species and their habitat in the pine forest near the village.” In April of this year, the Petrozavodsk City Court partly granted the claim lodged by the residents of Suna. The company was forbidden from carrying out exploratory and other work detrimental to endangered species discovered in the forest. However, the court could find no grounds for terminating the license for subsoil extraction issued to the company.
However, the Karelian Supreme Court has overturned the Petrozavodsk City Court’s ruling. The case is currently under investigation by the Russian Supreme Court. The pensioners think the case will be heard in December or thereabouts.
The Partisans of Suna
Immediately after the Karelian Supreme Court’s ruling, logging equipment was moved into Suna Forest. People formed a human shield to block the road to the loggers. The whole village came running to see what the noise and fracas were about. The villagers told police, businessmen, and officials of various ranks they would not surrender the forest: they would have to chop them down with it. Arriving on the scene, the police warned the pensioners they would be forced to detain them if they did not leave the logging site, because they were interfering with the work of the loggers. The pensioners set up camp and kicked off a round-the-clock vigil in the forest.
“Medvedev said we had to be patient. We are patient. Just don’t take away the last thing we have! I don’t know what price we’ll have to pay, but we are not going to give up this forest, because we won’t survive without it. The [Karelian] Supreme Court’s ruling made us sad. However, it is only the latest step in the case, albeit one not in our favor at the moment. We will defend our rights!” said pensioner Tatyana Romakhina.
The logging equipment retreated, and a “pre-election” calm set in until October 7.
On the morning of October 7, the engines of the forestry equipment could again be heard droning in Suna Forest. The first on the scene was Nina Shalyaeva. She stopped the harvester.
“When I went to my shift in the forest, I saw that a harvester was running. I stood in front of their equipment and said that my fellow villagers would be right behind me, and we wouldn’t let them cut down the trees. They promised the police would come and take me to Petrozavodsk. However, after we talked, they stopped logging and drove off the lot,” said Shalyaeva.
Karelia’s Suna Forest has become something like Khimki Forest. District police officer Vitaly Ivanov, summoned by the loggers, interviewed the locals, wrote down their internal passport data, and said that if the actions of the loggers were ruled legal, the defenders of Suna Forest who impeded the logging would be forcibly removed from the allotment. In turn, the pensioners promised the entire village would rise in rebellion. The loggers conversed with the pensioners rather unceremoniously. They demanded to see papers [prohibiting them from doing their work] and told them in harsh tones to go back to the village. Everyone’s nerves were on edge. The loggers were irritated by the annoying, unplanned downtime, while the pensioners were annoyed by police’s actions. They could not understand why the police had asked them to produce their passports, written down the information in them, and tried to drive them out of the woods. In the end, the loggers retreated. Fortunately, things did not come to blows.
Meanwhile, the controversy over the forest has spread beyond Karelia. Major publications and national TV channels have covered the “partisans of Suna.” In Petrozavodsk, a grassroots movement has been organized to help the pensioners. Young people have begun standing watch in the woods along with the old people. Residents of Murmansk Region have sent them a winter-proof tent.
The pensioners are still on watch in the woods and getting ready for winter, while officials and businessmen are looking for ways to resolve the conflict.
An “Artificially Simulated” Conflict?
After a long silence, the Government of Karelia finally organized a round table on the issue. Officials believe the controversy surrounding the Suna Forest has been “artificially simulated.”
“We organized a meeting to discuss the situation with the development of a sand and gravel quarry in the South Suna subsoil resources allotment, and the reasons why the license holder has been hindered from engaging in legal activities, and to work out a solution to the conflict that has emerged. A situation around Suna Forest really has emerged, and it is our job to figure what caused this artificially simulated social conflict. I would like to draw the attention to the people involved in the process that the question of the legality of the license holder’s activities has been considered in court, and the rulings, which have entered into force, were in their favor. Multiple studies have not established evidence that endangered plant species are being destroyed. Thus, the license holder has all legal grounds to engage in their business activities,” Alexei Pavlov, first deputy minister for nature management and ecology in Karelia, said at the outset of the round table.
Igor Fedotov, director of Saturn Nordstroy LLC, was of the same opinion.
“Everything is too seriously organized. When we presented the project in Yanishpole in May of last year, the experts told us someone was stage-managing this drama. Everyone accuses me of wanting to come in, dig everything up, destroy everything, and do nothing [for the area]. So let me do something. I want to do something good for Suna. I can donate the material I am going to be extracting. The district needs it: they do not have good sand. I can help out the local council, which is gasping for breath, just like every district in Karelia. We are building a road to the quarry, and it will still be there [after we are gone]. I am not planning to build anything there. The local residents will be the better for it. And the reforestation of the area will begin,” said Fedotov.
No decisions were made at the round table, however. Talks have been rescheduled for October 26.
All photos courtesy of Alexei Vladimirov/Fontanka.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the heads-up
Media: Head of Karelia Orders Education Minister to “Tackle” Teachers’ Illegal Earnings Zaks.ru
June 29, 2016
Head of Karelia Alexander Hudilainen ordered the republic’s education minister to “tackle” the money teachers earn on the side working as tutors. He gave the order at a meeting of the anti-corruption committee, reports Rosbalt News Agency, quoting Andrei Rogalevich, chair of the committee on education, culture, sport, and youth policy in the region’s legislative assembly.
According to the MP, Hudilainen called the minister’s attention to a website advertising the services of tutors in different subjects. He had counted 180 tutors from Karelia on the website and suggested these educators had been concealing their extra income and not paying taxes on it.
Rogalevich said that Hudilainen’s approach, which defined educators as corrupt, was wrongheaded.
“Rather than [blaming] officials, whose work causes much more damage to the budget and the republic’s population, [Hudilainen blamed] people whose salary is many times smaller than the ‘people’s champions,'” the MP noted.
Rogalevich also recalled that Hudilainen had previously indulged in ambiguous remarks about teachers. For example, Hudilainen had proposed drawing up a “list of shame” of educators whose pupils had been left behind to repeat a grade. He argued that repeaters were the fault of teachers who had not given extra lessons to slow learners.
Translated by the Russian Reader
NB. The September 18, 2015, edition of MK Kareliareported that the average salary for high school teachers in Karelia in 2014 was 28,975 rubles per month. On December 31, 2014, the ruble traded at nearly 71 rubles to the euro, meaning the average Karelian teacher was then making around 400 euros a month.
Rosneft: “Greenpeace Are a Bunch of Corrupt Scum” NSN
March 18, 2016
Greenpeace said the oil company intends to “bite off” part of a future national park. A Rosneft vice-president responded harshly.
Greenpeace has called on Russians to defend a group of islands on Lake Ladoga from the oil company. In a communique received by NSN, Greenpeace claimed that at the behest of Alexander Hudilainen, head of the Republic of Karelia, the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources plans to transfer nearly 4,000 hectares of the future Ladoga Skerries National Park to the oil company. According to Novaya Gazeta [see translated article, below], Rosneft intends to build a health spa on islands in the protected area.
In an interview with NSN, Mikhail Leontyev, Rosneft’s vice-president for public relations, was categorical.
“Greenpeace are a bunch of corrupt scum. These are people who are paid to attack corporations. I have no desire to service their publicity machine. Spare me from them at least for a day, and better yet permanently,” Leontyev told NSN.
In its appeal to defend the Ladoga archipelago, with its unique Scandinavian landscape, Greenpeace claims the lands the authorities intend to exclude from the park are inhabited by golden eagles, which are on the endangered list, and that seals bask on the area’s shores in the summer.
Alexander Hudilainen has been readying especially valuable forests on the shores of Ladoga for investors
At the behest of the government of the Republic of Karelia, the Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources is cutting nearly 4,000 hectares from the future Ladoga Skerries National Park for implementation of investment projects. It is believed that the principal interested parties are subsidiaries of Rosneft, which had previously announced plans to build a major health complex in the Ladoga area. The sale of lots included in the protected area, which has has already undergone an environmental impact statement, could theoretically produce a windfall for the republic’s budget, but in reality it would halt work on establishing the national park, which Vladimir Putin has personally asked to be expedited. A final decision on redrawing the national park’s boundaries is expected within the next week.
The Ladoga Skerries are located along the northwest shore of Lake Ladoga in the Lahdenpohja, Sortavala, and Pitkäranta districts of the Republic of Karelia. A number of rocky islands and narrow straits form a unique picturesque landscape not found anywhere else in Russia. Many attempts have been made to preserve the natural environment in these parts, but for various reasons none of the projects for establishing a specially protected natural area has been implemented. Work on establishing a national park was renewed in 2007 amid massive public discontent over the leasing of lots in the skerries to logging and mining companies.
There was no sign of trouble even a month ago. On the contrary, people were confident that the years-long saga of establishing a Ladoga Skerries National Park (the first plans to create a protected area date back to 1989) was coming to a successful conclusion. On January 29, 2016, the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources officially signed off on the findings of a official environmental impact analysis and due diligence review of the grounds for conferring the status of a federal specially protected natural area on the region. The next step should have been a Russian federal government decree establishing the park. But on February 15, a meeting was held at the Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources where it was decided to exclude lots totaling approximately 3,750 hectares from the planned Ladoga Skerries National Park in order to accommodate the construction of so-called socially significant facilities. The initiative had come from the Karelian authorities or, rather, personally from head of the Republic of Karelia Alexander Hudilainen, who had in fact made the request to the federal authorities.
Cutting to the quick
According to sources in the Karelian Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, nearly all of Rautalahti Peninsula and Sammatsaari Island in the Sortavala District, which are part of the Ladoga Forestry Area, as well as several smaller lots in the Oppola and Helylä Forestry Areas, will be almost wholly removed from the nature reserve. Despite the fact that the total area of the planned reserve is over 120,000 hectares, of which approximately 40,000 hectares are water, while the rest is on forest reserves lands, such a loss would be extremely painful. According to Olga Ilyina, head of the Karelian environmental organization SPOK, during the planning stage, several large chunks of the park were cut out to avoid conflicts with local residents. A further reduction of the park’s area would make it impossible to effectively protect valuable natural sites.
“If you look at a map of the park you see it stretches along the northwest shore of Lake Ladoga, and the excluded lots essentially split it into two unequal parts. Most importantly, the greater part of Rautalahti Peninsula is within the conservation area. It is one of most well preserved expanses of Ladoga forests and has high environmental value,” notes Ilyina. “Formally, the park will lose around 5% of its territory, but the already small size of its protected area would be reduced by nearly a third.”
Sabotage behind the scenes
Alexei Travin, coordinator of the NGO New Ecological Project, who joined the battle to save the Ladoga Skerries back in 2006, says that from the outset Karelian authorities opposed the idea of a national park and did whatever they could to sabotage the process of establishing it.
“Both under Sergei Katanandov and his successor as head of Karelia Andrei Nelidov, the process of preparing and approving paperwork was constantly delayed,” notes the environmentalist. “Positive developments have occurred only under pressure from the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources.”
One of Alexander Hudilainen’s first steps as head of the republic in 2012 was submitting a request to the Russian federal government to establish a national park. (Without a submission from the local authorities it would have been impossible to launch the procedure for establishing a federal specially protected natural area.) According to Travin, however, there is good reason to suspect that the new head of the republic simply did not understand what he had signed back then, which was why one of the republic’s deputy natural resources ministers, who had drawn up the document for Hudilainen’s signature, was dismissed from his post. In 2012, President Putin asked the government to speed up work on Ladoga Skerries National Park and there was no longer any way for the Karelian authorities to back out. But this does not mean they had resigned themselves to the fact that the “golden lands” on the shore of Lake Ladoga had literally slipped through their fingers.
In the light of recent events it seems the Karelian authorities might have been using the process of establishing a national park to their own ends. Nearly all the lands along the shore of Lake Ladoga, including the islands, were leased in 2006 (on the eve of the transfer of powers over forests to the regions) at the behest of the then-current leadership of the Russian Federal Forestry Agency. In 2015, however, the Karelian Ministry of Natural Resources in coordination with the Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources had the courts terminate the leases on forest reserve lands in the Ladoga Skerries with the goal of establishing a federal specially protected natural area. In particular, the leases on lots rented by Sortavala Wood and Paper Holding, Ltd., were revoked in January 2015. Meaning that the old tenant’s lots were seized under the pretext of establishing a national park, but Karelian officials are now seizing the same lots on behalf of another investor.
The question of what areas should be excluded from the park has been decided behind closed doors, and at present there is no reliable information about what investors and what projects will be implemented in the area. However, according to sources close to the Karelian Ministry of Natural Resources, it is primarily subsidiaries of Rosneft that have been discussed, which would explain both Hudilainen’s involvement in the problem and the unexpectedly loyal stance adopted by the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources.
No simple interest
Information about Rosneft’s interest in the area emerged in 2014, when the oil company and the government of Karelia signed a strategic partnership agreement. After meeting with Rosneft chair Igor Sechin, Hudilainen said the company had decided to build a large health center on the Ladoga shore. According to a source, the possible allocation of lots within the planned specially protected natural area had begun to be worked out as early as a year ago, but initially did not find support within the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources.
That the ministry agreed to amend the project, despite the fact the environmental impact review had already been completed, confirms that an investor with big lobbying capabilities has gone after the land, potentially allowing it not only to redraw the national park’s boundaries but also to transfer forest lands to another category, a decision that can be made only by the federal government. This turn of events is highly likely. It is worth remembering that, in the past, the current head of Karelia successfully sold off forest lands when he was head of the Gatchina District in Leningrad Region. His role came to light in the well-publicized investigation of the illegal seizure of lands in the Siversky Forest in 2005. However, the scale of the seizures there was considerably less.
According to Olga Ilyina from SPOK, free lots that were no worse in terms of recreation and unencumbered by restrictions on development could have been found on the Ladoga shore. There was no acute need to intrude on the protected area of the park, but the decision to intrude was made all the same, despite the inevitable complications. The option of taking out a long-term lease on the lands removed from the park simply would not justify the effort.
On the other hand, removing forest reserve status from these lots would turn them into extremely profitable assets, whose worth, according to rough estimates, could run into the tens of billions of rubles, if we take into account the going rate for land in the district. This sum, by the way, is comparable to the size of the Republic of Karelia’s annual budget, which was 29.3 billion rubles in 2015 [approx. 388 million euros].
It is unlikely that the deal would be a salvation for the Karelian budget, which has been shrinking because of the economic crisis. It is easier to imagine that the lots allocated for “socially significant projects” would be purchased with earmarked funds and for a tenth of their actual market value, if that much. But for Alexander Hudilainen, whose position deteriorated after he was reprimanded by the president in February, it could be more important to obtain the political dividends.
The Karelian authorities have to account for the investments they have attracted as part of a federal program for the targeted development of Karelia until 2020. Timed to coincide with the republic’s centennial in that same year, the program is now in jeopardy. So a single project with a nominal value of even several billion rubles might prove to be a salvation to Karelian officials.
Sabotaging the park
Whatever objectives the Karelian authorities have been pursuing via the intrigue into which they have drawn the Federal Ministry for Natural Resources, they have planted a bomb under all the plans for the Ladoga Skerries National Park.
Amending the project for the specially protected natural area after it has gone through an official environmental impact review makes it vulnerable in legal terms.
Practically speaking, there are now grounds for challenging the conclusions of that review as well as any regulations adopted on its basis, a challenge that could be mounted by an interested party. In current conditions, according to environmentalists, this could delay the establishment of the park by another two or three years. A second environmental impact review would require money that is not in the budget.
Over this time, the area of the future part could shrink even further, including at the expense of state reserve lands, which were supposed to be included in the specially protected natural area during the second phase of the project. (In the first phase, only lands from the forest and water reserves will be included in the park.) The Karelian government has virtually put these lots up for sale already, although it should have set them aside in order to establish the specially protected natural area. Thus, on a website entitled The Investor’s Republic of Karelia, there is a description of an investment project involving the sale of thirteen land plots, totaling 137.1 hectares, on the eastern half of Sammatsaari Island, for recreational purposes. This particular page is hidden in such a way that it is impossible to find on the site’s main menu.
This may mean that the sabotage of the national park has been planned deliberately, and then the damage would be not be limited to removing the above-mentioned 3,750 hectares from the park. Within two years, the Ladoga Skerries could be ripped to shreds. Or, on the contrary, has Alexander Hudilainen on his own initiative unwittingly provoked a classic conflict of priorities by essentially putting the interests of Rosneft above those of the head of state? This conflict might be resolved in the most unpredictable ways, including for the man who started it.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy ofGreenpeace Russia. Thanks to Comrades AK and SY, as always, for the heads-up. Thanks to Comrade EN for the geography lesson.