Russia Arrests Historian Documenting Stalin’s Reign Of Terror

Sergei Koltyrin.Screengrab/САМПО ТВ 360/YouTube

Another Russian historian investigating the crimes of Stalinism has been arrested on suspicious charges.

Two Russian historians focusing on the crimes of Stalinism have now been arrested for seemingly trumped up yet serious charges: Sergei Koltyrin and Yuri Dmitriev, both well known and respected in their field, face charges so similar and with timing so suspicious it is nearly impossible to consider them valid.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group noted that Koltyrin’s arrest came shortly after he “publicly rejected attempts to rewrite history about the mass graves of victims of the Terror at Sandarmokh in Karelia.”

> Koltyrin has been the Director of the Medvezhyegorsk District Museum since 1991. His museum covers Sandarmokh, the clearing in Karelia where Dmitriev and other members of the Karelia branch of Memorial uncovered the mass graves of victims of the Terror. Among those buried at Sandarmokh were 1,111 prisoners of the notorious Solovki Labour Camp, including 289 Ukrainian writers, playwrights, scientists and other members of the intelligentsia, killed by quota from 27 October to 4 November 1937.


> Koltyrin always worked very closely with Dmitriev and the Memorial researchers. The work at Sandarmokh, and its significance as a place of pilgrimage where each year International Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Great Terror were held, were initially fully supported by the Karelia authorities and even the FSB [security service].

However, under Russian President Vladimir Putin, there has been a massive shift in thinking toward Joseph Stalin and the history associated with him, and Koltyrin appears to have run afoul of Putin’s preferred narrative.

> Koltyrin’s arrest comes just over a month after he made his opposition quite clear to contentious excavations by Russia’s Military History Society. This body was created by Russian President Vladimir Putin in December 2012, in order to “consolidate the forces of state and society in the study of Russia’s military-historical past and counter efforts to distort it”. It is headed by Russia’s Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky, and has initiated such controversial moves as the creation of a museum and bust of Stalin in Khoroshevo (Tver oblast).

Two historians from Petrozavodsk State University insisted that Sandarmokh could hold the remains of Soviet prisoners of war who were held in Finnish concentration camps and then killed during World War II, according to the human rights group.

Pro-Kremlin media was immediately enthusiastic about this alternative narrative, despite supporting evidence.

> It was already difficult to separate these moves to rewrite history of Sandarmokh from the fatally flawed persecution of the man so instrumental in finding the graves and exposing the truth about both the victims and the perpetrators of those crimes.

Dmitriev was first arrested in late 2016 on false child pornography charges:

> Both these apparently serious charges pertained solely to a folder filed on his computer, and never ‘circulated’, which contained 114 photos of his adopted daughter Natasha. The little girl had been painfully thin and in poor health at three years old, when he and his former wife took her from the children’s home, and the authorities had themselves advised him to monitor her development. Each of the photos, taken between 2008 and 2015 recorded her weight and height.

After it became clear the charges would not stick, Dmitriev was acquitted in April 2018; however, this was overturned and in mid-summer he was re-arrested.

> The aim was clearly to imprison Dmitriev and on 27 June he was re-arrested, with the ‘investigators’ adding the charge of ‘violent acts of a sexual nature’. These alleged some kind of behaviour towards his adopted daughter up to when he was first arrested, but that had allegedly not been noticed before.



> The arrest of Koltyrin soon after he rejected attempts to doctor the past with respect to Sandarmokh seems suspect, and concern is only exacerbated by attempts already reported in local media to link and discredit both highly respected and committed historians.


> On 3 October, Sergei Koltyrin and Yevgeny Nosov were remandedin custody until 27 November. The charges concern a 13-year-old. Interfax has asserted, citing an unnamed source, that Koltyrin has written a confession. As with all proceedings against Dmitriev, the prosecution is able to hold them behind closed doors because of the age of the alleged victim.