Sandarmokh (Russian: Сандармо́х; Karelian: Sandarmoh) is a forest massif 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) from Medvezhyegorsk in the Republic of Karelia where thousands of victims of Stalin's Great Terror were executed. Over 9,000 people of more than 58 nationalities were shot and buried there in 236 communal pits over a 14-month period in 1937 and 1938.
A thousand of the victims were from the Solovki special prison in the White Sea. It was long thought that the barges carrying them were deliberately sunk on the way to the mainland, drowning all the prisoners on board.
Discovery and remembrance
On 27 October 1937, 1,116 prisoners were loaded onto three barges and taken from Solovki to the mainland.
Only in 1996, thanks to the efforts of Venyamin Ioffe (1938-2002), co-chairman of the Memorial research centre in St Petersburg, documents were found in the archives of the Arkhangelsk department of the Federal Security Service (FSB) throwing light on the subsequent fate of the "first Solovki transport". These included the lists of those men and women who were to be shot. (One died before he could be executed; four more were sent to other parts of the Gulag.)
After years of work on the ground in Karelia by Yury A. Dmitriev, this documentary evidence pointed the way to the identification on 1 July 1997 of the Solovki prisoners' last resting place and that of another 8,000 executed individuals. The location would subsequently be given the local (Karelian) name "Sandarmokh" (sometimes spelled "Sandormokh"). The story of that search and discovery has recently been told by Irina Flige, head of the Memorial Education and Information Centre in St Petersburg. In 2015 Dmitriev recounted how he, Flige and the late Veniamin Ioffe had found the burial site. According to documents found in the FSB archives in Arkhangelsk, there were people of 58 nationalities among those shot at Sandarmokh.
Three hundred monuments have been erected around the site since 1997 to commemorate the many victims of this killing field, individually and as representatives of particular nations and cultures, and an international Day of Remembrance has been held there every 5 August since 1998. In 2010, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church led the mass for the slain victims of Stalin at Sandarmokh, just as he and his predecessor Alexy II have done, every year since 2007, at the Butovo killing field near Moscow.
Ukraine declared 2012 as "Sandarmokh List Year" in reference to several hundred members of the Ukrainian intelligentsia who were executed there because they inspired the people of Ukraine with their own national culture, filling them "with pride and strength".
Those shot at Sandarmokh, 1937-1938
The thousands executed over 14 months from October 1937 to December 1938 fall into three broad groups.
Many were from Karelia. More were prisoners or "special settlers" (i.e. peasants exiled to the North after the collectivisation of agriculture) who worked on the White Sea Canal. A smaller group was brought there from Solovki. According to the archives, wrote Dmitriev, more than nine thousand men and women were shot at Sandarmokh during this period:
3,500 were inhabitants of Karelia, 4,500 were prisoners working for the White Sea - Baltic Canal, and 1,111 were brought here from the Solovki special prison. Alongside hard-working peasants, fishermen and hunters from nearby villages, there were writers and poets, scientists and scholars, military leaders, doctors, teachers, engineers, clergy of all confessions and statesmen who found their final resting place here.
Among the last named group were prominent members of the intelligentsia from the many national and ethnic cultures of the USSR—for example, Finns, Karelians, and Volga Germans. Ukraine was especially singled out, losing 289 of its writers, dramatists and other public figures, the "Executed Renaissance", in a single day.
The following 25 individuals illustrate this variety. They are listed by surname in alphabetical order:
- Duke Yasse Andronikov, Tsarist army officer, actor and theatre director (ru:Андроников, Яссе Николаевич): shot 27 October 1937, aged 44
- Fyodor Bagrov, head of collective farm, Karelia: shot 22 April 1938, aged 42
- Nikolai Durnovo, Russian linguist, shot 27 October 1937, aged 60
- Hryhorii Epik, Ukrainian writer: shot 3 November 1937, aged 36
- Vasily Helmersen, Russian librarian and artist: shot 9 December 1937, aged 64
- Nikolay Hrisanfov (fi:Krisun Miikul), (ru:Хрисанфов, Николай Васильевич), a Karelian writer: shot 8 January 1938, aged 39
- Myroslav Irchan, Ukrainian writer, journalist, and playwright: shot 3 November 1937, aged 40
- Alexei Kostin, member of collective farm, Karelia: shot 9 March 1938, aged 39
- Camilla Krushelnitskaya, organiser of an underground Catholic group in Moscow (ru:Крушельницкая, Камилла Николаевна): shot 27 October 1937, aged 45
- Mykola Kulish, Ukrainian writer, educator, journalist, and playwright: shot 3 November 1937, aged 40
- Les Kurbas, Ukrainian theater director: shot 3 November 1937, aged 50
- Kuzebay Gerd, Udmurt writer and public figure (ru:Кузебай, Герд): shot 1 November 1937, aged 39
- Yevgenia Mustangova (Rabinovich), literary critic (ru:Мустангова, Евгения Яковлевна): shot 4 November 1937, aged 32
- Valerian Pidmohylny, a Ukrainian writer: shot 3 November 1937, aged 37
- Mykhailo Poloz, a Ukrainian politician, diplomat, statesman, and participant of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk: shot 3 November 1937, aged 45
- Nikita Remnev, carpenter, Karelia: shot 3 April 1938, aged 37
- Ivan Siyak, Ukrainian military leader (ru:Сияк, Иван Михайлович): shot 3 November 1937, aged 50
- Grigory Shklovsky, Soviet diplomat, ex-Bolshevik (ru:Шкловский, Григорий Львович): shot 4 November 1937, aged 62
- Kalle Toppinen, Finn, carpenter, Karelia: shot 5 March 1938, aged 45
- Kalle Vento, Finnish journalist (fi:Kalle Vento): shot 28 December 1937, aged 41
- Archbishop Damian of Kursk and Oboyansk, Russian Orthodox Church (Voskresensky ru:Дамиан (Воскресенский)): shot 3 November 1937, aged 64
- Father Peter Weigel (ru:Вейгель, Пётр Иванович), Volga German priest: shot 3 November 1937, aged 45
- Anton Yablotsky, Polish "special settler" from Ukraine: shot 21 January 1938, aged 37
- Mykhailo Yalovy, Ukrainian writer, publicist, playwright: shot 3 November 1937, aged 42
- Mykola Zerov, Ukrainian poet: shot 3 November 1937, aged 47
People of Finnish origin who emigrated to the USSR and were later arrested and shot at Sandarmokh by the NKVD, are listed by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr in their study In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage (2003). They included 141 Finnish Americans, and 127 Finnish Canadians.
Victims and executioners
It is often said or assumed of Soviet mass executions that they were carried out by firing squad. For the Soviet regime and, later, the Third Reich, this method of execution was the exception, not the rule.
From early days onwards, the preferred Soviet method of quick despatch was to dig a trench and then, the executioner standing immediately behind the upright or kneeling victim, shoot the victims at point blank range in the back of the head. This was the famous "nine grammes of lead". The victims tumbled into the trench and were buried; sometimes another, control shot (контрольный выстрел, kontrolnyi vystrel) was fired into the victim's head to make sure he or she was dead, sometimes only one shot was used. (A rare, extended description by a former executioner of how such mass killings were organised can be found in Lev Razgon's 1988 memoirs.)
This was the method used at Sandarmokh, Krasny Bor and Svirlag in the late 1930s, as the skulls found at these sites amply testify. Cross-examined while under arrest in 1939, the chief executioner Mikhail Matveyev said he made the victims lie face down in the prepared trench and then shot them.
Yury Dmitriev went one step further than many who have attempted, since the late 1980s, to commemorate the victims of the Stalin years. Together with Razumov he also published, to the indignation of their descendants and, some suggest, of the present regime, the names of the members of the troika which rubber-stamped decisions to shoot a list of individuals—the accused were not present at these sessions, no one defended their rights—and of the execution squad leaders.
The man sent from Leningrad on 16 October 1937 to organise the shooting of the Solovki transport, Matveyev, was an experienced NKVD executioner. He was succeeded at Sandarmokh by I.A. Bondarenko and his deputy A.F. Shondysh. Matveyev survived into old age; his successors were both arrested in 1938 and shot in 1939 for "exceeding their authorisation".
Proposed new digs and an alternative hypothesis
Starting in 2016, there were attempts to revise this account of the shootings at Sandarmokh, and claim that among the dead were Soviet POWs shot by the invading Finns in 1941-1944. There were newspaper articles and TV broadcasts in Russia; there was also a publication in the Finnish press. In the same year, a highly controversial sexual abuse probe against Yury Dmitriyev was launched by authorities.
The motivation behind this claim and the supposed new evidence were both challenged. In a lengthy and detailed investigation, Russian journalist Anna Yarovaya examined the evidence and interviewed historians and those who had found the site. She talked to Finnish historians of the Second World War; Irina Flige of the Memorial Society and Sergei Kashtanov, head of the district administration where the killing fields were found. She also interviewed Sergei Verigin, one of the Russian historians putting forward the new hypothesis. Russian newspapers and television had talked of "thousands" of POWs being shot by the Finns and buried at Sandarmokh: speaking on the record to Yarovaya, Verigin was more cautious and spoke of dozens and hundreds.
The Karelian edition of the State-run Rossiya TV channel announced briefly on 22 April 2018 that there would be new investigations at Sandarmokh "this summer".
Agence France-Presse covered later developments in September 2018, citing critics who state that the digs have a political motivation to manipulate public opinion and an attempt to cover up Stalinist crimes. The European External Action Service's EUvsDisinfo.eu website has classified the claims that Finns are responsible for the Sandarmokh killings as "pro-Kremlin disinformation".
- Yury A. Dmitriev (1999), Sandarmokh, the Place of Execution (in Russian), 350 pp. Bars Publishers: Petrozavodsk.
- Yury A. Dmitriev (2002), (with Ivan Chukhin), The Karelian Lists of Remembrance: Murdered Karelia, part 2, The Great Terror (in Russian), 1,088 pp. Petrozavodsk. (Also available online «Поминальные списки Карелии, 1937–1938: Уничтоженная Карелия, часть 2. Большой террор».) The Lists contain over 14,000 names.
- Yury A. Dmitriev
- Krasny Bor Forest, Karelia
- Solovki "special" prison
- Butovo killing field
- Memorial (society)
- Mikhail Matveyev
- Category: People shot and buried in Sandarmokh (Russian Wikipedia)
- "Захоронение жертв массовых репрессий (1937-1938 гг.)". Center for State Protection of Cultural Heritage of the Republic of Karelia. Republic of Karelia. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
- "Sandarmoh, 1937-1938", heninen.net
- Text about Sandarmokh, translated from "Virtual Museum of the Gulag", on Dmitriev Affair website.
- Anna Yarovaya, "The Dmitriev Affair", Rights in Russia, 20 March 2017 and The Russian Reader, 1 March 2017. Russian original published on 7 x 7 website, February 2017.
- Yury Dmitriev, "We must be able to find something", My Path to Golgotha, pt 3, Dmitriev Affair website, 14 February 2018.
- "Pictorial essay: Death trenches bear witness to Stalin's purges" CNN, July 17, 1997
- Урочище Сандармох. Захоронение жертв массовых репрессий (1937—1938 гг.) Archived 2009-08-17 at the Wayback Machine (in Russian)
- The Butovo Firing Range: a Russian Golgotha website (in Russian).
- John Crowfoot, "Who is Yury Dmitriev?" Rights in Russia, 19 June 2017.
- Kupriienko, Oleksandr; Siundiukov, Ihor; Tomak, Maria; Skuba, Viktoria; Poludenko, Anna. "2012, Sandarmokh List Year: how can we get rid of totalitarian legacy?". Den online newspaper, 24 January 2012 (Accessed 7 August 2017).
- Anatoly Razumov (n.d.), "The Solovki transports, 1937-1938", Returning the Names website (in Russian).
- Fyodor P. Bagrov, Sandomorkh memorial graveyard, Iofe Foundation website.
- "Natsionalnyje pisateli Karelii: finskaja emigratsija i politicheskije Repressii 1930h godov: biobibliograficheski ukazatel" (National Library of Karelia, Finnish emigration and the 1930 policy of retaliation: a bio-bibliographical index), Petrozavodsk, 2005, pp. 40-41. ISBN 5-7378-0074-1
- Alexei Kostin, Sandomorkh memorial graveyard, Iofe Foundation website
- Nikita F. Remnev, Sandomorkh memorial graveyard, Iofe Foundation website.
- Kalle P. Toppinen, Sandomorkh memorial graveyard, Iofe Foundation website.
- Pavel Chichikov, "Modern Martyrdoms", Catholic Exchange website, 9 February 2003 (retrieved 7 August 2017).
- Anton P. Yablotsky, Sandomorkh memorial graveyard, Iofe Foundation website.
- John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage, 2003, ISBN 1-59403-088-X, Appendix: "The Invisible Dead: American Communists and Radicals Executed by Soviet Political Police and Buried at Sandarmokh", p. 235.
- John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage, Encounter Books, 2003. ISBN 1-893554-72-4 p. 117.
- See, for instance, John le Carre, Smiley's People, 1980, where a Soviet character's execution is "by firing squad".
- Chapter Two, "Niyazov", Lev Razgon, True Stories—Memoirs of a Survivor, Souvenir Press: London, 1997, pp. 21-34. Published in Russian in 1988.
- Nikita Petrov, "The butchers of Sandarmokh", Novaya gazeta, No. 84, 4 August 2017, pp. 8-9 (in Russian).
- Maria Shchur, interview with Georgy Lukyanchuk, Radio Svoboda, 2 August 2017 (in Ukrainian).
- Anatoly Razumov, Skorbny put: Solovetskie etapy, 1937-1938 (in Russian), Appendix 2: Those involved in selecting and shooting the Solovki transports, pp. 36-40.
- "Krasny Bor, 1937-1938", heninen.net.
- "Russian digs accused of covering up Stalinist crimes". France24. Agence France-Presse. 13 September 2018. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
- Anna Yarovaya, "Rewriting Sandarmokh", The Russian Reader, 27 December 2017; original published by 7x7 - Horizontal Russia news website, 13 December 2017.
- "Disquieting News", Dmitriev Affair website, 3 May 2018.
- "Disinfo cases - Finns organised mass shootings of Soviet soldiers in Sandarmokh, Karelia". EUvsDisinfo.eu. European External Action Service. 7 September 2018. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
- Book in pdf format.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sandarmokh.|
- Пам’яті жертв соловецького розстрілу, «Львівська газета», 4 April 2007, retrieved 7 August 2017 (in Ukrainian)
- Their Names Restored: Russia's Books of Remembrance website (Возвращенные имена.Книги памяти России), Search: "Sandarmokh", "Kniga pamyati Karelii", 4,974 names. Retrieved 7 August 2017 (in Russian)
- "Those killed at Sandormokh in 1937-8, a list of 5,126 names compiled by the historian Yury A. Dmitriev", Sandormokh, Ioffe Foundation website. Retrieved 13 August 2017 (in Russian)
- Nikita Petrov, "The butchers of Sandarmokh", Novaya gazeta, No. 84, 4 August 2017, pp. 8–9 (in Russian).
- Also see Krasny Bor, 1937-1938, with acknowledgements to the Karelian Republic's Ministry of Culture (in English and Finnish)