The Russian state’s case against Yuri Dmitriev, excavated

On 22 July the city court in Petrozavodsk, north-west Russia, sentenced Yuri Dmitriev, a historian of Stalin-era repression, to three-and-a-half years in a penal colony.

Dmitriev was cleared of charges of creating pornographic material, possession of weapons and indecent acts, but found guilty of forced sexual activity with his underage adopted daughter. Taking into account time served, Dmitriev is expected to be freed in November.

Dmitriev has denied all the charges against him, and has been supported as a victim of political persecution by a broad international campaign.

The article below by NIKITA GIRIN, published in the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta on 13 July, provides detail on the charges. It reflects the view of Russian human rights defenders and free speech advocates – that these charges were contrived, with a view to silencing Dmitriev’s authoritative, determined voice on Stalinist repression.

Dmitriev is a community historian and regional president of Memorial, the Russian association devoted to remembering the victims of Stalinism, in Karelia, the north-western province that borders Finland. He has for many years organised expeditions to uncover the sites of mass executions by Stalin’s security forces.

Thanks to the friend who has translated this text for readers of English. It shines light on the brutal and cynical methods used by the state to protect its Stalinist predecessors from Russians determined to understand their own history. GL, 24 July 2020.


[Novaya Gazeta’s introduction to the article.] The second case against Yuri Dmitriev, an investigator of Stalin-era repressions, has concluded in Petrozavodsk. In April 2018 the court had already found him not guilty of charges of making pornographic images of his underage daughter and indecent activity with her. But two months later the Supreme Court of Karelia annulled this verdict, and shortly afterwards Dmitriev was rearrested on a new charge –  forced sexual activity with the same girl. The circumstances of his arrest (the historian had allegedly breached a bail condition of not leaving the city), and the more serious charges, might have put off many people who had previously sympathised with Dmitriev. However, as Novaya Gazeta has found out, behind the terrifying formulation of the new charges lie commonplace realities – just like three years earlier. Here Nikita Girin sets out how the second case against Dmitriev was put together, exactly what the historian is being accused of, and what his own explanation is.


Note from the editor. A disclaimer (specifically for Roskomnadzor [the Russian media regulator])

The law on Mass Media forbids disclosure of personal information of underage victims of illegal activity (Article 4). Therefore no personal data of Yuri Dmitriev’s adopted daughter will be disclosed here: neither her name, nor her date of birth, place of residence of place of study – out of consideration for the girl’s own safety.

However, the law forbids us from disclosing not only this data, but any “other information” that could lead to the child being indirectly identified. We understand that if the relevant authorities so choose, absolutely anything could be considered such “other information”. At the same time the law permits the publication of such information for the purposes of investigating a crime and uncovering the persons involved in committing a crime (Article 41).

We consider this to be just such a case. In our view the real crime against a child was committed by the instigators of the prosecution case, not by the accused.

We are certain that this publication will support close civic oversight of this case.

[Note. Roskomnadzor is the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media.]


This investigation in brief

  • The historian Yuri Dmitriev is being accused of, on several occasions, touching his adopted daughter’s genital area
  • At the age of eight the girl suffered episodes of incontinence (enuresis)
  • Dmitriev touched the child’s genital area to check if her underwear was dry when he could smell urine, after which he took his daughter to have a wash
  • The diagnosis of enuresis is proven by hospital release notes
  • Three commission investigations have concluded that Dmitriev displays no sexually deviant behaviour
  • Linguistics experts from the Russian Language Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, who have analysed the texts of the girl’s questioning, attest to communicative pressure applied by the investigator. A professor at Moscow State University, who has analysed the texts of the girl’s conversations with a psychologist, believes that the nature of the girl’s statements concerning Dmitriev’s actions do not correspond to typical criteria of recollections of a traumatic experience
  • The success of prosecutions in the Dmitriev case corresponds to career moves by the former head of the Karelian Federal Security Service (FSB), Anatoly Seryshev


I am writing up this text in Yuri Dmitriev’s flat, in the room that used to be his adopted daughter’s. The shelves still hold her books, several toys and exercise books. From the window you can see her school, sleepless seagulls shouting above it. Passing night trains seem to hoot back in reply.

Dmitriev himself is locked up in the former prison castle in the very centre of Petrozavodsk. The jail is surrounded by good restaurants and pleasant views. But the jail itself offers different forms entertainment. In mid-April 2019 two cellmates spent several days pressuring the historian to make a confession to his prosecutors. They threatened to “drop” him – i.e., to rape him. Dmitriev had to turn to the management. He explained that if he is targeted by violence, he will defend himself and will not be held accountable for the consequences. He was transferred to a different cell.

This incident says something about the quality of evidence in this case.

Dmitriev partly contributed to his own second arrest. After the not guilty verdict was annulled in June 2018, the Supreme Court of Karelia set a bail condition forbidding Dmitriev from leaving Petrozavodsk.  However on 27 June the historian, together with his neighbour, wanted to the grave of an acquaintance in the village of New Vilga (a couple of kilometres outside the city boundary), and then to pray at the Alexandro-Svirsky  monastery (in Leningrad region, 160 kilometres away).

The historian consulted his lawyer, who strictly forbade him to travel without the court’s permission. In May, the court had already allowed Dmitriev to travel to Moscow, to collect the Moscow Helsinki Group prize for a contribution by a historian to the defence of human rights and to the human rights movement.  But Dmitriev is a stubborn and self-reliant man.  He nodded and went anyway. He thought that a half-day trip out of town was no big deal, since had has already travelled to the capital for a few days.

The historian packed a clean set of clothes to get changed after tidying up at the cemetery, and to visit the monastery. Of course he was under observation, and got stopped on the way. State propaganda journalists from [the state-controlled national TV channel] NTV, who were the first to

Yuri Dmitriev. Photo: Tomasz Kizny, Memorial

report Dmitriev’s arrest, decided that the change of clothes directly demonstrated that he intended to escape. According to them, for some reason he meant to escape to Poland. Never mind the fact that the historian has no passport for overseas travel, and Poland is more than 1500 km away – while it’s only 300km to Finland, which he knows well.

If only Dmitriev had stayed at home, his arrest might have been different, and he might be travelling to court now in a minibus. [Note. When the article was written, towards the end of Dmitriev’s second trial, he was in custody and travelling to court under guard.] But he still would not have avoided the second case: preparations for it were set in motion the day he was acquitted in the first.


How it all started

In order the better to assess the circumstances of the new case, you have to bear in mind some infamous details of the first, “pornography” case, and the whole context of Yuri Dmitriev’s presecution. Here they are.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Dmitriev, working alone and with colleagues, found the sites of mass executions of the Great Terror era: Sandarmokh (more than 7000 executions); Krasny Bor (1193 people executed by gunshot); the cemetery at the 8th lock of Belomorcanal (the exact number buried there is unknown, the area is around 10 hectares); the graves of the execution victims at

The Sandarmokh killing field. Photo: Anna Artemyeva/Novaya Gazeta

Solovki; and others. He set up memorials at every site. He succeeded in making 5 August – the day Great Terror started – a [Karelian] republic-wide day of mourning.

In 2008, Dmitriev, who already had two grown-up children, and his wife Lyudmila, registered as guardians to a three-year-old girl. Dmitriev himself grew up in a children’s home. He calls the day he was taken in by a foster family the best day of his life.

In 2012, Yuri and Lyudmila divorced, and the girl stayed with her foster father. In all the years since, social services reported that the foster parent had created the necessary conditions for the child’s upbringing, welfare and education, and that the girl was comfortable in his care.

“You can only teach a child something through love. You can’t teach them by punishing and lecturing,” Dmitriev told Anna Yarovaya in a detailed interview about raising his daughter.

Dmitriev’s flat was always filled with guests: journalists, filmmakers, human rights activists — and they attest to the guardian’s equal and respectful treatment of the girl.

For the past ten years the historian has been working on a book about 126,000 specially resettled people, sent to Karelia to build socialism. [Note. In total there were at least 3 million specially resettled people in the Soviet Union. They were regarded by the Stalinist regime as “kulaks” (i.e. rich peasants), or social undesirables, and forced in the 1930s to move to “special settlements” in remote, inhospitable areas.]

Dmitriev is direct and doesn’t mince his words. He had some choice ones about the security services, and about the war in Ukraine. And he probably said too much.

July 2016. Petrozavodsk-based historian Yuri Kilin suggested that Sandarmokh could be the burial place of Soviet prisoners of war interred in Finnish POW camps. Shortly afterwards, this theory was voiced by another historian from Petrozavodsk, Sergei Verigin. He, like Dmitriev, was then a member of the regional commission on restoring the rights of rehabilitated victims of political repressions; Verigin is still a member.

5 August 2016. For the first time in 19 years, Karelian republic officials did not visit Sandarmokh on Memorial Day [for the victims of repression].

September 2016. At a meeting of the commission on restoring the rights of victims of repression, Dmitriev made a presentation about his future book about specially resettled people.


“A question arose about my field trips to Sandarmokh. I was told [at the meeting] that we will no longer go there, and that, as it turns out, the people buried there were 20,000 captured Red Army soldiers. I asked them to give me at least one surname of one Red Army soldier, although these days you can find where one died or was presumed missing, and from which regiment. They could not name a single one.

“Then I suggested we invite Yuri Kilin to tell the commission out of what fear or from what sources he obtained his evidence. My own father had fought on the front lines.

“I can’t believe that in the past 70 years, our state did not once remember 20,000 dead soldiers. I start to feel [after this] that I have become the focus of some heightened attention…” 

We shouldn’t overestimate the role of Kilin and Verigin in the Dmitriev’s case. The attempt to subvert the history of Sandarmokh is perfectly in keeping with the logic of the recent fight against memorials to the executed. This fight, as Anna Yarovaya noted in her report “Rewriting Sandarmokh”, began back in the Soviet era in Katyn in Smolensk region. And now, as philologist Nikolai Epple notes, the same fuss as around Sandarmokh is happening around the Mednoye memorial complex in Tver region.

Most likely, the state would destroy any guardian of Sandarmokh who, like Dmitriev, protested against this trend. But Kilin and Verigin undoubtedly contributed to the injustice committed against Dmitriev and his daughter.

29 November 2016. Dmitriev was visited at home by the local police officer Igor Markevich, who asked him to come to the station the following day.


I never asked for them, I never called them. Usually when you need the police they never turn up. But here he came, under his own steam. Irina (the woman Dmitriev lived with at the time – Novaya Gazeta) was in bed in the adjacent room as she was on bed rest. And either Irina said something, or I mentioned that there was a lady in the house. The policeman went to meet her. He found out that she was on the waiting list for an operation, and started saying that he would definitely help us.

Do you understand what that means, a senior police lieutenant who is barely 25? I’ve lived in Karelia most of my life, I know all sorts of people, from a homeless man to a minister, and somehow these medical issues I can resolve at the highest level. I explained that we are simply waiting, on the waiting list.

He left, having left a summons [for 30 November]. Literally 20-30 minutes later, Irina gets a call from the manager of the clinic who invites her to come for an assessment. On that same day, at that exact same time. It becomes clear that they are trying to get us both out of the house. Irina and I discussed this matter and decided: if they asked us to go, we should go. But I had my own clever checks that allow me to determine if anyone had been in the house, opened a cupboard door or rifled through my papers. I taught Irina to do the same, and asked her to remember what things of hers she put where…

30 November 2016. Dmitriev went to the police station. On entry, his documents and phone were confiscated because “some training was in progress” at the police station.


For an hour or an hour and a half I just sat in the precinct’s office. Then they talked to me about things that didn’t particularly concern me. Then they kept me there a bit longer with some conversations. In short, I got back home about 1.0 pm.

[My adoptive daughter] was still at school, and the first thing that caught my eye was that our front door was locked with four turns of the key. I checked my markers and noticed that someone had been in my cabinet. Half an hour later Irina came home. She said she had left her notebook on the table — now it was on her bed.

I asked her how many turns of the key it took her to lock the door, she said two. I see…

In the courtroom, [the police officer] Igor Markevich falsely testified that he had never visited Dmitriev that autumn. Novaya Gazeta has tried to get in touch with Markevich, but he ignored the questions sent to him via social media and hid his social media profile.

3 December 2016. Police received an anonymous letter: “I have discovered that Yuri Dmitriev photographs his daughter naked in his flat. I am not giving my name, as I fear that Yuri could, via his acquaintances, cause me harm”.

13 December 2016. Police arrested Dmitriev in his flat. They asked to access his computer.


Literally 20-30 seconds later someone exclaims: ‘Witnesses, come here!’ I turn my head, and the screen shows a picture of [adopted daughter], one of the welfare check photos. I rush to this chap, ask what he is doing, tell him these images are not for them, but for the medics.

Later, in court, this “chap” – a court expert named Dubkin – openly admitted that he found the photos so quickly because his colleague, the operative, who had taken part in examining Dmitriev’s computer, told him where to look. It looks like this directly shows who carried out the “operation” of luring Dmitriev and his girlfriend out of this flat on 30 November, in order to find material for the “anonymous” statement.

Dmitriev was accused of having taken nine photos of this adopted daughter naked, at the age of three, five and six. These photos were found on his computer among two hundred other protocol photos of his daughter undressed: from the front, the back and both sides. The  prosecution has nothing against those.

Why did Dmitriev take them? To the historian the explanation seems straightforward. In the first place, this was to track the physical development of an ex-care home child with several illnesses. Secondly, so that social services would not remove the child on made up grounds, or wouldn’t blackmail him for money with threats to remove her. He knew of cases like this. And this was his means of protecting them both from known “social services’ fraud”.


On one of the sites or training manuals that I had to read, I read that you have to have photographs that would track the child’s physical development. These photos would show the lack of or presence of any physical injuries….

At first I tried to take the photos once a month. In one sitting I would take several photos: front, from the side, from all sides, at least four. I regularly took photos of my adopted daughter without clothes for about a year and six months, after that I started to take photos of her her less frequently, because I realised that nobody had asked me for them. The last time I photographed her was about a year ago… In case of health problems, or if there were claims of physical violence or injuries to my adopted child, I could provide photos.

The nine “criminal” photos are not part of the “health diary”. In them, the girl sits in an armchair or lies on the sofa in a pose that shows her genitals.

This is how Yuri Dmitriev, used to taking many photographs on his field trips, explains these particular photos.

Four of the photos were taken when the family came back from a holiday in the south: the girl (she was three at the time) asked him to take pictures of her tan.

“While Lyudmila was running her a bath [my daughter] came running to me, I am sitting, tired, and downloading our seaside photos from the camera. [The daughter] climbed into an armchair and started asking me: ‘Dad, do I look tanned?’ And she asks me to take a picture of how tanned she is. What’s it to me? The flash drive is freed up, so I took three of four shots of her”, Dmitriev told the judge, Marina Nosova.

Dmitriev took another four photos when the girl, then four, told him about pain in her genital area.

“[The daughter] was having a wash, while I was sitting and working. Suddenly there was a cry of pain. I ran over, asking her what’s hurting, did she hit herself or bump into something? She says

Yuri Dmitriev after acquittal at his first trial. Photo: Anna Artemyeva/ Novaya Gazeta

she didn’t hit or bump into anything, but it hurts. I carried her into the room. Touched around her appendix, no pain there. She stretched out and straightened her leg, that doesn’t hurt. She doesn’t tell me anything, is just sobbing and crying.

“Naturally I am in shock. My wife wasn’t home. What was I supposed to do? It was already nine in the evening. Should I call a doctor? For what? There was no sharp pain in the abdomen, so discharge of any sort that would be worrying either. So I decided not to rush.

“And so that the doctors wouldn’t say to me that I’d missed something, I took four photos like that. In the morning, when it’s time to go to the nursery [the daughter] tells us that she slipped in the bath, and her legs got pulled both ways…” the historian explained.

He took the last “criminal” photo in similar circumstances: during the New Year holidays his daughter had been riding a pony and later once again felt a discomfort in her genital area. Dmitriev “snapped” her again, but when she was asleep, so that she wouldn’t be embarrassed, because by that time she was six.

“[The daughter] and Lyudmila went to visit the in-laws, and on the way back they went horse-riding. She came to me and complained that something was hurting there. I had a look again: nothing was red, there was no discharge. Maybe she hit herself or maybe strained a leg muscle. Nothing critical or dangerous. And that’s exactly how this photo came about.

“If [the following day] something had hurt, we would have definitely gone to the doctor and [if] the doctor said that we had missed something, that there is a chronic illness developing, I would have told them to look at the photographs,” the historian said.

The well known Moscow-based paediatrician Fedor Katasonov confirmed in court that this has been a practice among parents for a long time, although officially the law in Russia about remote medical diagnosis was adopted only in 2018.

“Those photos are my ‘insurance policy’ to show that the child is not beaten, that there are no cuts or bruises. I have had three or four episodes in my life where I had to photograph [my daughter] specifically because she was complaining about some pain I could not understand specifically in the lower abdomen area. She is a girl. With a boy everything is clear. With a girl, everything is harder because everything is inside. That’s all I can say about these pictures.

Only a person who has never changed a single nappy can see any pornography in this.

“To see some indecent act here is beyond any understanding,” Dmitriev told the judge.

“Dmitriev photographs everything. I mean every single thing,” Dmitry Bogush,  a friend who has been helping Dmitriev with his IT, told Novaya Gazeta about the historian’s professional habits.  “He takes pictures along the way, he snaps his family, relatives, friends. He takes, generally speaking, tens of photos every day. So in total he has tens of thousands of photos.”

26 December 2017. The second expert analysis of the photographs (carried out by an organisation proposed by the prosecutors) found no pornographic content in them. The experts stated that the accused did indeed use the photographs to track the child’s health. A month later, Dmitriev left prison on bail, on condition that he did not leave the city.

5 April 2018. Petrozavodsk city court judge Marina Nosova acquitted Yuri Dmitriev. And at that point the local authorities, that have been quiet for a year and a half, suddenly got worried about the welfare of his adopted daughter.

“After the verdict was announced, I got the impression that the court had listened to the side that shouted about the breach of its rights louder than anyone. But the voice of the child – the real victim in this whole story – was not heard by anyone.” This was the “expert” opinion of the speaker of the Petrozavodsk city council Gennady Bondarchuk, which he expressed on the very evening of 5 April.

Bondarchuk’s comments were published not somewhere on Facebook, but on the city council website, among the website’s more traditional announcements of an accelerated programme of replacing city elevators and the anniversaty of Petrozavodsk being declared a “City of Military Pride”.

Hard on Bondarchuk’s heels, Karelia’s children’s rights ombudsman Gennady Sarayev rushed to state his opinion: “Unfortunately, I did not see the human rights organisations’ position regarding safeguarding the rights of the child to privacy, the unlawful threat to their honour and reputation, or the representation of the child in the court process”, the ombudsman complained.

The acquittal made the head of the Petrozavodsk city council Irina Miroshnik surprised “just as a human being”. “Because of the special concern for all issues related to children and to safeguarding childhood”, she explained.

All these ladies and gentlemen, had they really been worried about the child’s health and safety, should have asked the psychiatrists who examined her during the investigation, about her living conditions at Dmitriev’s home, and in what circumstances she was placed after being separated from her guardian.

Not one of the officials worried that she was due to have regular medical appointments in Petrozavodsk, but that she was sent 600 km away to a remote village, to her natural grandmother who had sent her to the children’s home in the first place.

The child’s voice failed to be heard only by the speaker of the city council, Bondarchuk – but the court heard the girl’s statement about how she loved her adoptive father.

As for unlawful threats to privacy, ombudsman Sarayev did not, for some reason, try to sue [the state-controlled] Russia TV or REN TV channels for broadcasting the photos from the “health diary” to the entire country.

In short, officials voiced their request for continued persecution of Dmitriev. After that, nothing stood in the way of executing the readymade scenario.


What the victim says

The allegations of crime were written by the grandmother. During questioning, she explained how, after Dmitriev’s acquittal, she had read in the TVR-Panorama newspaper that the historian wanted the child back in his care. There was indeed such a report in TVR-Panorama. There is no quote from Dmitriev about the girl, but there is the author’s commentary: “As Dmitriev’s family says, this case will only end when the historian gets his adopted daughter back.”

The grandmother gave the article to her granddaughter to read, and claims that the girl said: “I want to write a statement about Dmitriev. If I tell all about him, they’ll jail him for 30 years!”

Important point: literally a week earlier, friends from the Moscow international film school exchange were in touch with Dmitriev’s adopted daughter, as usual. The film students are the historian’s old friends, they were the first to make a noise when he was arrested, they found him a lawyer and launched a campaign in his support. And it was through Dmitriev that his adopted daughter had made friends with students at the film school.  One of them, Sasha Kononova, said that on that occasion too, the girl was warm and friendly. But in early April, straight after the acquittal, she sharply cut off contact.

According to the grandmother’s statement, the granddaughter allegedly confided in her that “Dmitriev touched her genitals with his hand” and that this “happened several times”.

“I asked [the granddaughter] why she didn’t say so earlier, during the criminal investigation into Dmitriev. [The granddaughter] said ‘but I loved him, I was protecting him, I hadn’t understood what he was doing’, the grandmother said at a preliminary interview.

The grandmother also said that her granddaughter has expressed suicidal thoughts. This is why she “found on the internet the work landline of the [Karelia] children’s ombudsman G.A. Sarayev”, “called the number and he picked up”. (The ombudsman’s number is indeed easy to find online, but this is the number of his reception. And the reception told Novaya Gazeta that Gennady Sarayev never picks up the phone himself).

The ombudsman sent a child psychologist, Yelena Rudenkova, director of the Karelia republic Diagnostics and Consultation Centre (incidentally, the place where Dmitriev did his fostering course, in preparation for becoming a guardian in 2007).

18 April 2018. The “initial consultation” took place. During the discussion, Rudenkova did not find the girl expressing any suicidal thoughts. What else she discussed with the child is unknown, but judging by what happened next, the psychologist didn’t waste her trip.

10 May 2018. Gennady Sarayev asked the then head of Karelia Investigative Committee [a police force for investigating crime], Yuri Boboido, to carry out an examination and a psychological-educational assessment of the girl.

15 May 2018. Boboido’s deputy Vladimir Ignatenkov turns for help to the very same Yelena Rudenkova. The Diagnostics and Consultation Centre is not an accredited expert institution, so Rudenkova only agrees to carry out a psychological assessment. At the Investigative Committee’s request, the interview is recorded on video. Here is an approximate, but representative fragment of the conversation between the psychologist and the teenage girl, faced with an impossible choice in the adults’ game.

— How long was this happening?

— I can’t remember.

— Tell me, did he touch you a long time?

— Well yes.

— He touched you for a long time, yes

Here we need to recount the incident that Yuri Dmitriev relayed to the court in the first case. Once his ex-wife Lyudmila treated their adopted daughter with mustard plasters in the old fashioned way — applying them through a sheet of newspaper, to avoid skin burns. The next morning, Dmitriev recalled, Lyudmila got so busy she forgot to wash the girl’s back and sent her to the nursery as she was.


Around lunchtime I get a call from the nursery, and they tell me that a nursery nurse was getting the child for their afternoon nap, and saw large bruises on her back. They started shouting at me: what are you doing, how dare you, why are we beating this child?

I jumped into the car, drive there, tell them that I watched the child have a shower yesterday and there were no bruises on her… They already start to show me a pile of papers, reports and referral statements. … A paper, where a teacher, in the presence of the deputy head of someone, asks the child:

— What are these bruises?

— I don’t have any bruises.

— Do you have bruises on your back?

— Yes, I do.

— Who hit you?

— Nobody hit me.

— Did your daddy hit you?

— Yes, daddy did.

— What did he hit you with?

— Daddy didn’t hit me with anything.

— Did daddy hit you with a belt?

— Yes, daddy hit me with a belt.

Do you see, the child is four-and-a-half. She doesn’t know what a belt is. Imagine: here is this important paper that says the child admits that mummy or daddy hit them with a belt. All my hair stood on end. And I realise what this can lead to. They’ll take away your child, and you won’t be able to prove anything.

I told them that they should refer us for a check-up, to whomever and wherever they want. … The doctor said, let me check this, He takes a cotton ball dipped in surgical spirit and runs it across the “bruise” — the “bruise” is gone. He wrote out a note for me saying this is newsprint ink. But I had been so terrified. …

That case persuaded the historian even more that he needs to photograph his daughter as evidence of her physical health: “If anyone says again that, for example, half a year earlier I had beaten my child and the child was covered in bruises, how could I, without photos, show that here is the child: clear skin, happy in herself”, he asked during a hearing in the first case.

30 May 2018. Investigative Committee deputy chief Ignatenkov sent the evidence to the deputy head of process control, Gennady Verigin (the son of Verigin the historian, one of the authors of the hypothesis that Sandarmokh holds the remains of Soviet POWs). He, in turn, sent the evidence to the head of the city department of the Investigative Committee Dmitry Komissarov, and Komissarov sent it to inspector Maksim Zavatsky with a request to question the grandmother and her granddaughter.

6 June 2018. Zavatsky questioned the grandmother (the same day she makes the crime report) and takes a statement from the child.  The psychologist Rudenkova took part in the interview. The statement was once again recorded.

The texts of these interviews show that the girl’s behaviour and speech (like actions of any child from a care home) are dictated by circumstances – by trauma witnessed long before she was taken into the Dmitriev family, just by a poor quality of life.

This is how, for example, the child described her relationship and communications with Dmitriev to the inspector and the psychologist in her grandmother’s presence:

— Did he take an interest in your schoolwork?

— No.

— And do you know what he was working on?

— He was writing a book about some burial site.

— Did you often communicate?

— No.

— When you came home from school, did you tell him about your studies?

— No.

But this is what the girl tells medical experts a month later, while her grandma waits outside the door:

“She liked to spend time together, recalls how she went on the field trips, expeditions, and visited different towns in Russia. She describes Y.A. Dmitriev as constrained in his emotions, restrained (‘he’ll never give hugs first’), strict, erudite ‘he told me lots of interesting things’)”.

Also interesting to note is the transformation in the child’s evidence, between her statement to the inspector and the official interview.

Unlike the statement, the interview was not recorded on video (allegedly on grandmother’s request). And the girl’s speech noticeably changed. If talking to the inspector she could not remember either when the adopted father first touched her genital area, nor the number of such occasions (“no less than two, probably”), nor their duration (“it was quick”), not her emotions, not Dmitriev’s reactions, then during the official interrogation, the multiple instances of “can’t remember” and “don’t know” were turned into fully-formed sentences with subjunctive clauses.

“A few times” turns into “many times”. “Quick” turns into “no less than a minute, but no more than five minutes”.

During the initial interview, asked why she decide to tell all now, the girl said “I don’t know”. A month later, at the official interview, the child already said that she wants to give evidence against her former guardian because she hates him.

Meanwhile, the doctors of the Karelia republic Psychoneurological Clinic, just like two years earlier, did not find that the girl has any psychological abnormalities, or any symptoms of depression or neurosis. So the child has not suffered from Dmitriev’s alleged actions. But the experts stated that the girl is indecisive and has a tendency to conform.

Dmitry was assessed (for a third time) at the St Petersburg Psychiatric Hospital No. 6, and once again no signs of psychosexual deviancy or any abnormal sexual preferences are found, including no signs of paedophilia.


What Dmitriev says


The child was very thin, we [my wife and I] tried to move her onto normal food, which caused vomiting and enuresis. … I also kept a health diary and inputted all the data into it: her height, weight, etc. When she started school, she weighed 18 kilos, this was extremely underweight. Also, at the age of six, she had an ultrasound scan of her hip area, and we were told that there were some anomalies there. …

Sometime after second grade, the child started to wet herself. During the holidays I decided to have a proper investigation at the [Karelian] republic hospital. The child was admitted to the hospital and had a full assessment and treatment, which helped, and after that the child only wet herself a few times a year.

As for the charges against me, I would like to explain, that I could have touched her clothes, and I could have touched under her clothes, if the clothes were wet – that is, then the child wet herself.

We had a tradition almost from day one; Before bed the child would come to us, and my wife and I will say goodnight to her, she used to run into my room, climb into my lap and we would discuss how the day went. She would tell me everything, who her new friends were, who she talked do, and I would tell her how my day went. We told each other we loved each other, and I would put her to bed.

After my wife left me, my interaction with my daughter continued in the same spirit. One of the days when [my daughter] came to me and as usual sat in my lap, I smelled urine, and realised that she had wet herself. Naturally, I felt her knickers at the front and the back in the genital area and could see that the child had wet herself, and I took her to have a wash. This happened several times a week until she was admitted to hospital for night-time enuresis.

Dmitriev asked to request evidence from hospital about his adopted daughter’s treatment. This information somewhat spoiled inspector Zavatsky’s almost readymade case.

The hospital release papers had to be requested, and — bother! — the papers turned up.

In the summer of 2013 the girl was indeed diagnosed with a number for illnesses including enuresis. However the hospital at the time did not have a neuro-urologist, so the investigation of bladder function was not carried out and the cause of the illness was not diagnosed.

Now the investigators needed to somehow, via suggestion if necessary, to turn the hospital documents in their favour. If enuresis could have been caused only by physiological but also by

Yuri Dmitriev with students from the Moscow international film school

psychosomatic causes, why not employ a primitive manipulation and conclude that it was caused by Dmitriev’s actions? There is, of course, no proof, but, let an expert make this supposition, and the judge can figure out the rest.

In the role of this expert, inspector Zavatsky employed the regional Psychoneurological Clinic teenage psychiatrist Tatyana Multykova. Having discussed enuresis with her in general, along with psychological trauma, and how the understanding of gender differences is formed, the inspector asked: could sexual activity cause enuresis? Of course they could, as could any psychological trauma, the psychiatrist rightly replied. This concludes the evidence gathering stage of the second case.

Inspector Zavatsky must have been very pleased with this conclusion, as he attached these final pages to the case.

And so for the second time the prosecutors presented parental care – yes, maybe unceremonious and coarse – as a crime. And the closed nature of the court case, intended to protect the child, in this case protected the security services from scrutiny.


What the experts say

You don’t need to be a top psychologist to understand that it is very easy to manipulate a vulnerable teenager who has lived in a children’s home, who is prevented from keeping in touch with past friends, who has been isolated for three years under the control of her grandmother, and who has also almost certainly been terrorised by the authorities.

For the past year the defence, with the help of independent expert psychologists and linguists, have worked to prove that Dmitriev’s adopted daughter gave her evidence under pressure.

For example, linguistics experts Anna Dybo (fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Philology), Irina Levontina (senior researcher at the Russian Language Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences), Aleksandr Moldovan (academician at the Russian Academy of Sciences, head of research at the Russian Language Institute) and Dr Alexei Shmelev (senior researcher at the Russian Language Institute), having studied the texts of the interview, concluded:

Most of the questions posed by the inspector and the psychologist already contain the information necessary for the answer.

Some of the questions are composed so that it would be impossible to answer “yes” or “no”. More than that, the inspector and the psychologist frequently complete the girl’s answers, adding substantial meaning that was not originally there, and that gives the statements “additional weight”.

“The underage child, in a dialogue with two adults, who clearly and insistently demonstrate what answers they expect, finds herself in a situation of communicative pressure.

If the answer does not match the expectation, the inspector asks the question again and again,

so that the girl ends up choosing the most neutral answer that would not be her own answer”, the experts conclude.

In a separate expert statement, Moscow State University professor Veronika Nurkova, a doctor of psychology, notes that, judging by the texts of the psychologist Yelena Rudenkova’s interviews with Dmitriev’s adopted daughter, Rudenkova “started with a presumption of reliability of the information communicated [by the child]” which “represents a case of a falsely assumed purpose by the psychologist to gather evidence in proof of an existing hypothesis”.

Nurkova also concluded that the girl’s evidence did not correspond to the typical criteria of recollecting a traumatic experience, i.e. these are not the child’s own recollections, but were introduced artificially and externally.


What the lawyer says (spoiler: nothing!)

Defence lawyer Viktor Anufriev’s work on this case deserves a separate story or at least a couple of paragraphs. From a journalist’s viewpoint Anufriev has been all these years an insufferable lawyer: reserved; noncommittal; excessively, as it seemed, cautious. And also in denial of political motives for Dmitriev’s case.

But from Yuri Dmitriev’s perspective, Anufriev is certainly an outstanding lawyer. How many political cases do we know that resulted in acquittal? Yes, the verdict in the first case was reached against the background of a wide-reaching civil campaign in support of the historian.  But

In Russia you can write a guilty verdict without any evidence, but an acquittal requires a legally flawless case.

In this sense Viktor Anufriev, who (not without help from organised supporters) sought the best experts and medics in Moscow to back up every word he said in court – and who persuaded them to travel, more the once, to Petrozavodsk – in this sense, Anufriev did everything with cut-diamond precision.

But even now, the defence lawyer categorically refuses to comment on the case, citing “the final aim of the defence” – “to hear a just and fair verdict”. Anufriev has let it be known that he is certain not only that the historian is innocent, but also that the Russian legal system is capable of reaching such a verdict.


The unknown

Really only one thing is unknown: who needed to persecute Yuri Dmitriev for so long, and despite all the reputational cost for the investigators, the prosecutors, the judges and in general for the republic’s authorities? And why?

Before 2016 only enthusiasts had heard of Sandarmokh [the main burial site studied by Dmitriev], let alone Dmitriev. Today even Vladimir Putin is getting pestered with questions about this

Yuri Dmitriev in 2004, working on excavations on Sekirnaya hill, the site of penal detention sector of the Solovetsky special security camp.

upstart historian. The case is being discussed at the Council of Europe. Nobel laureates speak up to defend the historian. In September 2019, twenty foreign ambassadors visited Sandarmokh: never had the place seen so many diplomats before.

From the outset, Yuri Dmitriev’s supporters had a suspicion, of which for the past three years they had never received direct documentary proof. But it’s worth talking about it directly.

On 6 December 2016, a week after the break-in at Dmitriev’s flat, and three days after the police received the anonymous report, a new head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of Karelia was appointed. Major-general Anatoly Seryshev, who had been head of Karelia FSB departments from 2011, was transferred to Moscow and appointed deputy head of the federal customs service.

Seryshev’s five-year tenure in Karelia was marked by politically-motovated cases against businessmen who had “run” the region before his appointment, and against opposition politicians from the Yabloko party.

In October 2014 the newswire Capital on the Onego published a letter by one of the persecuted members of the [Karelian] republican Assembly, Devlet Alikhanov. At the time, he was known as the eminence grise of Petrozavodsk, and was suspected of fraud involving municipal property. Alikhanov’s friends and partners had already spent a year under arrest. But in this case what matters is not his case but the way that he, addressing Seryshev, described the mechanisms the latter had built for controlling the judiciary. (I’ve kept the orthography of the original).


The level of your co-operation with the judiciary became obvious only recently. Perhaps you can be proud of such all-encompassing power of the structure under your control, but I, as deputy, do not consider it normal that your colleagues announce the contents of a court’s verdict two or three days before it is reached. That they say with certainty what prison time this accused or another will be sentenced to serve. That they use every means to stop the accused from obtaining evidence proving their innocence, and that they hold “discussions” with every institution that could in one way or another assist the accused in their defence.

…What is your goal? Perhaps you need something from me personally? I cannot understand what your desired outcome is? Why would you ruin not only people’ lives, but also functioning enterprises and investment projects, especially such a difficult time for the country?

Six months after writing this letter, Alikhanov himself was arrested, and in 2017 he was sentenced to six years in jail. In December 2018 the judges of the Supreme Court completely cleared Alikhanov of all charges and granted him the right to rehabilitation, but, less than a month later, the impossible happened. The Supreme Court, with the same presiding judges, annulled its own decision, and the businessman was once again detained.

Read this again: the same judges, who a month earlier had cleared a man of all charges, for some reason had a change of heart, and decided that he is guilty as charged.

Anatoly Seryshev meanwhile soared even higher. In the summer of 2018 he joined a number of presidential commissions and even headed some of them – specifically, the commission on state awards, on citizenship, and on the staffing of the Ministry of the Interior.

By early autumn of 2018, Petrozavodsk prosecutor Yelena Askerova, who had worked on the first Dmitriev case and who gave the go-ahead to the prosecution in the second, had unexpectedly stepped down. Askerova told journalists that she wanted to completely change her life, and hadn’t expected this herself. (I spoke with Yelena Askerova a year after her dismissal, and she insisted that she was genuinely convinced that the historian was guilty).

And in November, the presidential commission for preliminary selection of federal judge candidacies (Seryshev is not officially a member) refused the application by judge Maria Nosov,

A Memorial Day demonstration for Stalin’s victims on 5 August (an event initiated by Yuri Dmitriev)

who had acquitted Dmitriev, for a transfer from Petrozavodsk city court to the Supreme Court of Karelia. The regional qualification collegiate had already approved her candidacy, but Nosova did not get the approval at the Kremlin commission level. The Vesti Karelii internet portal reported that this might have happened because her daughter was living in France.

According to one of Novaya Gazeta’s sources, familiar with

Bullets from a Browning revolver in Yuri Dmitriev’s hands, which were found in the remains of 26 people executed at Sekirny hill (Solovki). Photo: Anna Artemyeva/Novaya Gazeta

the candidate selection procedure, formally, the commission is only guided by the law On the Status of Judges. However the text of this law makes no mention of such a barrier to a candidate for a judge’s post as an adult child’s residency abroad. The law only precludes the spouses and underage children of Russian judges from having accounts in overseas banks.

A second Novaya Gazeta source reported that the candidates’ details are sent to the commission members several weeks in advance, they study them, make their decision and only vote at the commission meeting. The source said that he never saw Anatoly Seryshev at any of the commission meetings. Another matter however is how the candidate’s “reference card” is formulated, what becomes the deciding factor, and who can influence this. No judge is appointed without the FSB’s approval.

Seryshev’s career moves peculiarly correlate to developments in the Dmitriev case. The case began on Seryshev’s watch. While he focused on his job at federal customs and lost his direct influence in Karelia, Yuri Dmitriev was acquitted. As soon as Seryshev made it into the upper echelons of power, the prosecutor resigned, the judge was refused a promotion, and a new case was launched against the historian himself.

The situation looks schizophrenic, just like the first time.

2017. Yuri Dmitriev is kept in jail on absurd charges, while Vladimir Putin opens the “Wall of Sorrow” in Moscow, in memory of the victims of political repression.

2020. Yuri Dmitriev is back in jail on equally absurd charges. The Russian military history society, at the request of Karelia’s Ministry of Culture, has dug over Sandarmokh in order to deny that the people buried there were political prisoners, claiming that this fact “cements in citizens’ minds an unjustified sense of guilt in relation to alleged [!!! – Novaya] foreign victims of repressions”. Dmitriev is being intimidated in the Petrozavodsk jail. Meanwhile the president appoints [the federal archive authority] Rosarkhiv, the FSB, the Ministry of the Interior and the State Penal Service to conduct research into creating a single database of the victims of political repressions – the very job that Yuri Dmitriev had been performing for the previous 30 years, within the scope of the Karelian republic. And if such a database were to be created, it would contain the evidence he uncovered.

Looks like Karelia doesn’t quite share the president’s position that “the terrible past can not be erased from the national memory” and that “our duty is not to allow the past to be forgotten”.


This may be a stylistic excess, but like dozens of other journalists and activists, I have been working on Dmitriev’s case for three years, and I would like to allow myself to look at this story from another angle that is important to me.

Everyday, commonplace violence against women and girls, including what is not even considered violence in many countries, including ours, is called by the UN the most large-scale human rights problem of our times. An absolute majority of men perceive women to be an object, from childhood. She can be touched, with no regard for how she feels, while she herself always has to mind the feelings of the men around her.

This is also probably fair to say about Dmitriev, a simple and elderly man from another era. But it is important to notice how it is the security services, not Dmitriev himself, that perpetuate this situation with this fabricated case. Just think how crazy we must have become, how used to seeing the female body as solely a sexualized object, if a photo of an unclothed three year old girl, taken by her own father, is already considered pornography. And if touching her private parts to wash them is a sexual act.

We can think again: would this even be a case, if the girl was being brought up by an adoptive mother, not an adoptive father? What then are single fathers to do? Are they all, in the eyes of the Investigative Committee, potential perverts?

Or are perverts only those who oppose the current regime?

Karelia’s “law enforcement” used this stereotypical attitude to destroy a historian’s reputation.

Did Dmitriev touch his adopted daughter’s genital area? Yes. Did he do it because of a paedophile tendency, or out of some criminal motive? No, he did it to check if her underwear was dry when he could smell urine, as is proved by three expert analyses of Dmitriev himself, and the hospital discharge notes on the girl’s enuresis. Should Dmitriev have checked the dryness of her underwear in some other way, rather than this crude method? He probably should have, especially since at the age of eight a child could already feel discomfort at having their personal boundaries crossed. But was there anything criminal in Dmitriev’s motives or actions? In my opinion, evidently not. (Incidentally, in the second prosecution case the whole issue of a motive was dropped altogether. Maybe, in inspector Zavatsky’s view, Yuri Dmitriev just touched his daughter for fun.)

At the 7 July sitting, the prosecution requested a 15-year jail sentence for Dmitriev, considering him to be guilty on all charges: making pornography,  indecent acts, forced sexual activity and weapons possession. (Among all his junk. Dmitriev did indeed have a sawn-off section of a rifle barrel that can’t be used for shooting. He had taken it off some boys who were playing with the metal bit in the yard.)

The defence attorney has once again asked for the historian to be acquitted on all the vile charges, and to be freed from detention in the courtroom.

The verdict and the sentence will be announced on 22 July.

No matter what they are, on 5 August there will be a Memorial Day at Sandarmokh.

More about the Dmitriev case:

The Dmitriev affair web site and the “Free Yuri Dmitriev” facebook page (in English)

About Yuri Dmitriev on the Russian Reader

The historian who dug too deep, on Open Democracy. And an interview with Yuri Dmitriev

Human Rights Watch statement





Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: