The Christian Science Monitor

In Russia, a grass-roots bid to expose Stalin's ‘Great Terror’

Just about every former Soviet city has a place outside town, usually a forest or piece of scrubland, where Joseph Stalin’s secret police brought thousands of executed “enemies of the people” and dumped them into mass graves, especially during the nightmare years of the Great Terror of 1936-38. 

Here in Voronezh, a central Russian city of about 1 million people, that place is known as Dubovka. It’s a forlorn stretch of sparse oak forest that even today can be reached only by a long hike along unmarked paths. For decades the subject of rumors and frightened whispers, Dubovka was recently designated an official “memorial zone.” Mostly youthful volunteers have been excavating the pits each summer, removing and reburying the remains of at least 10,000 local victims that are thought to have been interred here. 

What they find are the remains of men, women, and even children, often with their hands still tied behind their backs, whose tattered documents, buried with the bodies, show they came from all walks of life. Researchers say many had a swift and perfunctory trial, if they had one at all. Most were charged with fantastical crimes, such as operating under the direction of German or Japanese intelligence. They were accused of committing acts of sabotage, motivated by loyalty to Stalin’s personal enemies, such as Leon Trotsky.

“I hope the time has come for people to face this monstrous reality, but it is not happening,” says Lena Dudukina, a local poet and volunteer with the human rights group Memorial. She wants to start a website similar to one set up by activists in the western Russian region of Karelia to document all that is known about the mass

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