Friday, March 26, 2021

Russians Must Use Rapidly Closing Window of Opportunity to Learn about Repressed Ancestors, Ivin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 25 – An informal online poll suggests that the number of people repressed in Soviet times is roughly equal to the number of Soviets who died during World War I and World War II, but the defense ministry makes if far easier to find out about the latter than the FSB and other security agencies do about the former, Sergey Ivin says.

            As a result, a large share of Russians whose ancestors were repressed find it very difficult to find out information about their great grandparents and grandparents and thus are not connected to the past and their own nation as closely as should be the case, the blogger who conducted the survey argues (

            He reports that 196 people responded to his query. 14.6 percent said they were descendants of people who had been de-kulakized, 13.7 percent of people who were exiled or sent the camps in Soviet times, and 12.8 percent had ancestors who were shot by the Soviet authorities, died in the camps or were killed during the suppression of anti-Soviet risings.

            These figures, Ivin says, are comparable to the 18 percent who said they had ancestors who died during World War II and 5.9 percent who said that among their ancestors were people who had died in World War I. Although the sample was not representative, it is close to the truth shown by other surveys.

            But while Russians often know about the end of their ancestors, they often know little about them; and finding out is not as easy as it should be. The defense ministry has                                  sites for those who died in the wars, “but where are the sites, established by state structures of the Russian Federation, on which anyone can find details about the fate of his repressed relatives?”

            “Such sites do not exist,” Ivin continues. “But without this important information, about half of the citizens of the Russian Federation do not have a full picture of their ancestors who lived in the 20th century.” And now there are signs that getting information about those who died in combat in the world wars may become far more difficult as military archives are again closed.

            Before all the archives are closed again, Ivin says, Russians interested in their ancestors must use the narrowing “window of opportunity” to find out what they can about the fate of their ancestors who were repressed in Soviet times.

            To get anywhere with regard to those who were either confined to the camps, exiled or executed, he says, one needs to know the last name, first name and patronymic of the individual one is interested in, the year of his or her birth, the place where they were living at the time of repression, and the number of the archived criminal case.

            If your ancestor was shot, the record will be in the central FSB archive, but if he or she was merely jailed, exiled, or sent to the camps, the records now will be in the archives of branches of the FSB archive in the federal subject where their place of punishment occurred. The central archive will answer electronic queries, but the regional ones only those written on paper.

            Those whose ancestors have been rehabilitated after being shot can hope to get a copy of the criminal case. Those whose ancestors haven’t will not be given one even to familiarize themselves with. And the FSB demands evidence that the person seeking the information is really related to the person whose case he or she is interested in.

            According to Ivin, “anyone who does not know the fate of his repressed ancestors cannot possess a national self-consciousness.” Those who do not only can feel themselves part of the larger national story but will gain self-respect and become more self-reliant if they learn about this personal past. The state should be helping them achieve that.

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