Staunton, Aug. 16 – As sentences to prisons and camps become ever longer in Putin’s Russia, it is perhaps not surprising that many are now interested in how long Soviet citizens spent in the GULAG and who in fact spent more years in Soviet camps. The answer is Mikhail Yershov who was first arrested in 1931 and died while still there, 43 years later.
Born near Kazan in 1911, Yershov joined the Russian Orthodox clergy in 1928. He was immediately subjected to various short-term arrests as part of the Soviet anti-religious campaign. But in 1931, he was sentenced to eight years in the camps for anti-Soviet activities. Before that term ended, it was extended another three years (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=64DC510571480).
Briefly released in 1943, he was almost immediately re-arrested and this time sentenced to death. But six months after that, his sentence was commuted to 15 years in the camps. In 1958, he was again briefly released but then re-arrested and sentenced to 25 years in a corrective labor camp.
Yershov was hated by his interrogators and his jailors because he never broke, he never stopped calling Lenin and Stalin beasts and their system bestial. “You are impious communists, lawless anti-Christs. Why should I pay any attention to the works of Marx, Engels, and Lenin if all this lawlessness comes from them?” he is recorded as telling them.
“Out of malice and hatred for a man who was not afraid to call white white and black black,” Vladimir Melikhov, the Russian blogger who recalls the heroism of Yershov, Soviet officials “took revenge on him with the most vile slanders and the most savage methods of detention in the camps.”
But they never succeeded. Indeed, Yershov became a legend not only in the Catacomb Church whose leaders elevated him to the rank of bishop but among ordinary prisoners many of whom wanted to serve their sentences alongside him or at least in the same camps, Melikhov recounts.
As a result of his resistance, Yershov spent more than 40 years of his life in the camps. But few remember his exploits now; and they certainly won’t learn anything about him and others who resisted the Soviet system from the new Russian history textbooks which ignore such things altogether.
But Yershov and others too remained undefeated, and their heroism will eventually be celebrated by the Russian people after the continuers of Lenin’s program leave the scene, Melikhov suggests.