Last Address: a civic initiative to commemorate victims of Soviet repressions 

Jun 10 2018

On Monday, June 4, the Kennan’s Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, organized a panel to introduce “The Last Address” project – a civic initiative to commemorate the victims of repressions in the Soviet Union which originated in Russia and is gradually spreading to other countries. The panelists talked about the origins, success, and challenges of the initiative.

On Monday, June 4, the Kennan’s Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, organized a panel to introduce “The Last Address” project – a civic initiative to commemorate the victims of repressions in the Soviet Union which originated in Russia and is gradually spreading to other countries. The panelists talked about the origins, success, and challenges of the initiative.

The panel included:

Sergey Parkhomenko, Journalist, “Echo of Moscow” Radio; a George F. Kennan Fellow at Kennan Institute and a founder of the “Last Address” initiative;
Dmytro Belobrov, Head of “The Last Address” in Ukraine and a journalist at the independent Ukrainian channel Hromadske.ua;
Grigory Frolov, Vice President of Projects and Development, Free Russia Foundation, Ukraine.

Moderated by Izabella Tabarovsky, the Senior Program Associate at Kennan Institute.

“One name – one life – one plaque”

Sergey Parkhomenko, a founder of “The Last Address” initiative, which started in 2014, said he was inspired by a memorial project of German artist Günter Demnig “Stumbling Stones”. “Stumbling Stones” – Stolperstein  – started in 1993 and is still ongoing, and has been widely spread across Europe and commemorates the victims of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust from 1933-45 by installing commemorative brass pavement stones at their last place of residence or work.

“In Russia, we had another catastrophe,” said Parkomenko. “We had an if I can say, “Russian Holocaust.” It was four decades of Soviet political repressions” with all the republics and nations in the Soviet Union not being able to escape this “machine of extermination,” said Parkhomenko.

“The Last Address” project installs commemorative plaques the size of postcards to individual victims of Soviet repression at their last places of living: with their name, profession, date of birth, arrest, death, and rehabilitation.  The idea behind the project is a “personalized” memorial – “one name – one life-one plaque” – where installation of plaques is proposed by a particular person who can be a relative of the repressed or just interested in the installation of the plaque.

The project is based on the vast historical database compiled by the Russian human rights group “Memorial,” which has the data of more than four million repressed across the former Soviet Union. To date, Parkhomenko said, more than 2,500 applications across Russia have been submitted through the project’s website and almost 800 plaques have been installed in more than 40 Russian cities. The project is also expanding into other countries – sister projects already exist in Ukraine and the Czech Republic and will soon start in Estonia, Georgia, Moldova and Romania.

“Value-based” and grassroots initiative

Dmytro Belobrov who coordinates “The Last Address” sister project in Ukraine said that for him, the project is involved in the restoration of principles that Ukrainian society might have forgotten. “This project is a part of a puzzle that would help us to restore our principles and to restore our modern understanding of us, the understanding that there is truth and we should fight for it,” said Belobrov.

Grigory Frolov, who heads Free Russia House in Kiev and supports the Ukrainian project said that an important part of it is its educational role in discussions on such difficult issues as a shared Soviet history, communication, repressions and the need to commemorate the victims of communism. The latter may not seem a priority in the country which has to commemorate those perished in an ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine, said Frolov, however for society to move forward, there is a need to understand the past which still affects many societies in post-Soviet countries.

Also, the de-communization process should not be a “political” but a “value-based thing which should go through the society,” said Frolov, adding that the project represents a grassroots “value-based” initiative based on the lives and stories of particular people. With this approach, it is easier to discuss de-communization with people who oppose it – particularly those in the eastern and southern parts of the country.

“We have so far put 18 plaques, mostly in Kiev and Odessa,” said Frolov, with Lviv, Dnipro, and Kharkiv to follow soon.

No big challenges

The public has been generally supportive of the initiative, said the panelists. “We had very few cases of vandalism,” said Parkhomenko, “from around 800 plaques we had 5-6 cases of situations of conflict”. One of the reasons for this lack of conflict is that the permission for installing the plaque is needed only from the residents of the buildings, and there is always an open discussion with them prior to the installation, said Parkhomenko.

Belobrov said there was one case of vandalism in Odessa. He noted it is more difficult to talk to people about the initiative in Odessa where some “communism clichés” arise. Yet according to the panelists, the personalized approach along with the grassroots level of the project helps to overcome these difficulties.

For many people, said Frolov, this project is a personal thing and “it goes from family to family,” being built on personal stories.

“It is very difficult to be against or criticize the project,” said Parkhomenko adding that in Russia, where the project hasn’t faced either support nor resistance from the authorities, even the state-media had a quite positive coverage of the project.

In Ukraine, said Frolov, there hasn’t been any negative stance from the authorities either. After the KGB archives were made public in Ukraine in 2015, it is very easy for the project’s volunteers to access archives with the data of the repressed.

However, in some parts of Russia such as Chechnya or Dagestan there may be some challenges, said Parknomenko, since the case applications based on political repressions should be separated from the inter-ethnic repressions, as the project doesn’t deal with the latter.

The panelists noted that “the Last Address” project is not just an “anti-Stalinist” but an “anti-totalitarian” due to repressions dating back since 1917. There has also been a plaque installed in Ukraine for Valeriy Marchenko, a Ukranian dissident who died in 1984.

“All totalitarian regimes with totalitarian repressions are the same,” said Parkhomenko which is the idea behind the project and its international sister initiatives.

“The Last Address project” – Russian initiative: https://www.poslednyadres.ru/

“The Last Address” – Ukrainian initiative: https://www.ostannyaadresa.org/

By Valeria Jegisman

On Monday, June 4, the Kennan’s Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, organized a panel to introduce “The Last Address” project – a civic initiative to commemorate the victims of repressions in the Soviet Union which originated in Russia and is gradually spreading to other countries. The panelists talked about the origins, success, and challenges of the initiative.

The panel included:

Sergey Parkhomenko, Journalist, “Echo of Moscow” Radio; a George F. Kennan Fellow at Kennan Institute and a founder of the “Last Address” initiative;
Dmytro Belobrov, Head of “The Last Address” in Ukraine and a journalist at the independent Ukrainian channel Hromadske.ua;
Grigory Frolov, Vice President of Projects and Development, Free Russia Foundation, Ukraine.

Moderated by Izabella Tabarovsky, the Senior Program Associate at Kennan Institute.

“One name – one life – one plaque”

Sergey Parkhomenko, a founder of “The Last Address” initiative, which started in 2014, said he was inspired by a memorial project of German artist Günter Demnig “Stumbling Stones”. “Stumbling Stones” – Stolperstein  – started in 1993 and is still ongoing, and has been widely spread across Europe and commemorates the victims of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust from 1933-45 by installing commemorative brass pavement stones at their last place of residence or work.

“In Russia, we had another catastrophe,” said Parkomenko. “We had an if I can say, “Russian Holocaust.” It was four decades of Soviet political repressions” with all the republics and nations in the Soviet Union not being able to escape this “machine of extermination,” said Parkhomenko.

“The Last Address” project installs commemorative plaques the size of postcards to individual victims of Soviet repression at their last places of living: with their name, profession, date of birth, arrest, death, and rehabilitation.  The idea behind the project is a “personalized” memorial – “one name – one life-one plaque” – where installation of plaques is proposed by a particular person who can be a relative of the repressed or just interested in the installation of the plaque.

The project is based on the vast historical database compiled by the Russian human rights group “Memorial,” which has the data of more than four million repressed across the former Soviet Union. To date, Parkhomenko said, more than 2,500 applications across Russia have been submitted through the project’s website and almost 800 plaques have been installed in more than 40 Russian cities. The project is also expanding into other countries – sister projects already exist in Ukraine and the Czech Republic and will soon start in Estonia, Georgia, Moldova and Romania.

“Value-based” and grassroots initiative

Dmytro Belobrov who coordinates “The Last Address” sister project in Ukraine said that for him, the project is involved in the restoration of principles that Ukrainian society might have forgotten. “This project is a part of a puzzle that would help us to restore our principles and to restore our modern understanding of us, the understanding that there is truth and we should fight for it,” said Belobrov.

Grigory Frolov, who heads Free Russia House in Kiev and supports the Ukrainian project said that an important part of it is its educational role in discussions on such difficult issues as a shared Soviet history, communication, repressions and the need to commemorate the victims of communism. The latter may not seem a priority in the country which has to commemorate those perished in an ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine, said Frolov, however for society to move forward, there is a need to understand the past which still affects many societies in post-Soviet countries.

Also, the de-communization process should not be a “political” but a “value-based thing which should go through the society,” said Frolov, adding that the project represents a grassroots “value-based” initiative based on the lives and stories of particular people. With this approach, it is easier to discuss de-communization with people who oppose it – particularly those in the eastern and southern parts of the country.

“We have so far put 18 plaques, mostly in Kiev and Odessa,” said Frolov, with Lviv, Dnipro, and Kharkiv to follow soon.

No big challenges

The public has been generally supportive of the initiative, said the panelists. “We had very few cases of vandalism,” said Parkhomenko, “from around 800 plaques we had 5-6 cases of situations of conflict”. One of the reasons for this lack of conflict is that the permission for installing the plaque is needed only from the residents of the buildings, and there is always an open discussion with them prior to the installation, said Parkhomenko.

Belobrov said there was one case of vandalism in Odessa. He noted it is more difficult to talk to people about the initiative in Odessa where some “communism clichés” arise. Yet according to the panelists, the personalized approach along with the grassroots level of the project helps to overcome these difficulties.

For many people, said Frolov, this project is a personal thing and “it goes from family to family,” being built on personal stories.

“It is very difficult to be against or criticize the project,” said Parkhomenko adding that in Russia, where the project hasn’t faced either support nor resistance from the authorities, even the state-media had a quite positive coverage of the project.

In Ukraine, said Frolov, there hasn’t been any negative stance from the authorities either. After the KGB archives were made public in Ukraine in 2015, it is very easy for the project’s volunteers to access archives with the data of the repressed.

However, in some parts of Russia such as Chechnya or Dagestan there may be some challenges, said Parknomenko, since the case applications based on political repressions should be separated from the inter-ethnic repressions, as the project doesn’t deal with the latter.

The panelists noted that “the Last Address” project is not just an “anti-Stalinist” but an “anti-totalitarian” due to repressions dating back since 1917. There has also been a plaque installed in Ukraine for Valeriy Marchenko, a Ukranian dissident who died in 1984.

“All totalitarian regimes with totalitarian repressions are the same,” said Parkhomenko which is the idea behind the project and its international sister initiatives.

“The Last Address project” – Russian initiative: https://www.poslednyadres.ru/

“The Last Address” – Ukrainian initiative: https://www.ostannyaadresa.org/

By Valeria Jegisman

Free Russia Foundation’s Press Release on Submission of Article 15 Communication to the International Criminal Court

Oct 06 2020

On 21 September 2020, the Free Russia Foundation submitted a Communication to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Office (in The Hague, Netherlands) seeking accountability for Crimean and Russian authorities concerning international crimes perpetrated during Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea. The Communication was prepared in cooperation with Global Rights Compliance and Center for Civil Liberties and is based on a focused inquiry conducted over the past year. In our inquiry, we documented crimes as part of a systematic, planned attack by the Russian state against civilians and groups in Crimea in order to discourage them from opposing the illegal occupation of Crimea and to force their departure from the peninsula. Crimes against civilians included unlawful arrests, beatings, torture, enforced disappearances, and other inhumane acts causing severe mental and/or physical pain. In particular, the crimes targeted the Crimean Tatars, a native ethnic group who had only recently returned to their homeland, having previously been forcefully and brutally displaced by the Soviet Union in 1944.

One of the principal coercive acts was the illegal detention and concomitant violence before, during, and after the imprisonment of political prisoners. Most of those detained were arrested by Russian and Crimean authorities on terrorism charges, but it was their legal, pro-Ukrainian advocacy that led to their imprisonment. In addition, trials of those arbitrarily detained were conducted in wholesale disregard of their fair trial rights. For example, some of those illegally imprisoned were denied a speedy trial, access to independent lawyers, and the opportunity to defend themselves against their arrest in a courtroom.

In order to force those illegally detained to confess to crimes they did not commit, Russian and Crimean authorities also perpetrated acts of torture and cruel or degrading treatment, the levying of additional charges against them, even more inhumane prison conditions, denial of communications with their families and threats made against them, enforced disappearances, and even, in at least one case, a mock execution.

Other inhumane acts include “punitive psychiatry” and the denial of adequate prison conditions, including the following: (i) feeding people inedible food or, at times, no food at all; (ii) facing severe overcrowding in prisons; (iii) denial of regular water supply; (iv) threats of assault against them by prison cellmates; and (v) adding pork to food – prohibited for observant Muslims. Further, medical attention was systematically inadequate or denied for many individuals.

Concerning acts of torture, it was perpetrated by different Russian authorities, including the FSB. Allegations include the use of electric shocks in an effort to get an accused to confess. One was beaten in the head, kidneys, arms and legs with an iron pipe. With another, fingers were broken. Still another endured spinal bruises and having a plastic bag placed over his head to the point of unconsciousness. Further, threats of sexual violence against a detained man were made. Murder as well. Hands were broken, teeth were knocked out in still another.

Trials were largely held behind closed doors for illegitimate reasons, and many of the witnesses were secret not only to the public but also to the Accused. Further, credible allegations exist that, at times, there were FSB or other agents in the room, silently instructing witnesses what to say and how the judges should rule. This adds credence to words, according to the Kyiv Post, heard by Arsen Dzhepparov from a senior FSB lieutenant who stated “I will prove by all possible – and impossible – means that [an Accused is] guilty – even if he isn’t guilty”.

Concerning the crime of persecution, nearly all of these deprivations of fundamental rights were carried out with discriminatory intent. Specifically, these groups were targeted due to their political view – namely, by peacefully opposing the illegal occupation of their country. Some were targeted on ethnic grounds or religious grounds on the basis of their Crimean Tatar background.

War crimes, another group of crimes punished at the ICC, were also perpetrated in addition to or in the alternative to the crimes against humanity. This includes the crime of torture, outrages against personal dignity, unlawful confinement, wilfully depriving protected persons of the rights of a fair and regular trial, and the transfer of the occupying power of parts of its population into the territory it occupies or the deportation of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory.

All these crimes had the ultimate objective of the criminal enterprise – the removal of pro-Ukrainian elements out of Crimea and the annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation without opposition, including the installation of pro-Russian elements, which include the emigration of more than 70,000 Russians, the illegal imposition of Russian law in the occupied territory, forcing Russian nationality on many Crimeans, and the appropriation of public property.

Ultimately, we hope that all the information gathered by the ICC in the context of its preliminary investigation will lead the ICC to investigate mid- to high-level Russian and Crimean officials on this basis. The international community expects responsible global leadership that follows the rule of law and expects it – no matter the situation – to be respected, especially from a state that is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. When this fails to happen, the international community must demand accountability. We hope that an investigation can be opened and responsible officials of the Russian Federation will be investigated. After an investigation that conforms to international best practices, responsible persons should be charged with the systematic perpetration of international crimes.

Novichok Use Implicates Putin’s Government in Navalny’s Poisoning

Sep 02 2020

Today, the German government has announced that Russian pro-democracy leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned by Novichok. Novichok is a deadly nerve agent developed by the Soviet government chemical weapons program and used on several occasions by the Russian government to kill its critics in the recent years.

To restate the obvious, Novichok is a poison that can only be accessed with the authority of the Kremlin. Therefore, today’s announcement by German officials  directly implicates the Kremlin and Putin in the high-profile assassination attempt on Navalny.

The choice of Novichok was not just a means  to silence Mr. Navalny, but a loud, brazen and menacing message sent by Putin to the world: dare to criticize me, and you may lose your life.

The announcement by the German government of its intent to formally notify the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (‘OPCW’) of the use of Novichok against Navalny is a meek bureaucratic half-measure that fails to acknowledge the extraordinary threat to human life posed by Putin’s regime everywhere. Taken together with Angela Merkel’s promise earlier this week to help Putin finish his Nord Stream 2 pipeline despite an international outcry amounts to condoning the poisoning and normalizing it into a new modus operandi where Putin’s murders go unpunished. Free Russia Foundation urges the leaders of the EU, its Member States and the U.S. Government to take an urgent and drastic action to punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime not only to serve justice, but to establish a powerful deterrent against new attacks by Putin’s regime globally.

Free Russia Foundation Statement on Kremlin’s Interference in Elections in Georgia

Aug 26 2020

We are deeply concerned with information recently distributed by the well-respected authoritative source Center “Dossier.” According to “Dossier,” the Kremlin is using Russian political expert Sergey Mikheev and consulting company “Politsecrets” to manipulate Georgian society, distribute disinformation and anti-democratic narratives, undermine Georgia’s Western aspirations, and interfere in free and fair elections in Georgia scheduled for October 2020.

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Free Russia Foundation Calls for Investigation into Alexey Navalny’s Poisoning

Aug 20 2020

Free Russia Foundation is gravely concerned about the life and safety of Alexey Navalny. More

Civic Solidarity Platform Appeal with Regard to the Recent Events in Belarus

Aug 12 2020

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SHOULD REACT IMMEDIATELY AND STRONGLY TO RIGGED PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS AND MASSIVE VIOLENCE OF SECURITY FORCES AGAINST PEACEFUL PROTESTORS IN BELARUS More