Firefighters found the remains of a mass grave in the Knyazhpogost District of Komi at the end of April. Human rights advocate Igor Sazhin said that there had been a Gulag near the site of discovery between the 1930s and 1950s, so the remains may have belonged to prisoners. Investigators conducted a forensic examination and found that the remains were more than 15 years old. Local officials asked the Federal Penitentiary Service, the archive, and social activists to send them data on penal camps and burial sites of prisoners that were located in the district at that time. This is stated in the official response of the Knyazhpogost District Administration to 7x7’s request.
Human rights advocate Igor Sazhin learned from local residents that firefighters had found the remains of mass graves (bones, ribs, skulls) in the Novy microdistrict of the town of Emva at the end of April. In his opinion, they probably belong to prisoners of a penal camp, which was located in the area between the 30s and the 50s.
Sazhin told 7x7 that law enforcement officers had visited the place where the burial had been discovered. They took the remains for examination to determine the time and nature of their owners’ death. Sazhin was also surprised by the fact that media, officials, and law enforcement officers had not reported the discovery for more than a month (the first publications on the topic appeared in early June).
"They kept so quiet. What is this supposed to mean? Human remains were found there. The public should be informed about this. If this is a crime that was committed either in the 90s or now, then you need to initiate a criminal case. You probably do not want this place to be declared a place of mass execution during the period of terror or to exaggerate the topic, so be it. But at least you can report that you have discovered the remains. But there was total silence," Sazhin told 7x7.
Mikhail Khovrin, the deputy head of the Knyazhpogost District Administration, confirmed in response to 7x7’s official request that human remains had been found on the territory of the municipality at the end of April and had been sent for examination. The official did not report the results. However, he added that the district administration had discussed the possible reburial of the discovered remains.
The officials requested information about the camps of the Gulag’s system and prisoners’ burial sites in the district from the regional Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the archive of the Federal Penitentiary Service, the national archive, and the Pokayanie (‘Penance’) Foundation for Victims of Political Repressions.
The press relations service of the Investigating Committee's Department for the Komi Republic told 7x7 that there had been a check after the discovery of the remains. Forensic experts found that the discovered remains belonged to at least three people. At the same time, it was not possible to establish the cause of their death, but no intravital traumatic changes were found on the bones. According to the experts, the remains are more than 15 years old. The department added that the investigators had found no indication after the check that a crime had been committed, so they had not initiated a criminal case.
This is not the only case when unknown burials were found in the Komi Republic near the Gulag sites. In April 2017, the remains were discovered near the town of Ukhta. Investigators found that the remains (three skulls with bullet holes) could belong to political prisoners shot during the Soviet years, but did not initiate a criminal case. According to archival data, the site where the remains were found was a correctional facility of the NKVD of the USSR.
In December 2017, discovered bones were buried in a memorial cemetery. Mikhail Rogachyov, a historian and then-chairman of the Pokayanie Foundation (died in January 2021 of the consequences of coronavirus), stated that the site where the remains had been found was not fully investigated. In May 2018, residents of the town of Zabolotnoye also found human remains there.
In addition to the Pokayanie Foundation, a branch of the Memorial* Society is engaged in perpetuating the memory of the victims of political repression in the Komi Republic. In December 2017, social activists presented a new electronic database with 3 million names of political prisoners. It includes 12 martyrologies (books about persecuted people) with the names of victims of repression. The region holds the annual Return of Names Campaign, where people read the names of those convicted during the years of the Great Terror.
In May 2021, the 7x7 Online Newspaper together with the Takie Dela (‘So It Goes’) Web Portal released Maxim Polyakov’s documentary It Used to be a Gulag about how the memory of Stalin's terror is preserved in the cities and towns of Komi, the first inhabitants of which were prisoners.