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Stepan Ivanovich Karagodin: Lost and Found

Stepan Ivanovich Karagodin: Lost and Found

An intriguing story has emerged recently in the Russian press and it’s now being picked up by some of the British media. It touches on some interesting questions relating to historical responsibility, victimhood and retribution.

Since 2012, Denis Karagodin has been investigating the death of his great grandfather, Stepan Ivanovich Karagodin (b.1881), who was executed in Tomsk on 21 January 1938, along with at least 35 other people, as part of the local campaigns of the Great Terror. Certainty of Stepan’s death only came to be revealed initially in 1955, when his wife was handed paperwork that set out the grounds for her husband’s rehabilitation. It was not until 1991, however, that the family discovered that Stepan had been executed only a few weeks after his arrest on 1 December 1937.


Stepan Karagodin with 5 out of 6 of his children. House of Karagodin’s family in Volkovo village, Amur region. Stepan Karagodin with his wife Anna and one of their children. Pictures: Denis Karagodin (see linked article)

Denis Karagodin has undertaken meticulous historical research that has revealed not only the specific name of one of the Tomsk NKVD executioners along with other names of the local NKVD employees, but also the names of police truck drivers and secretaries who typed up the paperwork, and the names of those carrying out house searches and the attesting witnesses. He asked questions of the relatives of these people, who provided him with further information, and he began to post his findings online. His research revealed that the name of his great grandfather’s executioner was Nikolai Ivanovich Zyryanov.

Denis was surprised to receive a letter from Zyryanov’s granddaughter, Yulia, who was herself unaware of the role played by her grandfather during the Great Terror in Tomsk. The news caused her many sleepless nights and mental anguish: ‘I understand with my mind that I am not guilty’. She also revealed that on her mother’s side, the family were also victims of the terror. Her great grandfather had also been taken from his house and never returned. Denis responded with an open and conciliatory letter, acknowledging Yulia’s bravery in speaking out, and making clear that he laid no blame at her door.

Nevertheless, these discoveries are not enough for Denis. He aims to pursue a prosecution of all of the people involved in his great grandfather’s execution, starting with Stalin, and finishing, we should presume, with local officials in Tomsk, including Zyryanov – even though all of these people are long dead.

Stepan’s fate is far from unique. Almost 700,000 people are known to have been executed across the Soviet Union during the years of the Great Terror alone. Denis’s determination to find the truth about his part of family history is also not unusual. Over the past 25 years or so, many former Soviet citizens have sought to document publically what happened to their family members who disappeared during the purges and the impact that the appellation ‘enemy of the people’ had on them personally.

Denis’s determination to pursue a prosecution is more curious. It’s difficult to identify any firm judicial basis for a trial or what would be served by the outcome he seeks.

The full story can be found here.

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