Polish diaspora in Russia denied access to cemetery of Stalinist victims

Representatives of the Polish diaspora in Russia and members of the Memorial human rights group were denied access to a cemetery for the victim of Stalinism on Sunday, the Polish Consul General in St Petersburg has told PAP.

Grzegorz Slubowski said a group of about a hundred people including Poles in Russia, members of the Memorial organisation and the consuls of Poland, Norway, Sweden and Germany had gathered outside the gates of the cemetery in Levashovo near St Petersburg to mark the anniversary of the 'Polish Operation' of the Soviet NKVD security service between 1937 and 1938.

The so-called 'Polish operation' was launched by Nikolai Yezhov, the head of the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, on August 11, 1937, to "completely destroy Polish spy networks." Some 140,000 people were arrested, 111,091 of them were sentenced to death. Most victims were Polish diaspora activists, clerks, teachers, priests, rich farmers, and craftsmen. According to some historians, this genocide could have claimed as many as 200,000 Polish lives but the exact number remains unknown.

"We wanted to lay flowers and put up a cross on the site where earlier had stood a monument commemorating Polish victims of the NKVD," Slubowski told PAP. "This monument was destroyed by unknown culprits in July, taken away, it simply is not there."

Upon arriving at the cemetery, the group found the gate locked and a notice at the entrance stating 'technical day.'

"Apart from that, Putin activists of the Young Guard organisation were waiting for us, who were behaving aggressively," the consul general said, adding that the activists carried banners bearing slogans such as 'Poland supports Nazis' and 'Get out of Russia.'

After reciting Polish poetry and singing songs, the group left the cross and flowers at the gate.

Slubowski said Russian authorities have yet to respond to a diplomatic note sent to the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the monument's disappearance. 

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