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'To live out in hard labor': why the children of the Gulag still cannot escape from exile

The Russian government and the State Duma actually refuse to provide the victims of the Stalinist terror with apartments in Moscow and other large cities where their parents lived before the repressions. The right to return home has been guaranteed to them by law since 1991, but the authorities, contrary to the decision of the Constitutional Court and the support of the UN, offer the children of the Gulag to wait for their turn on a par with the beneficiaries. On average, the queue to receive an apartment can last 20-30 years, says Air force.

Memorial to the victims of the Gulag in Moscow. Photo: Shutterstock

On Thursday, November 26, the State Duma adopted in the first reading a government bill on changing the rules for providing them with housing. However, even according to it, the victims of Stalinist repression will not receive guaranteed housing to return to their families' former habitats earlier than in a few decades.

"This" robbery "is called"

When Vladimir Gorobets is in Moscow, he goes to Arbat to look at house No. 38, where his father once lived in apartment 12.

“What was confiscated from my father is called“ robbery ”. For no reason, first, they were arrested, a man's life was destroyed ... For ten years [father] fell down the forest for the good of our homeland. [Secondly,] everything was robbed. The state that was then robbed him, and now - to return? Loot, in my opinion, is never returned, ”Gorobets laments. For more than 10 years he has been trying to return this apartment to his family.

Gorobets is 64 years old. Almost half of them he lived in the place of exile of his parents - the village of Yazayevka, about 200 kilometers north of Krasnoyarsk. Now it is a tiny point surrounded by taiga on the banks of the Yenisei with a couple of hundred inhabitants. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, almost all of the small population was convicted, explains Gorobets.

His parents met there - in Yazayevka. Both are exiles. Mom was from Lviv. She received six years in camps and an eternal settlement in a remote Siberian village for allegedly participating in underground cells and distributing anti-Soviet literature.

Father - from the Kiev region, but worked in Moscow. Before his arrest, he held a high position in the field of food supply and lived in an apartment in the very center of the city - on the Arbat. In 1942, Leonid Gorobets was arrested on a false denunciation, says his son Vladimir. It was written, he believes, by the colleagues of Gorobets Sr., whom he caught stealing food.

“[The thieves] suggested to him that he should not interfere or assist in this matter. They offered apartments, gold, whatever you want - in 1942 in Moscow you could exchange food for anything. He refused this offer, sent away. In the morning they came to him: they say, a statement was written against him that he was a saboteur, he was selling food, ”Vladimir Gorobets recalls his father's story.

An additional role in his case was played by the things of a neighbor: in Gorobets's packed apartment, shortly before the search, a tenant of one of the rooms died. Its new owners put the belongings of the deceased in the corridor. Gorobets Sr. left them in his room before the relatives showed up. During a search, photographs of the Politburo staff with members of the Politburo who had fallen out of favor by 1942 and repressed were found in these things.

In May 1943, Leonid Gorobets was found guilty under Article 58-10 of the RSFSR Criminal Code on agitation to undermine Soviet power and sentenced to capital punishment. The execution was replaced by a 10-year term in a camp and subsequent exile to the Krasnoyarsk Territory, where his son Vladimir was born.

Gorobets, according to an extract from the archival house book, was discharged from his apartment on the Arbat in November 1945 "in connection with his arrest."

“Evictions in the USSR were an integral part of political repression,” wrote Yan Rachinsky, head of the Memorial Society, in his address to the Chairman of the Constitutional Court Valery Zorkin.

“The confiscated apartments were often given to the employees of the repressive authorities - for example, in Moscow for the period from August 17, 1937 to October 1, 1938, of the 6 rooms sealed in the houses of the district councils, 887 were transferred to the NKVD and only 6 were at the disposal of the Moscow City Council,” said in a letter from the head of Memorial.

Who moved into Leonid Gorobets's apartment after his arrest remained a mystery to his son. Vladimir does not know the current owners either.

“I found out on the Internet who lives there ... Some people live there. I wanted to go there, talk, but the guards simply did not let me in, ”Gorobets recalls one of his visits to Moscow.

In 2007, he began collecting papers to prove his right to reimbursement of a Moscow apartment and get in line to receive housing. In Moscow, the waiting time in this queue is on average 25 years.

“You should not bet on receiving, but on returning housing,” says Vladimir Gorobets. - My father once stood in line, once he was given this housing for something? And now, it turns out, we have to stand in line again ”.

But the man has not even managed to get into the 25-year-old line: the Moscow property department and the courts have repeatedly denied him this right for several years.

On the subject: 'The reddest of all blacks': the story of an African-American communist who died in the Gulag

200 years for three

The 1991 law “On the rehabilitation of victims of political repression” obliges the Russian authorities to compensate those who were sent into exile or the Gulag camps, as well as their children born in these places. Most of the repressed have already died, and after almost 30 years only the children of the GULAG fall under the law. They have the right to return to their parents' previous place of residence and receive housing from the state at the expense of that which their families have lost due to repression.

It is almost impossible to exercise this right. In 2005, the State Duma delegated the powers to the regions themselves to set the conditions under which former political prisoners can return home. The most stringent requirements were put forward by Moscow: just to get into the general queue for social housing, a victim of the Stalinist terror must live in the capital for at least 10 years (in most regions, at least they began to require registration for this), not have their own living space and have the status of a poor. wrote Kommersant.

For most families of the repressed, the path to obtaining housing is closed. In fact, they have been in exile for over 70 years. This is exactly what happened to the daughters of three Muscovites who were repressed in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Alisa Meissner from the Kirov region, Evgenia Shasheva from Komi and Elizaveta Mikhailova from the Vladimir region have been unsuccessfully suing the Moscow authorities for a long time, and eventually reached the Constitutional Court. From the rostrum of the Constitutional Court, they told the judges how they were born in special settlements and exiles, after the state took away their parents' property.

Alisa Meissner is from a German family. Before the deportation, her mother lived with her parents near Chistoprudny Boulevard in the center of Moscow. In 1941, all of them were expelled from the capital to the Karaganda region.

The family was soon torn apart. Alice's grandfather died in a new place a year later, and two years later his two daughters were sent to logging in the Kirov region. Only one of them survived until the release from the special settlement - the mother of Alice Meissner.

She herself has been living in the village of Rudnichny in the Kirov region for almost thirty years - in the late 1980s, her husband was transferred there to work. In 1991, the couple was given an apartment in a hostel, where the 70-year-old woman still lives. The apartment is covered with black mold spreading along the walls, and the place is depressing - next to the house there is an abandoned kindergarten, the city is full of buildings in ruins, on the outskirts there is an abandoned mine and a cemetery of German prisoners of war.

Meissner tried to sell an apartment for 90 thousand rubles and move in with her daughter in order to save at least on utility bills. But there were no people willing to buy housing, says Grigory Vaypan, a lawyer and representative of victims of repression in the Constitutional and other courts.

“Now she is trying to reprivatize it and return it to the municipality for free. They don't take that way, ”he says.

Earlier, Alisa Meissner traveled to Moscow every year using the right of the repressed to a reduced fare. She visited cemeteries where loved ones are buried. In an interview with Kommersant, she said that one day she “plucked up courage and rang the doorbell of an apartment on Chaplygin Street to see with her own eyes where her relatives were taken from in 1941. But as soon as she began to explain her story, the door was silently slammed in front of her ”.

Evgenia Shasheva is Meissner's contemporary, she is also 70 years old. Shasheva was born in a special settlement for exiles in Komi.

Her father is from a wealthy merchant family from Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk). In the post-revolutionary 1920s, Shasheva's ancestors moved to Moscow: his grandfather got a job at the Main Directorate of the Canning Industry, his father studied at the Faculty of Biology of Moscow State University and worked as a biochemist. In 1937, both were arrested and charged with spying for Japan.

Father Evgenia Shasheva was given eight years in camps in Ukhtizhemlag in Komi, and after his liberation in 1946, he was banned from returning to Moscow and “restricted areas”. There, in a special settlement, he met her mother - a former prisoner of German labor camps, sent to Soviet camps on charges of working for the enemy.

His father died in 1987, and lived there in the vicinity until his death, Evgenia told the BBC. She herself and her family live in the village of Nizhniy Odes, near Ukhta, 100 km north of the place where her father was serving his sentence.

“Since the beginning of November 2020, the third bear has appeared in our village,” says Evgenia.

About how the fate of her grandfather, Shasheva found out only in the early 2000s, when she got access to his file in the archive. He was shot almost immediately after his arrest and was buried at the Butovo training ground.

Elizaveta Mikhailova and her two daughters live in a tiny village at a station in the Vladimir region - in a room they bought in half of an old wooden house.

Her parents are from St. Petersburg, but in the last years before their expulsion they lived in Moscow. My father made a career in the chemical industry. In 1937 he disappeared. Only a month after his disappearance did the family learn that he had been arrested on charges of participating in a counter-revolutionary organization.

Father was sentenced to eight years in the camps and sent to Magadan. He was released in 1946 with a "wolf ticket" in his hands. His wife left Moscow and together they settled in Moldavia, where their daughter Elizabeth was born.

Soon after her birth, the arrests of "repeat" began - those who had already served in the camps. In 1949, Elizaveta Mikhailova's father was arrested again and sent into exile in the Krasnoyarsk Territory for 25 years. Relatives did not follow him: Elizaveta and her sister were constantly ill - their parents feared that the children would not stand life in Siberia.

Years later, Elizaveta Mikhailova found herself on business in Moscow. It was 1990, she stopped at the KGB building on Lubyanka and decided to go inside.

“So she said:“ Times are different now, so tell me, finally, what was daddy to blame? Why do we suffer so much all our lives? " The employee listened to everything carefully, wrote down the data and went to sort it out, and when he returned, he said: “Your dad is not guilty of anything. Make inquiries about rehabilitation. A special law will come out soon, then you will receive the right to an apartment in Moscow and you will be able to return. " I came, told my mother, she was so happy, so hoped ... ”- recalled Elizaveta in a conversation with Kommersant.

In 2019, the Constitutional Court (CC), on the complaints of Meissner, Shasheva and Mikhailova, decided to change the rules that prevent them from returning to the capital. The Constitutional Court recognized that the existing mechanism of compensation for damage to the families of the victims of the GULAG violates their rights and compensation for harm should be “as complete as possible”.

"We'll have to live out their days in hard labor"

Elizaveta Mikhailova has been trying to prove to the Moscow courts the right to compensation for the Moscow housing lost by her family for 18 years. In 2004, the Khoroshevsky District Court denied her, finding that her mother herself decided to leave Moscow for her expelled husband, and therefore could not be considered forcibly evicted due to repression.

The outcome of the court hearings was not even influenced by the decision of the Constitutional Court on the need to revise the current procedure for the reimbursement of once seized apartments and the position that moving into exile for reunification with a repressed family member cannot be considered voluntary. Already seven months after this decision, in July 2020, the Khoroshevsky District Court again did not recognize the fact of forced resettlement, and in October this position was confirmed by the Moscow City Court.

“Now we continue to seek revision of court decisions in favor of Mikhailova, we are preparing cassation complaints,” says lawyer Grigory Vaypan.

A 72-year-old woman who lives on half of a wooden house of little use for existence in the Vladimir region is one of several hundred citizens who have the right to claim compensation for an apartment.

A descendant of the repressed Vladimir Gorobets also made several unsuccessful attempts to prove in court his right to living space.

After the Constitutional Court decided to change the procedure for compensation for harm, Gorobets decided to try again to get compensation. In August 2020, he submitted documents to the Moscow Property Department for inclusion in the queue. There is still no answer.

“In November 2018, he wrote to us:“ I am a pensioner, I live in my father’s former penal servitude, I have been left without his support since I was 2,5 years old ... I’ll have to live out my life in hard labor and in exile - despite the Constitution and the laws. There is no money in the state for people like us, ”lawyer Vaipan quotes Gorobets's letter.

According to the head of the Duma Committee on Housing Policy Galina Khovanskaya ("Fair Russia"), no more than 500 Russians are now trying to obtain compensation for housing taken away during the years of repression or compensation for it. “When we were calculating, we thought that there would be 1 people (this was previously stated by the Ministry of Construction. - Approx. BBC). But we made inquiries and it turned out that there were much fewer of them - those who somehow showed themselves, tried to get registered. Mostly in Moscow - 190 [applications] and St. Petersburg, a little in Nizhny Novgorod, there are in Krasnodar, ”the deputy lists.

On the subject: How to find out about their repressed and deported relatives

"They die every day"

The Ministry of Construction of Russia took over the amendment of the law on the rehabilitation of victims of political repression at the direction of the Constitutional Court.

Submitted in April 2020, the document received over one hundred negative reviews and not a single positive one at the public comment stage. Among those who criticized him were ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova, government representative in the Constitutional Court Mikhail Barshchevsky, specialists from the Institute of Legislation and Comparative Law, Kommersant noted earlier.

Nevertheless, the amendments developed by the Ministry of Construction received the approval of the government commission and eventually got to a vote in the State Duma.

As follows from the text of the draft, the government proposes to make virtually the only change in the existing law. Previously, the regions had the right to establish the same rules for the rehabilitated as for any waiting list. Now, in case of returning to their former place of residence, the authorities must provide housing for the rehabilitated citizens, regardless of the length of time they have lived here; of what property they have and whether they have grounds for being recognized as needing housing, the project says.

But this is where the innovations end: according to the government's project, the rehabilitated and their children must, as before, queue up to return home. They will have to wait for an apartment for many years (in Moscow - 25) - “in the manner prescribed by the constituent entities of the Russian Federation”.

The preservation of the principle of a “common queue” for children of the repressed means that most of those who have the right to this will not wait for housing, says lawyer Grigory Vaipan, representing the interests of the three families.

“They die every day. An important point that not everyone understands: this is a non-renewable category [of applicants for social housing]. According to Article 13 of the “Law on Rehabilitation”, only those who were directly repressed and their children, if they were born in a camp or exile, have the right to housing. Grandchildren, great-grandchildren and so on do not have this right, ”he explains.

Shortly before the vote in the State Duma, it became known that UN representatives had called on the Russian authorities to provide the children of the repressed apartments or compensation for illegally confiscated housing within 2 years.

“Most of them are elderly people over 70 years old. Many live in remote areas and their living conditions range from moderately livable to dilapidated, when there is no sewage system, hot water and heating, ”the letter of the UN special rapporteurs says.

According to critics of the project of the Ministry of Construction in Russia, housing should be provided to victims of political repression in a special order: for example, in a separate queue only for this category of citizens or at a specific time.

In September 2020, spravedlivorossi deputies Galina Khovanskaya and Sergei Mironov submitted an alternative bill to the State Duma. Under these amendments, victims of repression must receive payments from the federal budget for the purchase or construction of housing in those cities that the victims were forced to leave within a year after their appeal.

“[At the consideration of the project in the committee] they said: we have orphans, disabled people ... I myself am fighting for them, but this is a completely different order. This is not an improvement in living conditions. This is compensation for the harm that was done to families, ”explains Khovanskaya.

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“We strictly and strictly implemented the decision of the Constitutional Court”

Consideration of both bills in the State Duma was scheduled for November 26. The deputies voted for the government option - 280 votes to 20.

“The bill explicitly prohibits the regions from setting additional conditions for the provision of housing,” said Deputy Minister of Construction Nikita Stasishin before the vote.

But he does not establish any terms for the provision of housing and preferences to other categories of those in need, follows from the speech of a government representative.

“We have strictly and strictly implemented the decision of the Constitutional Court - the way we interpret it,” stressed Stasishin. According to government estimates, about 1600 people are now eligible for housing compensation.

The author of the alternative bill, Khovanskaya, noted to this that the Constitutional Court had spoken about the need for urgent compensation for damage. “We are not talking about improving housing conditions, and there is no need to speculate with other categories standing in line. We are talking about compensation for harm, ”said the deputy.

“We made inquiries to the regions. 442 applicants. Listen, can't we close this problem? The cynicism of government officials raises many questions. In general, will these people pass the test for humanity, for empathy? - asked Khovanskaya. “[The children of the repressed] stand in a common queue, which will reach them at the tombstone ... They will see justice only in the cemetery in the context of such a law.”

“Those who have applied to the Constitutional Court will have the right [to it] to apply again,” if the government bill, from their point of view, does not correspond to the position of the Constitutional Court, a deputy from United Russia suggested on November 11 during a discussion in a specialized committee Mikhail Terentyev.

“This is practically a mockery of people. They will be put on a queue, they will stand there for 25 years. We don't live so much, - says Khovanskaya. "These people are very few ... They ... I don't know ... you just need to feel sorry for them."

After the Constitutional Court ordered to change the existing rules in 2019, the Moscow Department of Property registered two of the three applicants. Alisa Meissner was in line to receive an apartment at 54th place, and Evgenia Shasheva - at 967th.

72-year-old Elizaveta Mikhailova is not in this queue.

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