Vladimir Putin: If the NKVD is dead, where is its grave?
Letter 18          09-Dec-2004

"Nowhere do repression, purges, subjugation and all types of bureaucratic hooliganism in general assume such deadly proportions as in Ukraine in the struggle against powerful subterranean strivings among the Ukrainian masses towards greater freedom and independence." Leon Trotsky (born Lev Bronstein in Yanovka, Ukraine)

NOTE ADDED 18-JAN-2005:   A comprehensive account not mentioned in the letter below of the Vinnytsia killings is Ihor Kamenetsky (Ed.), The Tragedy of Vinnytsia: Materials on Stalin's policy of extermination in Ukraine During the Great Purge, 1936-1938, Ukrainian Historical Association, Toronto and New York, 1989, and which can be read here in pdf format (6.1 mb).  As the photographs on pp. 244-250 were poorly or incompletely reproduced in pdf, they were scanned separately and can be inspected as follows:  244245246247248249250.   An erratum can be found on the last page of the pdf document.  Online dissemination of this valuable work is necessary because it is out of print, because used copies are not being offered for sale, and because it is not widely stocked in libraries.  One may hope that its renewed interest may prompt republication, or publication of a revised and expanded edition.  Translation into Ukrainian might contribute toward encouraging research within Ukraine.
             09 December 2004

Vladimir Putin, President
4 Staraya Square
Moscow 103132

Vladimir Putin:

Four accounts relating to the Vinnytsia Massacre appear below:

  1. a synopsis from Danylo Husar Struk's Encyclopedia of Ukraine;

  2. a background description from Orest Subtelny's Ukraine: A History;

  3. "Chapter V: Graves of Mass Murder Victims" in The Black Deeds of the Kremlin; and

  4. the more detailed account in Anthony Dragan's Vinnytsia: A Forgotten Holocaust.

1.  Synopsis Encyclopedia of Ukraine

The Encyclopedia of Ukraine entry under Vinnytsia Massacre is as follows:

Vinnytsia massacre.  A series of executions of thousands of citizens of the city of Vinnytsia and its surround area, perpetrated in 1937-8 by the NKVD during the Yezhov terror.  The massacre was not the only action of its kind; many were carried out by the Soviet state security in prisons throughout the Ukrainian SSR.  But the Vinnytsia massacre gained particular notoriety because of the extent to which it was made public.  In an attempt to discredit the previous Soviet regime by highlighting the atrocities it had perpetrated, the German occupational forces, following the lead of various witnesses, exhumed the bodies of the massacre's victims between May and July 1943.  To supplement the examinations made by German and Ukrainian doctors, the German authorities invited an international commission of medical experts to investigate the corpses found in 66 mass graves in the Vinnytsia area.  Forensic scientists from Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Holland, Rumania, Sweden, and Slovakia participated in July 1943.  It was reported that a total of 9,439 bodies (including 169 women) were recovered.  Most of the victims had been shot in the back of the head; some had been buried alive.  Only 10 percent of them were identified, largely on the strength of documents found on their persons, items of clothing, body markings, or other documents interred by the NKVD at another site.  Among those identified were persons whose families had been told they had been sent to prison camps without right of correspondence.  According to the testimony of Vinnytsia's citizens there were other graves, but the Germans were unable to investigate because they were eventually forced to retreat.  The fact that the German Gestapo itself used the NKVD prisons and installations for mass murder prevented a comprehensive investigation of the NKVD's actions in other cities, towns and villages, both in the 1937-8 period and during the Soviet retreat of 1941.

Massenmord von Winniza (Berlin 1944)
Le crime de Moscou à Vinnytzia (Paris 1953)
Kamenetsky, I. (ed.).  The Tragedy of Vinnytsia: Materials on Stalin's Policy of Extermination in Ukraine (1936-1938)  (Toronto-New York 1989)

M. Stakhiv

Danylo Husar Struk (ed.), Encyclopedia of Ukraine, Volume V, University of Toronto Press, Toronto Buffalo London, 1993, pp. 609-610.  Two photographs that are not reproduce above had the captions "A mass grave of victims of the Vinnytsia Massacre" and "Foreign physicians performing an autopsy of the remains of a victim of the Vinnytsia Massacre."

In is noteworthy in the above synopsis that more mass graves were known to exist in Vinnytsia than the 66 that were exhumed, but that German forces retreated before having a chance to examine them all.  Anthony Dragan, below, states that "ninety-one mass graves were unearthed at three locations" and that the precise number of bodies exhumed was 9,432 (p. 11).  The only reason that Vinnytsia is remembered today is that German forces allocated some of their wartime resources to documenting it for their own propaganda purposes; as German resources were never up to a comprehensive investigation of all mass-murder sites in Ukraine, or indeed of any other mass-murder site in Ukraine, it is plausible that tens or hundreds of other Vinnytsias exist in Ukraine, but have been forgotten.  It is also conceivable that the vast number of other Vinnytsias that exist in Ukraine will in due course be exhumed and investigated and entered into evidence concerning the nature of the brotherhood that Russia has extended to Ukraine.

2.  Background Ukraine: A History

The Subtelny description of Vinnytsia is brief, and can be found at the end of the four-page quote below which provides the context in which the Vinnytsia Massacre was perpetrated, a context which is not dissimilar to today's environment in which the Kremlin continues its battle against the leading obstacle to Russian empire a Ukrainian aversion to Kremlin homicide:


In the Soviet Union as a whole, the high point of the Stalinist purges came in 1937-38, but as Lev Kopelev noted, "In Ukraine 1937 began in 1933."  It was probably the threat of national communism on the one hand, and the demoralization of the Ukrainian Communists by the horrors of collectivization and the famine on the other, that singled out the Ukrainians for special attention.  The coming storm was heralded by an ideological shift in Moscow.  For years the party had officially reiterated that Russian chauvinism was the primary threat to the Soviet system, while the nationalism of the non-Russians was less dangerous because it was essentially a reaction to the former.  However, in 1933 Stalin's spokesmen, arguing that Ukrainian nationalism had greatly increased as a result of kulak support, labeled it as Ukraine's most serious problem.  Thus, the way was cleared for the persecution of those Ukrainian Communists who had been closely linked with Ukrainization.

Stalin's dissatisfaction with Ukrainization was not surprising.  The Ukrainian countryside had never supported the Bolsheviks and as masses of peasants poured into the cities traditionally the bases of Communist support the possibility that these centers would become breeding grounds for Ukrainian nationalism and separatism became real.  A more immediate reason for Stalin's intention to "cleanse" the CP(b)U was its supposedly poor performance during collectivization.  Having decided to make Ukraine's Communists the scapegoats for the disasters of 1932-33, Stalin sanctioned the open criticism of Ukrainian Communists.  As a result, editorials in Pravda and resolutions of the All-Union Central Committee condemned the Ukrainian Communists for "lack of vigilance" and softness in dealing with kulaks and grain procurements.

The Ukrainian Communists' dilemma was tragic.  Confronted with Stalin's demands on the one hand, and the terrible plight of Ukraine's populace on the other, they could neither satisfy the former nor help the latter.  Deprived of Moscow's good graces and lacking popular support, the CP(b)U was helpless.  The most painful blow came in January 1933 when Stalin appointed Pavel Postyshev to act as his personal representative and, in effect, viceroy of Ukraine.  Along with Postyshev came Vsevolod Balitsky, the new head of the OGPU, and thousands of Russian functionaries.  It was clear that the days when Ukrainian Communists had "run their own show" in Ukraine were over.

Postyshev's mandate was to complete collectivization regardless of the cost, purge the Ukrainian party, and end Ukrainization.  He replaced thou-


sands of local officials in the countryside with his own men.  Simultaneously, he launched an attack on the Ukrainizers.  Denouncing the emphasis on "national specificity" as a "refusal to submit to all-union interests," he described Ukrainization as a "cultural counter-revolution" whose aim was to fan "national enmity among the proletariat" and "to isolate the Ukrainian workers from the positive influence of Russian culture."

The primary target of these attacks was Skrypnyk, the commissar of education.  Rather than retract his support for Ukrainization, Skrypnyk committed suicide on 7 July 1933.  Several months earlier, Khvylovy had done the same.  The other ideologue of Ukrainian national communism, Shumsky, died in exile.  As Postyshev's reign of terror gained momentum, members of the new Soviet intelligentsia that had emerged in the 1920s were executed or exiled by the thousands.  According to some estimates, 200 of 240 authors writing at this time in Ukraine disappeared.  Of the 85 scholars in the field of linguistics, 62 were liquidated.  Philosophers, artists, and editors were denounced as spies or terrorists and arrested.  Matvii Iavorsky and his associates at the Ukrainian Institute of Marxism-Leninism who tried to develop a Marxist history of Ukraine were sent to the Siberian camps.  Kurbas' experimental Berezil Theater was shut down and he, too, disappeared into a labor camp, as did the playwright Kulish.  Dovzhenko's world-famous films were removed from circulation and he was forced to move to Moscow.  Several hundred kobzari (wandering bards) were invited to a congress, arrested, and reportedly shot.  To save themselves, some writers like Bazhan and Tychyna began writing according to the dictates of Moscow.

The destruction of Ukrainian institutions, begun in 1930, now reached its high point.  The commissariats of education, agriculture, justice, the Agricultural Academy, the editorial boards of newspapers, literary journals, encyclopedias, and film studios were denounced as "nests of nationalist counter-revolutionaries" and purged.  Summing up the results of his work in November 1933, Postyshev boasted that "the discovery of Skrypnyk's nationalist deviation gave us the opportunity to rid ... the structure of Ukrainian socialist culture of all ... nationalist elements.  A great job has been done.  It is enough to say that we cleaned out 2000 men of the nationalist element, about 300 of them scholars and writers, from the People's Commissariat of Education alone."

But Postyshev's purge was aimed at Ukraine's political elite as well as its cultural activists.  Over 15,000 people holding responsible positions were purged on charges of nationalism.  In addition to nationalism, party members were accused of "fascism," "Trotskyism," "lack of Bolshevik vigilance," and links with émigrés and foreign powers.  Consequently, between January 1933 and January 1934, the CPU lost about 100,000 members.  In his report, Postyshev noted that "almost all the people removed were arrested and put before the firing squad or exiled."  Even Trotsky admitted that "nowhere do repres-


sion, purges, subjugation and all types of bureaucratic hooliganism in general assume such deadly proportions as in Ukraine in the struggle against powerful subterranean strivings among the Ukrainian masses towards greater freedom and independence."

While the waves of repression that rolled across Ukraine in the early 1930s were mainly directed against Ukrainians, the Great Purge of 1937-38 encompassed the entire Soviet Union and all categories of people.  Its goal was to sweep away all of Stalin's real and imaginary enemies and to infuse all levels of Soviet society, especially upper echelons, with a sense of insecurity and abject dependence on and obedience to the "Great Leader."  In a series of sensational show trials, almost all the "founding fathers" of bolshevism (and the potential rivals of Stalin) were discredited and subsequently executed.  The political police, now referred to as the NKVD, repeatedly fabricated plots and terrorist groups to implicate ever broadening circles of people.  The usual sentence was summary execution or, at best, lengthy terms in Siberian concentration camps.  To assure themselves of an endless supply of "traitors," the NKVD interrogators concentrated on two questions: "Who recruited you?" and "Whom did you recruit?"  The "confessions" often doomed casual acquaintances, friends, and even family.  Even at a time when the threat of war in Europe was rising, much of the military leadership the only remaining base of potential opposition was executed.  It was at this point that Stalin's method began to show definite signs of madness.

Again Ukraine was among the worst-hit areas.  Unlike the purges of 1933, during which opponents of collectivization and Ukrainizers had been purged, in 1937 Stalin decided to liquidate the entire leadership of the Ukrainian Soviet government and the CPU.  The factors that influenced this decision were surprising.  Apparently after the famine, Postyshev (the ruthless Russian implementer of the purge of 1933) began to have doubts about Stalin's methods and to identify with Ukraine and Ukrainian interests.  More important, both Postyshev and the Ukrainian Communist leadership had refused to carry the purge as far as Stalin wished.  Even after the removal of Postyshev and the arrival in Ukraine of Stalin's personal representatives Viacheslav Molotov, Nikolai Ezhov, and Nikita Khrushchev in Kiev in August 1937, Ukraine's Communist leadership, consisting of Stanislav Kossior, Hryhorii Petrovsky, and Panas Liubchenko, continued to oppose the purge.  As a result, by June 1938 the top seventeen ministers of the Ukrainian Soviet government were arrested and executed.  The prime minister, Liubchenko, committed suicide.  Almost the entire Central Committee and Politburo of Ukraine perished.  An estimated 37% of the Communist party members in Ukraine about 170,000 people were purged.  In the words of Nikita Khrushchev, Moscow's new viceroy in Kiev, the Ukrainian party "had been purged spotless."

The NKVD slated for extermination entire categories of people, such as kulaks, priests, former members of anti-Bolshevik armies, those who had been


abroad or had relatives abroad, and immigrants from Galicia; even average citizens perished in huge numbers.  An indication of the vast scope of the Great Purge was the discovery during the Second World War, in Vinnytsia, of a mass grave containing 10,000 bodies of residents of the region who were shot between 1937 and 1938.  Given the lack of complete data, it is difficult for Western scholars to establish the total loss of life brought about by the Stalinist terror.  Adam Ulam and others estimate that in the Soviet Union as a whole, about 500,000 were executed in 1937-39 and somewhere between 3 and 12 million were sent to labor camps.  One can assume in light of the above-mentioned factors that Ukraine's share of those who were victimized was disproportionately high.

Orest Subtelny, Ukraine: A History (2nd ed.), University of Toronto Press, Toronto Buffalo London, 1994, pp. 418-421.  Footnotes deleted.  From "Abbreviations" on p. 621 comes the information that CPU is Communist Party of Ukraine; CP(b)U is Communist Party (bolshevik) of Ukraine; NKVD is People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs (Soviet political police); OGPU is Unified State Political Administration (Soviet political police).  From "Glossary" on p. 613 comes the information that kulak means "well-to-do peasant."

3.  Graves The Black Deeds Of The Kremlin

The Black Deeds of the Kremlin    PDF
The Black Deeds of the Kremlin   PDF (19.9 mb)

Accessible in pdf format on the right is "Chapter V: Graves of Mass Murder Victims" in The Black Deeds of the Kremlin: A White Book, Vol. 1, Book of Testimonies, Ukrainian Association of Victims of Russian Communist Terror, Toronto, 1953, pp. 411-438 (blank page 412 is not reproduced).  As this chapter contains the best photographs and diagrams that I have seen, I scanned it at a higher resolution, and in grayscale instead of black-white, which increased file size considerably, though still downloadable in 5-10 seconds on a fast Internet connection.

The chapter consists of eight short articles by different authors, the first five dealing with Vinnytsia, and the last three being included here to give an idea of other NKVD killing in Ukraine.  Of course it should be kept in mind that discovering NKVD graves while Ukraine remained under Soviet administration might have been unwelcome, and in fact might have drawn severe disapproval.

One short excerpt from each of the first five articles gives the following:

  1. The Vynnytsya murders are a reminder to the free world of the risk it runs by continuing to deal with these insane and fanatical Kremlin murderers in the same way as it does with other civilized and humane governments or political parties. Prof. I. Roz'hin, D.Sc.  (p. 416)

  2. The policy-makers of the world must realize that events in this atomic age are leading in a frantic tempo to a clash between two worlds: a world of truth and a world of lies, a world of light and a world of darkness, slavery and savage terror.  The Kremlin knows that one of these worlds must fall, and in a planned, furtive way is preparing to dominate the world. Stepan Fedoriwsky  (p. 420)

  3. How can one comprehend the tragedy of a simple school-teacher who fell into the NKVD claws and into the mass grave, together with his notebooks?  This indicates that there had not been time to indict and try the arrested.  They were given a bullet in the nape of the neck immediately upon being seized.  Some of them had clay in their mouths, showing that they were still breathing when buried. Bishop Sylvester  (p. 421)

  4. When the communists returned to Vynnytsya in 1944, Rapoport, the last NKVD chief, announced that all those who had remained during the German occupation were required to appear.  From these they picked out the ones who had identified their relatives dug up from the mass graves.  Thus, they collected two hundred people, shot them and threw them into the open pits. Kost Sybirsky  (p. 429)

  5. The large grave in "Kozytsky Park" was not re-opened.  It covered the Cheka and GPU victims of 1923. P. Pavlovich  (p. 432)

4.  Details Vinnytsia: A Forgotten Holocaust

Vinnytsia: A Forgotten Holocaust
Vinnytsia: A Forgotten Holocaust   PDF (3.7 mb)

The complete 52-page Anthony Dragan Vinnytsia: A Forgotten Holocaust in pdf format can be accessed by clicking on the right.  Five excerpts can be read below:

  1. After the mass arrests, relatives tried to secure some measure of "justice", but seeking "justice" in this system was in and of itself a crime.  And so they did what they could they kept vigil at the prison walls, went to the NKVD offices, and in their naiveté, even went so far as to write to Stalin himself, asking him to help them in finding and freeing their relatives.  But in ninety nine out of a hundred cases, the response was that those arrested had been sentenced as "enemies of the people" and sent to far-off camps, "without the right to correspond".  Some 10 thousand of these "enemies of the people," sent off to far-away camps, "without the right to correspond," were found, with their hands bound behind their backs and their skulls crushed, in the mass graves of Vinnytsia (p. 14).

  2. Out of the 169 female corpses that were exhumed, 49 were completely nude.  According to the report of the medical commission, these were all women of young age, as were the majority of female corpses that were clad only in long shirts.  This suggested, and was later borne out in testimony, that these women had been raped prior to being executed.  Only the corpses of a few older women were found fully clothed.  There were only a few cases where the female corpses were found with their hands bound (p. 38).

  3. All of the exhumed corpses showed signs of having been shot, most of them in the back of the head.  The cause of death could not be determined only in those few cases where the corpse was damaged in the process of being exhumed.  In most of the cases, bullets were found still embedded in the skulls.  Many bore signs indicating that more than one bullet had been used: 6,360 victims were shot twice; 78 victims were shot three times; and two victims were shot four times; the remainder were either shot once, or the number of shots could not be determined.  Some of the skulls were either bashed in or showed signs of having received severe blows, most likely, with a pistol.  Some of the corpses had been shot in the forehead or in the temple.  Others, apart from having been shot in the back of the head, had their mouths gagged; still others were found with a noose around their neck  (p. 39).

  4. As for the place of execution, the reports of the commission concurred with the accounts given by witnesses that, except for a very few, the victims were not executed at the site of the burial.  This was confirmed by the absence of cartridges at the sites.  The fact that few cartridges were found, and that only a few corpses were found on top of piles of clothing beneath which lay hundreds of corpses, indicates that only a few victims were executed directly at the burial spot.

    These were probably the corpses of the men who were to bury the victims.  There is speculation that the NKVD commissars executed them in order to get rid of any witnesses, and thus minimize the chances of having the crime discovered.

    The accounts given by relatives and the results of the general investigation conducted by the commission give reason to believe that the executions were carried out in the yard of the NKVD building (pp. 41-42).

  5. The Nazi crimes have been investigated and documented by the Nuremberg Trials.  Some of the countless crimes perpetrated by the Communist regime under Stalin's dictatorship were condemned by his own "advisers" and henchmen after his death.

    Why is it that Vinnytsia is never mentioned?  Why is it that at present, many years after these awful crimes, UNESCO sponsors anniversary celebrations for Lenin, hailing him as a "great humanist," when actually he was the source of inspiration for these bloody crimes.  How is it that representatives of the system which perpetrated and is responsible for the genocide of which Vinnytsia represents only a small part are today received as partners in international negotiations, even by the Vatican?  In the words of Patriarch Josyf Slipyj at the synod of bishops held in October, 1971, "Not only do these people choose to ignore the countless corpses and the rivers of blood that were shed," in sacrifice by the Ukrainian nation, but for the sake of "diplomacy," they prevent others from seeing the truth and speaking out (pp. 50-51).

Are There Other Mass Graves?

Robert Conquest opens up the possibility that mass graves are common in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, and that a mass grave containing 10,000 bodies is not one-fifth of the way to setting a record:

As I write, mass execution sites are known in several places: the one in Vinnitsa, discovered by the Germans in 1943, where over 9,000 corpses were exhumed, even though part of the area remained uninvestigated; one between Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, where some 50,000 seem to have been executed in 1937 and 1938; one at Gorno-Altaisk; one at Bykovnya, near Kiev; one, with over 46,000 bodies, near Leningrad; one near Tomsk; one close to the well-known Polish grave site at Katyn; near Chelyabinsk; near Poltava; in Donetsk; near Voronezh; and, above all, the mass grave at Kuropaty, near Minsk, of which much was written in the Soviet press in 1988 and 1989, which became the eponym of the later discoveries and where no fewer than 50,000 victims lie buried, while considerably higher estimates have been given in the Soviet press.  These included many from newly annexed western Byelorussia in 1939 to 1941 (five of the eight mass graves actually dug up were of western Byelorussians, and three were from 1937 and 1938, though this may not be representative).  The total in any case is unexpectedly large, especially when five more sites are reported waiting investigation in or near Minsk alone, with others in the Byelorussian provincial capitals.  And Byelorussia had in 1937-1938 about one-thirteenth, or 3.4 percent, of the Soviet population, and even in 1939-1941 only about one-eighteenth, or 5.6 percent.  The great majority of the dead were peasants and workers.

Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reassessment, University of Alberta Press, Edmonton, 1990, p. 288.  Footnotes excluded.

Robert Conquest reminds us, then, that even the Vinnytsia graves were not fully investigated and that several other noteworthy Ukrainian mass graves exist.  Arguing that the surface is barely being scratched is that all Soviet and many post-Soviet governments have been motivated to discourage such investigations.  The Kremlin, then, which today steps forward to rule Ukraine, boasts a history of ruling the region, of which history the stench of rotting corpses serves as a reminder.

And Where Is The Grave Of The NKVD?


The Kremlin functionaries who committed, and those who commanded, the Vinnytsia crimes have never been brought to justice.  Although most among the guilty who are still alive today might be too old to stand trial, the Kremlin still has it within its power to at least make possible an accurate historical judgment by opening its files and exposing those who were involved, and permitting the measurement of their crimes but it does not.  Instead, the Kremlin dedicates itself to committing new crimes.

Limiting attention to recent days, the Kremlin is even now in the process of committing the new crime of attempting to install a compromat-controlled, journalist-murdering, hang-judges-by-the-balls ex-convict, Viktor Yanukovych, to rule Ukraine, from which the world deduces that the NKVD changing its acronym from time to time is insufficient reason to trust that it has changed its nature as well.

Your reckless and injurious actions suggest, then, that you are in essence an NKVD agent who leads a government of NKVD agents, and who is not unsympathetic to viewing Vinnytsia as a necessary chastisement by father Kremlin of his unruly and recalcitrant Ukrainian children, and not unsympathetic to viewing Vinnytsia as a precedent for more chastisement to come.

Lubomyr Prytulak