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Muscovites read out names of Stalin repression victims

Hundreds of people gathered Friday in central Moscow to solemnly read out lists of thousands of names of victims of Stalin-era political repressions in an annual commemoration ceremony.

Standing outside the headquarters of the FSB secret police, the successor to the KGB and dictator Josef Stalin’s NKVD, activists read out brief biographical details of victims, compiled by Russian rights group Memorial.

“Vasily Tarasovich Ababko, 50, worker in the collective farm of Yershovo village, shot September 2, 1937,” one read from a list. “Riza Kuli Abdullayev, 46, printer, shot April 8, 1938.”

Each finished the reading with the words “rest in peace,” while some added the sign of the cross.

One reader, Yevgeniya Smirnova, 83, finished her list with the name of her own father, shot in 1937.

“I take part in this ceremony every year. People need to know more about things from this period,” Smirnova told AFP, adding that she was happy to see people braving cold and falling snow to take part.

“It’s our history that we are reading, with the names of all these people who were murdered. As we call them by name, these people live inside us and we feel all this tragedy deeply,” said Oksana Bocharova, 39, a marketing manager.

Bocharova said she regretted that Russia did not do enough to remember its history.

“We should follow the example of Germany by talking about it at school and showing films… We do not do it because it’s difficult for the authorities and for the people to recognise that such crimes were committed.”

The volunteers, who were set to read in shifts from 10 am to 10 pm, read the surname, name, age and profession of each person, as well as the date when he or she was shot.

The victims ranged from municipal workers such as bus drivers to the Communists’ ideological foes, such as priests, and members of the ruling elite.

According to Memorial more than 30,000 people were executed in Moscow in 1937 and 1938, the two years considered to be the peak of the Stalin Terror.

The readers stood in a small park around a stone brought from the island of Solovki in the far north of Russia, where the first prison camp in the notorious Gulag system was set up under Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union and Stalin’s predecessor.

Memorial was founded at the end of the Soviet Union to publicise the fate of repression victims. It later expanded its role to gather information on rights violations across Russia, particularly in the troubled Caucasus region.

It was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize this year.