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“To Stand in a Queue for 30 Years — We Will Stay Alive in Despite”

“Children of the GULAG” are still trying to return home from exile, but the state, which took away their parents, childhood and shelter, makes them wait for the promised housing for decades

19 Jan 2021
“To Stand in a Queue for 30 Years — We Will Stay Alive in Despite”

At the spring session of 2021, the State Duma will consider in the second reading a bill on the allocation of housing to victims of Soviet repression in their historical motherland. If this law is adopted without amendments, "children of the Gulag", that is, those who were born in families of repressed, in camps or places of exile of their parents, will have to stand in the common queue for all Russians for housing, where their place will be behind tens of thousands of people. The “Important Stories” analyzed data on queues for apartments in Russian regions, talked with solicitors and those who have been trying to regain their lost home for years, and found out that the Duma deputies have a chance to change the situation – and help victims of repression without harming the budget.

"While the documents were being prepared, the man was gone."

“I myself forget how old I am – 87 years old, I’m already on my way,” says Oksana Andrievskaya, daughter of the repressed Muscovite Irina Andrievskaya. The first twelve years Oksana lived in Moscow, most of her life – in the Northern Ural, where her mother was exiled as the wife of an “enemy of the people”.

Oksana Andrievskaya at the Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow, where her repressed relatives are buried.
Oksana Andrievskaya at the Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow, where her repressed relatives are buried.
Photo: personal archive of Oksana Andrievskaya

“Vysotsky has the words: 'You are also victims, which means that you have become Russified: mine are the fallen without a trace, yours are innocently sat down.' So, we have both innocently sat down and victims. My grandfather ended up in German captivity, and my grandmother was in our camps in the Northern Ural, ” continues Alexander Andrievsky, Oksana's son.

The Soviet authorities repressed several generations of the Andrievsky family at once. Oksana's grandfather, priest Fyodor Andrievsky, was shot in 1937; during his arrest, his house and land were confiscated. Then they came for their stepfather: “He was a scientist, he taught at the Moscow Power Engineering Institute. We lived in the center of Moscow – on First Meshchanskaya St. (now Prospect Mira). He was arrested on denunciation as an "enemy of the people." Even though I was three years old, I remember being taken away. They came for him, and I shouted to them: “We are not thieves, we are not thieves! Why are you taking him? " Then his mother was going to the prison to deliver parcels for him. Once I say to her: "Take me with you." She didn't take me. And the next morning she did not come back – there [at Lubyanka] she was taken immediately as the wife of an “enemy of the people” and sent to a prison camp in the north of the Perm region (now the Perm Territory.Ed.) for eight years. She was twenty-three years old, she had just graduated from the institute, only taught physics for the first year. The stepfather was shot in 1942.”

At the age of three, Oksana was left alone. During the war she lived with her father's sister. When Oksana's mother served eight years, the authorities told her: “Live where you’ve been serving time,” and she took her daughter to her in the Perm region.

Oksana Andrievskaya recalls how new wave of arrests began in 1948: “We are sitting with my mother on the porch, a man walks and bows to his mother, and she thinks that they have come for her and says:“ You see, they are taking me away again ”. Fearing that Oksana and her younger brother, who was born in exile, would be left without both their mother and money, she sent her daughter to study at a technical school. There Oksana met her future husband, and then moved with him to Yaroslavl, where she still lives.

Fedor Andrievsky (grandfather of Oksana Andrievskaya), in the middle – his son Nikolai Andrievsky (father of Oksana Andrievskaya)
Fedor Andrievsky (grandfather of Oksana Andrievskaya), in the middle – his son Nikolai Andrievsky (father of Oksana Andrievskaya)
Photo: personal archive of Oksana Andrievskaya

Andrievskaya's parents were subsequently rehabilitated. “My mother died there in the north, I no longer have a husband, I was left alone with the children,” says Oksana. – “I spent the whole damn war, the whole bombing in Moscow, I loved Moscow so much! They took innocent people, took away their apartments, kicked them out of Moscow. Give back what you took, I'm an innocent man! I understand that [if] a person killed and did a bad deed, but what about us?"

Oksana began to seek in the courts the return of the Moscow. After several trials, letters to Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and President Vladimir Putin, she despaired: “I no longer believe in anything. When the documents were drawn up by the solicitor, the same case happened to some other family: while they were preparing all the necessary papers, until they have delivered a positive decision, that person died. Everyone who was there burst into tears, because life is not eternal."

"They die every day"

Those who were repressed in the Soviet years are almost gone, so now the right to return family homes is being procured by "children of the Gulag" – children of the deported and born in exile. (Those who were repressed during the Soviet era, members of their families who lived with them at the time of their arrest or deportation, as well as children born in places of deprivation of liberty, exile, deportation or special settlement can take advantage of the opportunity to obtain property under the law "On the rehabilitation of victims of political repression").

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However, not everyone can spend tens of years waiting in queue for housing. Life expectancy in Russia according to the Ministry of Health as was reported in 2019 is 73.4 years. In 2020, 91 % of victims of repression and their children crossed this threshold, 38 % of them (if they are still alive) may be over 100 years old, follows from the analysis of the data from the "Victims of Political Terror in the USSR" database.

According to the solicitor Grigory Vaypan who defends the rights of the rehabilitated victims of repression die almost every day. One of his clients, Elizaveta Mikhailova, fought to return home with her older sister Lenina. Lenina died in 2019 at the age of 89 without getting to finally meet her turn in a long queue.

Every year in Russia there are less and less victims of political repression. Over the past 10 years, their number has decreased by 218 thousand people, that is, by 34 %.

According to Rosstat, 429,000 victims of repression remained alive in 2019, and 529,000, according to the Commission for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression.

"People have been striving to come back since the 1990s, and they are being put in the back of the queue."

The provision on the right of the rehabilitated to return to the place where they lived before the repression took place appeared in 1991 in the law “On the rehabilitation of victims of political repression”. Until 2005, they had the primary right to receive housing if they returned to their former place of residence – to the same area of living; then the priority clause was abolished and the provision of housing to victims of repression became the responsibility of the regional authorities.

The exact number of those who were able to return home is unknown. Problems with the restoration of housing to the repressed ones existed all the time that the law "On rehabilitation" was in practice. In 1996 in the Irkutsk region out of 170 families registered only one received an apartment. That is the information gained from the report of the local Commission for the restoration of the rights of the repressed.

In 2000, the Commission for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression reported to the President that “even in Moscow, where the scale of municipal housing construction is large enough and the rehabilitated received and are still receiving apartments (in 1999 31 families received them), this problem remains acute”. “A difficult situation has developed with the providing rehabilitated with acquiring due property. If the issues of placing them on the waiting list for housing are difficult to be resolved, then the prospects for getting it in reality are more than modest, ” the Commission noted.

Over time, the problem only worsened. In Moscow as was the situation on January 1, 2016 91 nonresidential families of the rehabilitated were registered for housing. At the same time in 2014-2016 only one family received housing as follows from the data of the Moscow Rehabilitation Commission.

Solicitor Grigory Vaypan explains that since 2005 when the responsibility for providing housing for the returning victims of repression was entrusted to the regional authorities, the rehabilitated could hardly get registered for housing. For example Moscow laws required, that a person before contacting officials should be living in Moscow for at least 10 years, while being poor and having no property to use at all.

The situation changed in 2019, when the Constitutional Court ruled to change laws restricting the rights of repressed people to be housed and ordered them to be queued without observing the previous conditions. The court made such a decision on the complaint of the children of the repressed Muscovites – Elizaveta Mikhailova, Evgenia Shasheva and Alisa Meissner.

After the ruling of the Constitutional Court, victims of repression were put in the queue for receiving apartments, but at the very end of it. “People have been striving for a return since the 1990s, and in 2020 they are put at the very rear of the general queue. Two of my trustees had a position in queue for housing in Moscow – in front of them 54 thousand people. And these are not victims of repression, but ordinary Moscow families who claim to improve their living conditions, ” says Vaipan, who accompanied the lawsuit of the children of repressed Muscovites in the Constitutional Court.

To fulfill the requirement of the Constitutional Court, the Ministry of Construction has developed a bill, which is now being considered in the State Duma. In the first reading Duma adopted its original version according to which the victims of repression should be positioned in the general queue. After that, a group of parliamentarians made amendments to the bill. They assume that victims of reprisals who return to their place of residence will be assigned federal payments within a year from the date of application. These amendments may give victims of repression a chance to return to their homes during their lifetime. State Duma deputies will have to consider them in the spring session.

"Father's inheritance must remain"

But even those, who after the decision of the Constitutional Court managed to queue up for housing, are still far from returning home. “I am now 50,294th in queue. You can stand in the queue for thirty years – well, we will live despite of it for another thirty years, ” says Vladimir Gorobets, who is now 64 years old. He was born in the village of Yazayevka in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, where, according to him, there were "95 % of exiles."

"Child of the GULAG"
Vladimir Gorobets
“I am now 50,294th in queue. You can stand in the queue for thirty years – well, we will live despite of it for another thirty years”.

Now Gorobets is trying to return the apartment in Moscow, which was taken from his father upon his arrest. “My father lived on the Arbat St., lost his apartment and all his property. He came to Yazayevka with one bowler hat, and here it lies in front of me – all of my father's inheritance. By law, I have the right to return to my parents' place of residence. And since my father lived in Moscow, why shouldn't I? His father's inheritance should remain, ”says Vladimir. He says that he was passing through Moscow and looked into the windows of the apartment where his father once lived, but he could not get inside the house – there was security at the entrance.

His father Leonid Gorobets held a high position in Moscow – during the war he worked on the October railway, providing Muscovites with food. “At the beginning of 1942, he learned that there was a plundering on the railway. Then some gang members came to him and said: “We will pay you – if you want, in gold, if you want, with paintings. Either close your eyes to what we are doing, or work with us. " He refused this proposal and tell them to get lost. In the morning he was arrested on a false denunciation. He was sentenced to death, then the verdict was replaced by imprisonment. He served ten years in the camp, got out and was exiled to the Krasnoyarsk Territory, ”says Vladimir.

His mother was also repressed – “for being occupied by the Germans during the war” – and sentenced to ten years in hard labor. In Yazayevka she met her husband, Vladimir was born there. He was two years old when his father died, and his mother did never talk about the repression, she only said: “You live as you live, why do you need to know – all this hard labor? Better not to know at all".

Father and mother of Vladimir Gorobets – Leonid Gorobets and Galina Puriy, in the middle – the text of the verdict to his father
Father and mother of Vladimir Gorobets – Leonid Gorobets and Galina Puriy, in the middle – the text of the verdict to his father
Photo: personal archive of Vladimir Gorobets

Gorobets learned the history of his family in the 1990s, when he began to study archival files, after which he received certificates of rehabilitation for both parents. In an attempt to return the apartment, he had to go through the refusal of the court, but after the decision of the Constitutional Court, he still managed to jump in the queue. Vladimir receives a thousand rubles a month in compensation from the state. “What kind of compensation is this? He complains. “My father didn’t work for ten years, and I was born in exile.”

Either go home or stay with your family

In 2019, 69-year-old Nikolai Ibragimov was also able to queue up for housing in his family's hometown, Sevastopol. His place in the queue compared to others does not look so distant – in the middle of 2020 there were only 4,985 people in front of him. But he will hardly be able to return to Sevastopol. After the ruling of the 2019 Constitutional Court, Nikolai was admitted to the housing register to receive a one-room apartment “as part of a “ one person ”family," that is, without his wife and son, with whom he now lives in the Moscow region. “They are trying to destroy our family,” Nikolai writes on a piece of paper (after surgery on his larynx last year, he lost his voice). – I am a second group disabled person, I need care, I cannot speak. My wife is a doctor, she does dressings twice a day, but she was refused. "

"Child of the GULAG"
Nikolai Ibragimov
“My father was in a special settlement, including a prison, for 26 years under three articles: “class attribute” , “enemy of the people” , “ethnicity” (Crimean Tatar). He was rehabilitated for all three.”

“The law on rehabilitation is written in such a way that rehabilitated persons and their family members should be put on the waiting list. This is absolutely logical, because otherwise the state presents a person with a choice: either you exercise the right to return, but alone, you leave your family, or you stay with your family – but then you must give up the right to return. This is a very cruel and completely inhuman choice, ” says Grigory Vaypan. He notes that, despite the law, in some regions officials do not register family members of the rehabilitated.

Vaipan's client, Evgenia Shasheva from Komi, faced the same: she was put in a queue in Moscow without her husband and son. She is now challenging this refusal. Nikolay Ibragimov, unlike her, is not going to do anything: "I fought for five years, passed about 30 courts."

There were several repressed in the family of Nicholas. His father's family lived in Crimea, grew grain and tobacco. In 1930, during the dispossession of the kulaks, the peasant property of his grandfather was liquidated, the grandfather himself was shot, and all property, including the house, was confiscated. The rest of the family members were exiled to the Northern Ural in the Sverdlovsk region by a court decision. In 1931, they fled from the special settlement, returned to Crimea and turned to the prosecutor's office. The grandmother and younger children were allowed to stay in Crimea. And Nikolai's father Enver – at that time he was already 20 years old – was told: "If you do not return to the place of your exile, we will put you in jail."

The family of Nikolai Ibragimov
The family of Nikolai Ibragimov
Photo: personal archive of Nikolai Ibragimov

Enver returned to the Ural, where he burned coal and chopped wood. At the special settlement in 1937, he was again arrested under Article 58 (the main political article during the years of repression, according to which was tried for any "counter-revolutionary activity", in this case – for espionage.Ed.) And declared a Japanese spy. Nikolai's father was serving his sentence in the Solikamsk prison, then returned to the special settlement again. “My father was in a special settlement, including a prison, for 26 years under three articles: “ class attribute ”,“ enemy of the people ”,“ ethnicity ”(Crimean Tatar). He was rehabilitated for all three, ” says Nikolai. He shows certificates about the rehabilitation of his father, in which the basis for repression is that he was "recognized as socially dangerous on the basis of ethnicity and class." Nikolai's mother Praskovya was also repressed and lived in the same special settlement, where Nikolai himself was born.

"Three kopecks on a budgetary scale"

According to the human rights and charitable society "Memorial" (included in the register of NGOs "performing the functions of a foreign agent," but is now appealing this decision in court),during over 70 years of Soviet regime, 11 million people were repressed for political reasons. Five million of them were repressed "individually": about a million were shot, the rest were sent to camps, special settelments and exile. Another six million people – excluding children born in exile – were subjected to "administrative repression" in the form of deportations.

The Soviet government deprived people not only of freedom, but also of property: a room, apartment, house, personal belongings – could be confiscated. According to Yan Rachinsky, Chairman of the board of the International Memorial, in some cases the seizure of living space was the goal of repression under false denunciation. Those convicted by criminal law under a political article had little chance of returning after prison or camp to their apartment or house – their housing was transferred to the NKVD. According to the calculations of "Memorial", during the Great Terror in Moscow from August 1937 to October 1938, more than 10 thousand rooms were confiscated. Of these, only 576 rooms were returned to the vacated owners – most of them remained in the ownership of the Soviet regime.

Today, according to the Ministry of Construction and Housing and Utilities, 1,628 families of victims of repression from 59 regions of the country are claiming to return from exile and receive housing. According to other data provided by regional governments, there are less than 500 such families: 190 families want to return to Moscow, 158 – to St. Petersburg, 64 – to Sevastopol, 29 – to the Krasnodar Territory and 9 – to the Primorsky Territory. These figures were announced by State Duma Deputy Galina Khovanskaya in November 2020 at a meeting of the Committee on Labor, Social Policy and Veterans Affairs.

According to the solicitor Grigory Vaipan, in order to provide all victims with housing without a queue, “three kopecks of money in the budget” are needed: “Approximately 2.5-3 billion rubles are needed to solve this problem. In Moscow alone, a billion is spent on New Year's decorations every year. It's just that the victims of Soviet repression are now clearly not a priority for our state. Today it would be impossible to pass the law on rehabilitation, which was adopted in 1991. Nowadays, it is customary to pay attention to the various achievements of the Soviet era, and not to the dark sides of it. The officials who are responsible for this issue read these general moods, the general policy of the state, and therefore they wrote a bill according to which they fulfilled their bureaucratic task – a bill according to which the children of "enemies of the people" should not receive a dime."

At the time of publication, the Ministry of Construction, which had prepared the initial version of the bill, had not responded to the request for Vazniye istorii.

75 rubles per month in the GULAG

It is also not easy for victims of repression to acquire housing on their own – compensation from the state does not allow them to accumulate enough money. According to the law, for all property lost during the repression, a one-time compensation is not exceeding 10 thousand rubles. “These are just crumbs. For a month spent in the Gulag, one payment of 75 rubles is due, ” explains Grigory Vaipan.

"They cannot return without the help of the state. They have nothing to buy properties in large cities where their families once lived."
Grigory Vaipan

In addition, rehabilitated victims receive monthly payments from regional budgets. In almost all of Russia, payments to the rehabilitated do not exceed thousand of rubles per month, in some regions they do not exceed 500 rubles.

According to Oksana Andrievskaya, who was recognized as a victim of repression, the only thing she receives from the state is “814 rubles, which are dropped on the saving account once a month”: “Today my son went to buy me medications, and they cost two thousand. [I said to him:] “Ok, Sasha, don't buy it, we'll manage, we'll buy similar one to it for 700”. A very unfair life, or rather, life is good, but it is led by bad people."

“With my trustee Alisa Meissner, one of the three applicants in the case before the Constitutional Court, we’ve calculated that if she sells her home in the village of Rudnichny, 230 kilometers from Kirov, she will be able to buy 1.5 square meters of property in Moscow. This is a problem that reflects the essence of the repression. People were evicted from large cities to nowhere – to northern or Siberian villages – and often they simply remained to live in the former settlements of the Gulag. Therefore, they cannot return without the help of the state. They have nothing to buy properties in large cities where their families once lived, ”says Vaipan.

More than ten years homeless

54 % of all Russian families waiting in queue for housing at the end of 2019 have been waiting for ten or more years, according to data provided by Rosstat to the Vaznieye Istorii. This figure is growing every year: in 2000, for example, there were 33 % of such families.

The situation varies greatly across regions. In those where the repressed want to return, the figures are higher than the national average. In Moscow, more than 92 % of people on the waiting list have been waiting for apartments for more than 10 years, in St. Petersburg – 75 %, in the Krasnodar Territory – 81 %, in Sevastopol – 66 %, in the Primorsky Territory – 41 %.

According to the calculations of "Vazniye Istorii" (for more details, see the chapter "How we counted" under the button "Factcheck") the fastest way to get housing is in remote regions of Russia, which already served as places of exile for the repressed. In the Magadan region, a queue of six years has to stand, in the Murmansk region – seven. In Mordovia, Buryatia, Trans-Baikal Territory and the Jewish Autonomous Region – eight.

How we counted

To calculate the speed at which people on the waiting list receive housing from the state in each specific region, we analyzed the data provided by Rosstat in the statistical form “Information on the provision of housing to citizens.” To do this, we needed to calculate several indicators:

  • How many people were in a queue at the beginning of each year. Based on the data on the number of people registered at the end of the year, as well as accepted and removed from the register for the year, we calculated the number of people registered at the beginning of the year: registered at the beginning of the year = registered at the end of the year + withdrawn - accepted.
  • By how many positions the queue was reduced each year. Rosstat publishes data on how many people in need of housing were removed from the register for the year: this includes those who were removed after the issuance of an apartment, and all others who left - for example, due to the fact that, for various reasons, they are no longer considered in need of an apartment. However, some categories of citizens receive housing out of turn: these are orphans, persons suffering from severe chronic diseases, and others. At the same time, they are also counted as being on the housing register. Therefore, in order to determine how many of those withdrawn in a year dropped out exactly from the waiting list, we subtracted from those taken off the register for the year those who received housing out of turn: dropped out of the queue = removed from the register for the year - received housing out of turn. The resulting figure shows how many positions the queue was reduced by each year.
  • Remaining in a queue. To show how many people remained in front of the last person in the queue in each specific year, we subtracted from the number of those registered at the beginning of the year who dropped out of the queue from the beginning of the calculated period: remainder in the queue = registered at the beginning of the year - dropped out of the queue. The year when the remainder of the queue is zero is considered the year when a person will be able to get an apartment.

Since data with a breakdown of all the indicators necessary for calculating are available from 2005 to 2019, we calculated the likelihood that a Russian registered by the beginning of 2005 didn’t receive an apartment until 2019 (except for Crimea, Sevastopol, Ingushetia, Chechnya, Adygea and Krasnoyarsk Territory, for which data are not available for some years) to show how fast the queue for housing has moved in the last 15 years.

On the map, we show the approximate figures ​​for those regions in which the waiting time is more than 15 years: we made this prognosis based on how the queue moved on average during 2005–2019. The prognosis shows how many years in these regions it will be necessary to stay in a queue - provided that it continues to move at the same speed.

St. Petersburg is a city where 158 families of victims of repression want to return. The appeal ruling of the Judicial Collegium for Civil Cases of the St. Petersburg City Court from 2012 on the claim of one of the clients of Memorial stated that in 2011, according to the annual housing plan, those on the waiting list who had registered before the beginning of 1987 were subject to housing. This means that they had been standing in a queue for 24 years.

Over time, the queue began to move faster. According to the calculations of “Important Stories”, those who were in a queue for housing in St. Petersburg at the beginning of 2005 were to receive an apartment in 2019 – that is, to stand in queue for 15 years.

In 40 % of Russian regions, those on the waiting list will have to wait for housing for more than 15 years. Among these regions are Moscow, Krasnodar Territory and Primorsky Territory, where most of the victims of repression who wish to return are registered. In 2019, in Moscow, 70-year-old Alisa Meissner received 54,967th place in the queue, and 70-year-old Evgenia Shasheva – 54,846th. Their defender Grigory Vaypan says that the Duma deputies now have "the last opportunity to influence the final text of the bill" – to adopt amendments on payments within one year, otherwise the "children of the Gulag" will never wait to return from exile.

Editors: Alexandra Zerkaleva, Alesya Marokhovskaya