Diaries shed light on Stalin-era terrors
MOSCOW: Tatiana Panova holds a photograph of her great-grandfather as a solemn-faced student in 1923 in the Soviet Union, around 16 years before he died in a prison camp during the Stalin purges.
While Alexander Yakovlev’s death was over half a century before her birth, Panova, 25, has gained a tiny window into his thoughts and life, thanks to an aged diary that her family preserved.
Now, as memories of the Stalin era fade, a project run by young Russian historians is putting his journal and hundreds more like it online, in a bid to bring to life the everyday experiences of those tumultuous times.
“Any diary has value,” says 35year-old historian Ilya Venyavkin, who is writing a book about diaries from the 1930s.
The site, called Prozhito, or Lived Through, was launched in 2015 and can be searched using the day, author or a keyword. It already includes more than 600 never-published journals.
The idea came from historian, Mikhail Melnichenko, 33, after he wrote a book about Soviet political jokes using diaries as a source.
Working in his apartment and without a scanner, Melnichenko photographs diary pages on a large windowsill where the light is good.
He and around 350 volunteers — a broad range of enthusiasts from different backgrounds — then transcribe the diary entries.
“It’s some kind of social change,” says Venyavkin. “We are suddenly interested in knowing in detail how people lived who often have no relation to us.”
The pages of the diary of Panova’s great-grandfather are brittle, with handwriting that is hard to decipher.
“He’s... a complete stranger, a person who lived 100 years ago,” she says.
Her great-grandmother secretly preserved the diary after Yakovlev was arrested on suspicion of a “Trotskyite” plot and sent to a labour camp in the fareastern city of Magadan where he died.
Historian Mikhail Melnichenko displaying pages from a Soviet-era diary in Moscow.