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'Kolchak was 'like an Englishman'-the analogy oddly recurs in an official Soviet account of the execution'
Peter Fleming, 'The Fate of Admiral Kolchak'

'My grandfather executed your great grandfather': history spills into present

By Olga Gertcyk
21 November 2016

Painful reality and emotional 'forgiveness' after Tomsk man tracks down modern relatives of his ancestor's NKVD secret police killer.

For decades after he was detained, his family had in vain sought to establish his fate, with his wife Anna visiting penal colonies desperately hoping for news. Picture: Denis Karagodin

Remarkable historical research by Denis Karagodin, 34, led to him unmasking the guilty men who killed his great grandfather Stepan Ivanovich Karagodin, a father of six who was born in 1881, arrested on 1 December 1937 by the NKVD, forerunner of the KGB, and executed 21 January 1938.

Aged 56, he was falsely accused of being 'an organiser of an espionage and diversion group' and 'a resident of Japanese military intelligence'.

For decades after he was detained, his family had in vain sought to establish his fate, with his wife Anna visiting penal colonies desperately hoping for news. 

Now not only has Mr Karagodin now found out the truth, with painstaking documentary research, but he has received an extraordinary letter begging forgiveness from a brave and anguished woman called Yulia, who is the granddaughter of NKVD executioner Nikolay Ivanovich Zyryanov, the man who shot Stepan Karagodin to death in Tomsk, and with him at least 35 people. 

Denis Karagodin

Remarkable historical research by Denis Karagodin, 34, led to him unmasking the guilty men who killed his great grandfather Stepan Ivanovich Karagodin. Picture: Denis Karagodin

Until now, Yulia has no knowledge her grandfather was a Stalinist secret police killer. 'I am sleepless for several nights, I just can't sleep...,' she wrote, the shock plainly still raw. 

'I studied all the materials, all documents on your website, I thought so many things and retrospectively remembered about so many things. I understand with my mind that I am not guilty, but my feelings simply can't be described...,' wrote Yulia.  

'My grandmother's father was taken out of the house at somebody's (order), the  same year as your great grandfather. He  never came back. Four of his daughters were left at home, my grandmother was the youngest of them all... 

'So this is how just now it turns out that there were executioners and victims within the same family. It is incredibly hard and painful to realise it.... But I will never deny my family's history, whatever it was... the knowledge that neither I, nor any of my relatives that I know, remember and love, were involved in the atrocities of these years will help me go through it.

Stepan Karagodin


Nikolay Zyryanov

Stepan Karagodin, a father of six, executioned on 21 January 1938 (top). NKVD executioner Nikolay Ivanovich Zyryanov, the man who shot Stepan Karagodin to death in Tomsk (bottom). Pictures: Denis Karagodin

'The grief brought by those people can never be lived down. A task for next generations is not to silence it but to name everything what happened. And the purpose of my letter to you is simply to say that now I know about such a shameful page of my history and I am completely on your side. But nothing will change in our society unless we uncover truth.'

She criticised those who still honour and worship Stalin, and remember him with monuments.

'This is beyond my comprehension, unthinkable,' she wrote. 'I would like to write so many other things, but I said the main thing. I am incredibly ashamed for everything, I am physically in pain.

'And I feel very bitter that I can't change anything rather than to admit to you that we are related to Nikolay Zyryanov, and also to pray for your grandfather in church. 

'Thank you for your incredible work, for this hard-to-swallow truth. It gives hope that finally our society will wake up thanks to people like you. Thank you again, and forgive me.'

Karagodin family


Karagodn's house in Amur region


Karagodin's family

Stepan Karagodin with 5 out of 6 of his children. House of Karagodin's family in Volkovo village, Amur region. Stepan Karagodin with his wife Anna and one of their children. Pictures: Denis Karagodin

Denis replied, addressing his letter to 'the granddaughter of Nikolay Ivanovich Zyryanov, an executioner of Tomsk NKVD, who shot dead Stepan Karagodin on 21 January 1938 in the city of Tomsk': 

'Yulia,

Your wrote a very sincere and touching letter, which was a very brave move. I am sincerely grateful. I see that you are an amazing person, and it makes me happy to know it. 

'I am proud to be able to write it back to you straight-forwardly and openly. You won't find an enemy or (someone taking offence) in me, but a person who wants once and forever to nullify this endless Russian blood bath. 

'It has to stop forever. And I think this is in our power to do it. I extend to you the hand of reconciliation, however hard it is for me to do it knowing and remembering everything. 

'I offer you to abolish this situation. With you letter you did the main thing - you were sincere and this is more than enough. Live peacefully. Neither myself, nor anyone from my family will ever blame you. You are an amazing person, please know it. 

'Heartfelt thank you, 

'With great respect to you, 

'Denis Karagodin (grandson)'

Letter to Yulia

Denis replied, addressing his letter to 'the granddaughter of Nikolay Ivanovich Zyryanov, an executioner of Tomsk NKVD'. Picture: Denis Karagodin

Like many families of victims of Stalin's repression, the Karagodins waited until 1955, after the dictator's death, to be told that Stepan had died in detention. Only in 1991 - more than half a century later - would they find out that he had been executed. 

Denis set out on a quest to identify all those who were involved in his grandfather's murder - from the Kremlin inspirers of the Great Terror to the drivers of the police trucks, and the secretaries who typed the  NKVD's papers. During the long years of not knowing his fate, his loving family had sought to find him.

'My great grandma Anna... went to various prisons and camps until 1955 when she was given a paper about his rehabilitation and death,' he said. 'I was aware of it since I was a kid.

'Every generation of our family was doing everything possible to clear the blanks in our family history. Whilst rearranging the family archive, I realised that there still are too many blanks and they should be filled. 

Execution's site


The Gates of Death

Kashtachnaya mountain, place of secret executions and burials of 1937-1938 in Tomsk. Picture: Denis Karagodin

'My great grandpa was searched for by his wife and children, and now it was my turn. I wanted to get involved in my family's history. First of all, it turned out that it wasn't just murder, it was a mass murder.'

In his case - the so-called Harbin Plot - 'there were eight people mentioned in the case' and seven were ordered to be executed.

'I started collecting information about employees of the NKVD in departmental and political archives but it turned out that descendants and relatives of those executed in Tomsk could help too.' 

'I started receiving letters, and from the materials I received, bit by bit, I started gathering information aboutthe  employees of NKVD: who was arresting, who was searching, who acted as an attesting witness, who was running the investigation, who was signing arrest sanctions and so on.'

Joseph Stalin

Denis Karagodin wants to prosecute all the persons who are guilty in the murder of his great grandfather, including Joseph Stalin. Picture: The Siberian Times

He was told many times that his task was impossible but carried on regardless. Now he says: 'Our investigation is over, and that's the most important thing. 

'We found out what several generations of our family wanted to know - names of all the murderers. And we've done it. Everyone did what they could do, I started in 2012 and finished 12 November 2016. 

'The investigation started 1 December 1937, that was the night when Stepan was arrested by employees of the Tomsk city department of the NKVD. 

'Now we have the whole chain of murderers: from organisers in Moscow to particular executioners in Tomsk, not just family names, but detailed biographies, career details and home addresses/residential listings.' 

The job is not done, he said. 'The second part of the project is the prosecution of all the persons who are guilty in the murder of Stepan Karagodin,' he said.

This will start with Stalin, but include others notably Nikolay Zyryanov among 20 or so. 'They will be accused of 'mass murder committed intentionally,' he vowed.

Comments (1)

I am Sorry for your family's loss. Not knowing can be the hardest to live through. I was interested in the others you mentioned in this "harbin plot" and what that is actually in reference to. My great grandparents and maternal grandmother all fled for what I'm told their lives out of Russia through Serbia( great grandma I was told is from the Lake Baikal area or lived there at some time.as a youth) to Harbin, China. I know after successfully regaining my grandma from kidnappers(resulting in a picture of great grandpa Deda? , grandma and some guy whose name I can't begin to spell right but should have been running China?)they somehow got to San Francisco and changed their last name. I do have various items with writing that might illuminate things but I can't read it and am not even sure of the language(looks Russian, i think) Wow rambling sorry any info anyone?
Tracy McMillan, Castroville, California, US
18/02/2019 00:05
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