Interview of the Chairman of the Investigative Committee of Russia with "RIA Novosti"

Alexander Bastrykin: the world must remember where Nazi ideology leads.

"Our cause is just, the enemy will be defeated. Victory will be ours!" – words spoken by the Soviet radio announcer on June 22, 1941. On the day when Nazi Germany attacked the USSR without warning, turning the lives of millions of Soviet citizens upside down in an instant. Eighty-three years after the start of the Great Patriotic War, the Investigative Committee of Russia is uncovering new facts about the atrocities committed by the Nazi invaders. In an interview with RIA Novosti, the Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, Alexander Bastrykin, talked about how the Nazis exterminated the Soviet people, why it is important to remember the consequences of following a criminal ideology even decades later, and whether Russia can demand new reparations.
– The Investigative Committee of Russia has been working for several years to recognize the atrocities committed by Nazi invaders during the Great Patriotic War as genocide against Soviet citizens. Why has this become relevant and necessary now? As far as we know, the Soviet authorities did not seek to recognize those events specifically as genocide. What has changed now?
– Despite the fact that the main war criminals were convicted for committing war crimes following the Nuremberg Trials, other atrocities committed by the Nazis remained unknown for a long time. The Investigative Committee of Russia is conducting systematic work across the country to investigate the circumstances of these crimes. This effort is handled by a special unit within the central apparatus—the Directorate for the Investigation of War Crimes, Genocide, and Rehabilitation of Nazism.
The investigation examines data from declassified archives, human remains, and material evidence discovered during excavations. Necessary forensic examinations are appointed, the victims are identified, the whereabouts of their relatives are determined, a large array of documents is analyzed, witnesses are identified and interviewed, and requests for legal assistance are sent to other countries.
We see that the position of the West has been changing in recent years. They are trying to rewrite the outcomes of World War II, placing the blame not only on Nazi Germany but also on the USSR. They prefer not to recall Hitler’s plan for the mass extermination of the civilian population of the USSR, thereby betraying the memory of millions of peaceful Soviet citizens who perished. Germany's refusal to recognize the blockade of Leningrad as genocide speaks volumes. We also see attempts, especially in the Baltic countries and Ukraine, to present as heroes those who committed brutal crimes against the civilian population, regardless of the truth. The Investigative Committee also does not ignore such attempts to rehabilitate Nazism.
– Do the investigators have enough historical facts and documents to unequivocally speak of the genocide of Soviet citizens during the Great Patriotic War?
– The available materials and physical evidence contain enough data indicating signs of this crime. The cumulative analysis of the materials we have collected from different regions confirms that all of this was carried out according to the criminal plan of the Hitler regime with the aim of exterminating the peaceful population, not only in specific settlements and regions but of the entire Soviet people. The facts we are learning now can only be described as outrageous.
In 1941, in the village of Mikulino in the Moscow region, Nazi occupiers committed a mass murder of more than 500 patients of the Lotoshinsky Regional Psychiatric Hospital. The women died from starvation, freezing, poisoning by toxins and gas, as well as from shootings. In 2022, a mass grave of skeletal remains was discovered on the grounds of Moscow Regional Psychiatric Hospital No. 12 at the site of the patient shootings.
In the Bryansk region, the occupiers carried out mass shootings of the residents of the village of Khatsun. In October 1941 alone, under the order of the fascist command, the Germans killed 318 peaceful citizens, including 60 children aged two to ten years. The region also housed a transit camp for prisoners of war and civilians, "Dulag-142," where at least 80,000 people were held, half of whom were tortured and buried. People recalled during interrogations that they had to sleep on concrete floors, and every day between 100 and 500 bodies were removed from the camp. According to available data, during the occupation of the Bryansk region, the Nazi invaders and their collaborators exterminated around 278,000 peaceful Soviet citizens and prisoners of war.
In 1942-1943, in the area of the village of Zhetyana Gorka in the Novgorod region, archival data shows that Nazi executioners and their collaborators killed at least 2,600 people.
In Stavropol, the residents of the village of Stepnoye were killed with gas. The Nazis' victims included 480 people, among them children, women, and the elderly. The bodies of the murdered were thrown into large pits outside the village and covered with a thin layer of soil. In August 1942, German soldiers arrived at the Stavropol Psychiatric Hospital, removing 632 people, including children. Patients were placed in galvanized vehicles, whose doors were hermetically sealed, and after starting the engine, they were poisoned with carbon monoxide.
In the Smolensk region, Wehrmacht troops imposed a violent regime characterized by lawlessness, looting, and exploitation of Soviet citizens. Furniture, dishes, clothing, and food were taken from people. During the occupation, a significant portion of the population in certain localities was exterminated, able-bodied residents were taken for forced labor, or they died from diseases and starvation.
In the Kursk region, the Nazis brutally killed people suffering from mental illnesses and even the disabled. Those unable to work effectively were deemed "superfluous" and subjected to physical extermination. The Nazi invaders showed incredible cruelty towards children, who could not provide similar labor productivity. Minors left without parental care were unable to find food, swelled from hunger, and died from frostbite. Additionally, their blood was taken in large quantities for transfusion to wounded German soldiers.
It is beyond comprehension how anyone can shoot unarmed people, especially children; it is simply horrifying. These and other facts of Nazi atrocities in the occupied territory of the Soviet Union are confirmed not only by archival materials, including translated captured documents but also by the results of investigative actions. These include interrogations of former concentration camp prisoners and relatives of the deceased, inspection data of burial sites, and conclusions from comprehensive forensic, molecular-genetic, and other examinations.
– The court decisions in considering genocide claims were based on materials collected by the Investigative Committee. How many such trials have already taken place? In which other regions will such trials be held in the near future?
– Trials have already taken place in 20 regions of Russia, recognizing the actions of the Nazis and their accomplices on the occupied territories during the Great Patriotic War as genocide. Specifically, yesterday in the Tver region, the court ruled that the actions of the Nazi invaders were genocide. Investigators from the Investigative Committee of Russia interviewed eyewitnesses of events from the Great Patriotic War. Their testimonies, combined with declassified archival materials and the results of search operations, allowed us to assert that during the occupation, peaceful citizens were deprived of medical care, food, and warm clothing. Many people were held in inhumane conditions in concentration camps. The Nazis showed cruelty even to those who were being treated in medical institutions. For example, after occupying a psychiatric hospital, they killed all the helpless patients and turned the hospital buildings into stables.
In addition, the investigation has compiled materials to establish facts of genocide against the Soviet people in the Lipetsk and Tula regions, with work in the Republic of Karelia nearing completion.
– What are the main difficulties in investigating such criminal cases?
– The main difficulty lies in the fact that we are dealing with crimes committed 80 years ago. Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer surviving witnesses to those horrific events, and their testimonies are invaluable to the investigation. Eyewitness recollections shed light on the atrocities committed by the Nazis, forcing us to view well-known facts through the lens of human morality and evoking immense compassion. For instance, it is impossible to remain indifferent when one of the victims recalls being held in a concentration camp in the Voronezh region, behind barbed wire and guarded by dogs, where prisoners were fed soaked grain mixed with wood shavings… And there are many such examples. Our task is to document these facts, present them to the court and the public, and ultimately prevent the historical truth from being forgotten and preclude pointless and immoral debates about Nazi policies.
Additionally, we understand that many people with valuable information for the investigation moved to other regions in the post-war years, and finding them takes time. Some regions have changed their territorial boundaries and names since then. For example, at the start of the Great Patriotic War, the territories now part of the Lipetsk region were included in the Voronezh, Kursk, and Orel regions. Such nuances create specific challenges. However, they cannot be obstacles to documenting Nazi crimes.
For example, in the Smolensk region, our investigators spoke with a local resident who lived in Kaluga during the war and ended up in a concentration camp. He recounted that German troops behaved cruelly, and physical punishments, ranging from rifle butt strikes to executions, became routine.
A resident of Voronezh, who also experienced life in a concentration camp, described the inhumane conditions. People were fed no more than once a day and drank only rainwater. "Prisoners were shot, abused, and beaten for the slightest offenses," she added.
Another victim told investigators: "People slept on straw, and those who didn't fit inside had to sleep outside in the cold. They were hardly fed, receiving about 100 grams of bread and sometimes leftovers of rotten sauerkraut and pea stalks."
– In Kaliningrad, during interrogations of witnesses and victims, investigators obtained information about the conditions in which people were held in concentration camps. They mainly ate vegetable tops, and for any transgression, they were subjected to severe punishments and beatings. It was nearly impossible to lie down on the bunks, and everyone suffered from lice. When new prisoners arrived, they were put up for sale to Germans living in East Prussia. They inspected people like livestock, selecting the physically strongest for auxiliary work on farms.
An eyewitness from Kaluga recounted the following story: "On the morning of December 27, the Germans drove us out of our homes. As they were driving us out, they set two houses on fire with families inside, but the people managed to escape. When the fascists saw them, they started shooting; one German killed an 18-year-old girl with a single bullet and wounded a 13-year-old girl in the stomach. Those who didn’t leave their homes were killed, including our 98-year-old neighbor and her 70-year-old son, while her 30-year-old granddaughter was wounded in the leg."
Thanks to eyewitnesses, we have established and documented many similar facts in other regions. Reflecting on these stories is very disturbing. It is no coincidence that European politicians want to forget these facts—they feel responsible and ashamed.
– A few years ago, Belarusian colleagues also started investigating the genocide during the Great Patriotic War. Can you tell us in what specific form the cooperation between Russian and Belarusian investigators is taking place? Is there, for example, an exchange of archival materials?
– To combine efforts in investigating the facts of the genocide of the Soviet people during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, a resolution was signed by the Investigative Committee of Russia and the General Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Belarus. According to this resolution, the preliminary investigation is entrusted to a joint investigative-operational group. This has strengthened the collaborative work of the Russian and Belarusian law enforcement agencies in this area. Law enforcement officers from Russia and the Republic of Belarus, with the involvement of archival institutions and the scientific community, continue to establish circumstances and gather evidence of the extermination of peaceful populations by Nazi criminals and their accomplices during the Great Patriotic War. Investigations are ongoing, and new facts are being documented, including previously unknown atrocities committed by Nazi occupiers on occupied territories.
Currently, 14 requests for legal assistance have been fully executed, within which electronic copies of archival materials totaling more than 20,000 pages have been transferred to the Belarusian side. Thanks to this cooperation, information has been obtained about previously unknown facts of the extermination of the peaceful population in the Byelorussian SSR, which were not widely known to the public before.
For example, it has been possible to establish a number of circumstances regarding the punitive operation "Magic Flute" conducted in the territory of Minsk in April 1943, as well as additional facts of inhumane treatment of prisoners in the death camps "Trostenez" and Stalag No. 352. In addition, information has been obtained about the involvement of Czech and Hungarian collaborators of the Nazis in the destruction of settlements and civilian population in the territory of the Gomel region. Episodes of Nazi atrocities during brutal punitive operations in the Mogilev region have been identified, involving the shooting of civilians and their enslavement.

– Is the Investigative Committee conducting work to identify any surviving perpetrators of genocide against the Soviet people during the war years, and will the Russian side demand their punishment or even extradition to Russia for trial?
– This work is ongoing. For example, the Investigative Committee has brought charges in absentia against Ukrainian nationalist Yaroslav Hunka, also known as Hunko. He is accused of committing genocide against the civilian population in the Ukrainian SSR during the Great Patriotic War. Hunka served in the SS division "Galicia," and we have documentary evidence regarding their locations and operations during that time. In 1944, Hunka and other members of "Galicia," following criminal orders from their superiors, were stationed in the settlement of Huta Peniatska where they committed the murders of no fewer than 500 Soviet citizens, including Jews and Poles. Victims were shot, burned alive in residential homes, and in a church. Hunka has been placed under international arrest, but Canadian authorities refused extradition, citing the lack of a bilateral extradition agreement.
– What happens if those responsible for the crimes are no longer alive?
– That's a good question. Indeed, Russian courts currently acknowledge the factual commission of crimes, but do not name those involved, largely because almost no one involved is still alive. This means that even with specific evidence, we cannot posthumously identify these individuals as criminals. In this regard, the legislative practice established in the Republic of Belarus could be useful. Their criminal procedural legislation includes provisions that allow for the investigation, prosecution, and sentencing of deceased individuals accused of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and war crimes without statute of limitations. On one hand, this approach upholds the principle of ensuring punishment, and on the other hand, it provides an opportunity to restore historical justice. For instance, investigative bodies in Belarus handled a criminal case involving Vladimir Katryuk, who participated in the brutal burning of the village of Khatyn and the murder of its residents. Despite his death in Canada in 2015, Belarusian Supreme Court will still hear the criminal case against him.
Therefore, it is pertinent to consider amendments to Russian criminal procedural legislation that would allow for the investigation and prosecution in court of individuals accused of crimes against peace and humanity committed during the Great Patriotic War, even after their death.
– Our goal is to objectively and impartially establish all circumstances related to the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their collaborators. This is highly relevant today to remind the world once again of the tragic consequences of following a criminal ideology.
– Wrapping up our conversation, if Russia can prove that the Nazi regime in Europe conducted a genocide against Slavic peoples during World War II, what would be the next step? Would this allow for raising the issue of new reparations?
– As is known, reparations were paid after World War II to states that suffered damage from Nazi Germany, as well as compensations to various categories of Nazi victims. For example, compensation was received by Holocaust victims, forced laborers, and those deported to Germany. Currently, Germany acknowledges historical responsibility for crimes committed by the Wehrmacht in Leningrad. However, Germany has refused humanitarian-compensatory payments to defenders and residents of besieged Leningrad who requested the extension of these payments to all surviving blockade participants regardless of their nationality, similar to payments made to Jewish blockade survivors. This demonstrates a policy of double standards. The Investigative Committee of Russia has established numerous new facts of crimes by German fascist invaders previously unknown, which were not taken into account in determining payments. Therefore, summarizing our work, it cannot be ruled out that this information could be used both to justify additional payments to relatives of Nazi victims in various regions of our country and to compensate for the damage caused.