As Moscow’s relations with the West have deteriorated since the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, monuments to Polish and Lithuanian victims of Stalinism and Finnish soldiers killed in World War II have systemically vanished from cities across Russia. Some officials say the disappearances are only temporary while restoration work is underway, but more often, they claim ignorance and blame anonymous vandals. At the same time, there’s typically no police response when a memorial is damaged or goes missing. Meduza reviews the monuments dismantled and disappeared in the past year.
On September 25, the news outlet SakhaDay reported the disappearance of a local monument to Poles and Lithuanians exiled during the Soviet period between 1941 and 1947. Erected in 2002, the memorial comprised several large stones with plaques bearing the names of individuals sent to Soviet labor camps.
In the spring of 2023, a construction fence appeared around the monument. That summer, the plaques with people’s names vanished. While this was happening, local officials said they didn’t know who was responsible. In September 2023, even the large stones disappeared. The city’s authorities haven’t commented further.
Priozersk, Leningrad region
In mid-September, a monument dedicated to Finnish soldiers killed in World War II went missing in Priozersk, locals told journalists at Fontanka. The headstone, which bore the names of 130 Finnish soldiers buried at the site, was installed in June 2019 on the basis of an agreement between Russia and Finland. According to the town’s authorities, Finnish officials participated in the memorial’s unveiling ceremony.
Following the headstone’s disappearance, officials explained that the town isn’t responsible for the monument and said they have no knowledge of its whereabouts. A nearby monument also dedicated to fallen Finnish soldiers, erected in 1996, is still in place at the time of this writing.
Galyasher, Perm Krai
In April 2023, someone destroyed a monument in Galyasher to Poles and Lithuanians deported east from the USSR’s western regions in 1945. The town’s forced settlement was home to between 60 and 80 families. Many deportees died from starvation and brutal working conditions at the local sawmill. Survivors returned to their homes in 1957.
The memorial in Galyasher was erected in August 2016 with funding from individuals in Lithuania. Despite campaigning by human rights activists, the town never officially recognized the monument.
The police inspected the demolished site and found no grounds to open a criminal investigation, but the local prosecutor’s office rejected this finding and ordered another review in June. Nothing new has been reported since then.
In late July, a monument to Leningrad’s Polish victims of the Great Terror disappeared from the Levashovo Memorial Cemetery. Located at the site of an NKVD mass grave, the cemetery is the final resting ground for thousands of Soviet citizens executed at the height of Stalinism. There are memorial signs devoted to the memory of different nationalities targeted in the terror: Estonians, Ukrainians, Norwegians, Jews, and others.
Local officials have not commented on the missing memorial to Poles. A source in Town Hall told the news agency TASS that vandals attacked the monument, which was then sent for repairs, but human rights activists have failed to get the city to explain who ordered the renovations and where the monument is now.
In June 2023, monuments to deported Poles were dismantled in the towns of Kostousovo and Ozernyi. The memorials were erected 20 years earlier in an initiative by Poles who lived in the Urals after they were forcibly relocated following the USSR’s annexation of eastern Poland in 1939.
Unknown persons removed the plaques brought from Poland, a cross, a figure of Jesus Christ, and an image of the Virgin Mary. Local police departments are reportedly investigating the incidents.
Rechka Mishikha, Buryatia
In early June 2023, someone destroyed a monument to the Polish political prisoners killed in the Baikal Insurrection of 1886.
A wooden Catholic cross and marble tablet overlooking a stone embankment, the memorial opened in October 2001 at a ceremony attended by Poland’s consul general in Irkutsk and members of Buyatia’s regional government.
In recent years, local residents reportedly complained about the monument, arguing that its presence is inappropriate amid deteriorating relations with Poland.
Pivovarikha, Irkutsk region
In mid-May, a Polish monument and a Lithuanian cross were dismantled in the town of Pivovarikha at a site dedicated to Soviet Terror victims. In the 1930s, the NKVD executed between 15,000 and 17,000 political prisoners in the area. The memorials to Polish and Lithuanian victims were erected with private funding.
Within a few days of the monuments disappearing, regional officials in Irkutsk acknowledged that public workers had removed the two shrines and placed them “in storage” because their installation was deemed illegal. “The surnames of those executed in the Irkutsk region, including Lithuanians and Poles, are inscribed on the walls of the memorial erected at the site in 2021. Their memory is preserved,” officials explained.
Last year on Polish Independence Day, November 11, someone in Tomsk ripped the memorial plaque off a local monument to the Polish victims of the Great Terror. The memorial was erected in 2004.
Two days later, someone vandalized a former shelter for the children of Polish deportees, tearing off a plaque outside the building that was dedicated to their memory. The same plaque had already been stolen in 2016 and replaced in 2020 in a public initiative after the local police failed to find the perpetrators.
On December 1, 2022, some 90 miles from the Tomsk regional center, someone smashed the cross and a plaque bearing the names of Poles shot during the Great Terror in 1938. Town police in Polozovo opened a criminal investigation, but there have been no updates since. In June 2023, the local Catholic community restored the cross.