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article imageRussians remember victims of Stalin's terror at sombre ceremony

By Max Delany (AFP)     Oct 29, 2015 in World

A steady stream of Russians on Thursday read out the names of thousands of people killed by Soviet authorities in an annual ceremony in Moscow to remember the millions of victims of Stalinist terror.

Pensioners and mothers with young children braved biting wind to queue in the shadow of the Lubyanka headquarters of the feared Soviet secret police -- which now houses Russia's FSB security service -- where they recited names and laid flowers at a modest monument.

"I came because my grandfather was arrested aged 40 and shot aged 44 in 1938," said Yelena Yermolayeva, 62, a physicist at Moscow State University, clutching a piece of paper she'd been handed with the names of three victims on it.

Yermolayeva said she wanted to keep alive the memory of her grandfather -- Arseny, an officer in the Red Army -- for her children, who have moved abroad.

"I have come to understand that his death changed the fate of my entire family," she said.

The yearly event -- known as "Bringing Back Names" -- is organised by leading rights group Memorial and held on the eve of a national day commemorating those persecuted by the Soviet authorities.

The names read out are among the tens of thousands shot under Stalin in Moscow alone from 1937-8, although the commemoration itself is for the many millions who died under Soviet persecution.

Since President Vladimir Putin -- himself a former KGB agent -- came to power 15 years ago, the authorities have often downplayed the crimes committed under Stalin, highlighting instead his role in the victory against Nazism and the country's industrialisation.

Some at Thursday's event -- which lasts from morning to evening -- lashed out at the government for sweeping Soviet-era atrocities under the carpet and called for a public condemnation of the crimes.

"Memory is very important -- we must educate children that under Stalin we didn't have good factories and 20 million were killed," said Irina Ilyina, 33, digging a picture of her grandmother's brother, who was executed in 1937, out of her handbag.

"We have to declare officially that Stalin's was a terror regime," said Ilyina, whose grandmother also spent 20 years in a labour camp.

"It should be announced at the very top level."

The Kremlin does not hold any commemoration ceremony for the victims of Josef Stalin's repressions, although it has pledged to build a rare monument in their honour.

And later this week, a new museum will open in Moscow that will be dedicated to the Soviet gulag labour camp system.

In March rights activists running Russia's only museum in a former gulag camp in Siberia were ousted from the site and the local government took over.

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