Even One Person Is a Lot: Political repressions in the Sverdlovsk Region of the 1930s in the private memoirs of the repressed people and their families
Author of idea and project curator - Sergey Kamenskiy
At the end of 2016, the Ekaterinburg History Museum took charge of the Memorial Complex to the Victims of Political Repressions at the 12th kilometer of the Moskovskiy Highway. The bodies of over 20 thousand people who were shot in Sverdlovsk in 1937–1938 are buried there.

The museum began working in two directions. It collected memories of the relatives of the repressed people and conducted a social and psychological study on the general perception of Stalin's repressions and, in particular, on the statements made on the topic by the museum. The museum developed the project Even One Person Is a Lot, which was supported by the Presidential Grant Foundation and was implemented within the period from November 2017 to November 2018.
During the project, the museum conducted the first large-scale interview of relatives of the victims of the repressions in the region. As a result, a collection of memoirs about repressions was published. It included the stories of one hundred families of the city. The interviews also became the basis for a series of videos with recollections and a documentary audio play called The Route of Memory, which can be heard during a bus tour along the Ekaterinburg sights associated with the last century repressions. This audio play is based on various fragments of over 30 interviews with relatives of the victims of the repressions.
Thanks to the project, a large-scale research on social perception of political repression was conducted for the first time in our country. This project was a joint work with the Faculty of Social Psychology of the University for Humanities (Ekaterinburg). Studies have shown that most of the ways to convey information about repression prove ineffective in Russia, since people subconsciously block it. In addition to identifying barriers in the perception of this topic, the study allowed us to find productive ways and techniques of talking about repressions. In search of new ways of bringing this topic to public attention, the All-Russian multidisciplinary social project called Laboratory 37/38 was held. As part of the project, directors, researchers, therapists, journalists, and artists discussed different forms and ways of talking about repressions, shared their theatrical works in progress and other expressive projects.

Reflection on the topic of repressions was, as we expected, quite a daunting experience. The participants of The Route of Memory shared their impressions with the project authors: As a rule, this complicated journey evoked either depression or aggression. And since a lot of people lacked understanding of how they could cope with such a complex and traumatic experience, these reactions could not find any psychological or practical way out, leading the person to pursue dead ends.
The experts of the museum drew certain conclusions. To help the participants of the project understand, overcome and live through such an experience, the museum launched an immersive research play Case No. 39496. Its form reminded of social psychology experiments of the 1970s and 1980s. The action is set at the place of execution and burial of over 20 thousand people. This study aims not so much to delve into the situation of 1937–38, but to make sense of this borderline experience in those very circumstances.

Within the confines of the developed route and contextual scenes, the tour participants can explore the boundaries of their humanity, recognize the still existing fear within themselves, the possibility of betrayal or a tendency to violence.

The basic human reactions, strained to the breaking point during that period, behavior settings and decision making—all this experience can be repeated and, in a sense, is quite casual. It is as if the performance took place inside of you, helping feel and discover your capability to express sneakiness, violence, or pity, to create reactions and make decisions under constant fear for yourself, your friends and family, the willingness to execute, rape, or torture other people, and, on the contrary, the strength it takes in order not to surrender, not to stoop, not to betray. All of it is shown and comprehended in extremely specific stories/circumstances, where everyone has their own truth and their own reasons. The performance turns in a kind of a mirror for the audience. It reflects conditions, relationships, decisions, and provides a way to understand yourself or to discover something inside of you that, in case you find yourself in a similar situation, would be recognized and blocked or supported.
In 2017–2018, the project allowed us to create a database of more than 300 families affected by repressions. We also put together a team of volunteers who are willing to further develop the project, developed tools for addressing this agenda, and proceeded with the project.

In 2019–2020, the museum got teenagers involved in the study of the topic Refrain Not to Speak Out is Right. Schoolchildren in the city (8–11 grades) studied cases of victims of political repressions and created a series of statements on their basis in five creative laboratories, including research, media, theater, journalistic, and comics labs. Within the project, we also analyzed the teenagers' attitude to the era of the Soviet Great Purge and published school guidelines on studying cases as part of the educational process.

In 2021, another documentary performance was created. It was given the name The Way Home. The plot focuses on the tragic events of the Harbin operation of 1937–38, which affected actors and other employees of the Musical Comedy Theater and Opera Theater of Sverdlovsk. This is the story of Tatiana Malinovskaya, a ballerina of the Musical Comedy Theater, and her husband Abram Subbotovsky, a theater choirmaster. Both of them were executed. The play is based on legal case materials, periodicals from 1937, and poems by Alexander Vertinsky.
In 2021, the two-volume book Repressions in Ekaterinburg was published, featuring both study materials (Volume 1) and personal stories and interviews with victims of the repressions (Volume 2). The authors' team included all the main city researchers who studied the topic, specifically, some representatives of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Ural Federal University.
In 2022, hundreds of new interviews with relatives of the victims of political repression were finalized for publication. Large-scale archaeological research has been carried out and the boundaries of burials have been established at the 12th kilometer of the Moskovskiy Highway.