Copyright represil.net

Kurapaty is a woods on the outskirts of Minsk. Between 1937–41, over 250,000 people were murdered by the NKVD and dumped in mass graves there. In 2004, it was named a cultural heritage site of Belarus.

Copyright Bestalex

Before the Great Terror, Kurapaty was a popular place for picnics, day trips, and hikes. The hills were covered in beautiful white flowers.

When the Great Terror began, there were three massacres a day—dawn, 2:00 PM, and dusk. The condemned were lined up by twos, bound and gagged, and shot into already-dug pits. A layer of sand was thrown over each layer of the dead and dying, and then the process began all over again.

Sometimes saplings were planted on top.

Copyright Kapsuglan

In the second half of 1937, a fence was built around Kurapaty, making the astronomically low odds of survival and escape even more impossible. Anyone who did manage to survive and escape was almost always quickly discovered and murdered, or died soon afterwards.

Nearby villagers could see the trucks rolling up the flat road into the forest, and could hear the shootings. When no gags were used, they could hear screaming, moaning, and weeping. After the shootings began taking place all night in the second half of 1937, many villagers found it hard to sleep.

Copyright Валацуга (http://forum.globus.tut.by/viewtopic.php?p=60985#60985); Source

Daring children snuck inside the fence and saw the dead and dying under the top layers of sand in the mass graves.

After the Nazis invaded the USSR in June 1941, the massacres stopped and the villagers pulled down the fence for the wood. They also cut down the trees in the forest. Today’s Kurapaty trees were planted after WWII.

Copyright Валацуга

Every year on 2 November, Dziady (a Belarusian remembrance of the dead, whose name means “grandfathers”), hundreds of people visit Kurapaty to pay their respects.

In 1994, Pres. Bill Clinton visited and gave the Belarusian people a small granite monument which was placed in Kurapaty. Sadly, it’s been vandalized thrice.

Copyright Валацуга

Copyright Валацуга

My characters Rustam Zyuganov and Roman Safronov, Sr., are taken to Kurapaty in April 1937. A third intended victim, Fyodor Nadleshin, the adoptive brother of Roman’s wife and Rustam’s cousin Inessa, is out of town.

Rustam’s crime was telling a joke about Stalin at work, while Ph.D. film studies student and junior professor Roman is writing a paper on Vera Kholodnaya, a declared enemy of the people.

Copyright Валацуга

Rustam manages to survive and escape, due to keeping his wits sharply about him the entire time, and not immediately panicking like Roman. He also gets a very dark blessing when their assigned assassin puts his Nagan revolver to Roman’s head instead of his.

Rustam immediately jumps into the pit to make it look like he fell from being shot, claws out an air pocket, and unties the rag over his mouth and removes the gag with minimal movements. He was “only” gagged, not bound as well.

Copyright Валацуга

Rustam lies there among the dead and dying, struggling to breathe and becoming soaked with blood, until the butchers and their dogs leave the forest. He softly calls Roman’s name, but there’s no answer. When he was holding Roman’s hand earlier, he felt the pulse fading.

To give Roman some dignity in death, Rustam removes the gag. He kisses his cousin-in-law goodbye before he claws his way to the top of the pit. Rustam is covered in blood, sand, dirt, and sweat when the ground is finally beneath his feet again.

Copyright Andrej Kuźniečyk; Source

Rustam smoothes the sand over the top of the pit, to make it look like nothing were disturbed, and goes to his father’s house to hide. The new Moon in the sky gives him the protection of extra darkness.

Rustam, most of the younger members of his family, and his old father escape to Poland in four small groups. His father stays in Kraków with two of Rustam’s expatriate siblings, but everyone else goes to America.

For years, Rustam suffers with PTSD and has several strong triggers. To try to get it out of his system, he creates a graphic novel about his experience.

WeWriWa—Martagon Lilies

Quick Note: I’m in process of moving, and may be a little later or slower in visiting and reciprocating this week!

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m still sharing from my current WIP, the longest single-volume book I’ve written to date, the third of my Russian/North American historicals. This is the ending of Chapter 35, “A Xenial Welcome,” as the stories of some of my Soviet characters slowly start linking up with the characters who are already in the U.S. It’s tweaked slightly to fit 8 sentences.

Though Inessa is still waiting for her visa back in Europe and recovering from a bullet wound in her leg, some of the other members of her family have gone on ahead to America, thanks to connections with old orphanage friends who immigrated years ago.

Her cousin Rustam, who survived a mass grave three months ago, still has a precarious psychological state even after coming to a safe place. Two of his sisters escaped to America three years before, and are shocked to see what’s happened to him. To try to distract himself and purge his demons, he’s started a graphic novel of sorts (which wouldn’t have had that classification in 1937). His wife Olga, Inessa’s adoptive sister, has just had their firstborn child only a few days after coming to America, and asked him to name her. This is Rustam’s reaction.

Martagon Lilies

He heads back out to his comic book in progress and begins drawing a cover, Kurapaty as it looked in happier times, a peaceful forest with tall, thick trees, birds singing, butterflies, cool grass, and the blanket of white anemones.  In the corners and around the border, he draws some of the flowers he used to pick during school and family outings to the countryside.  As he’s drawing Martagon lilies, he remembers how he used to bring those flowers to the graves of his five older brothers who were killed during the Civil War.  His father had explained that lilies symbolize peace, and that it could only be a hopeful, positive omen to leave peaceful flowers on the graves of war dead, in the hopes that there might never be another war again.

Ólga looks up when Rustam comes back into the room, this time with a title page, and she tearfully smiles her acceptance as she reads it:

One Lived to Tell the Tale, written and illustrated by Rustam Dmítriyevich Zyuganov

In memory of my dear friend, neighbor, and cousin-in-law Román Vasilovich Safronov and all the other innocents who were murdered in Kurapaty on the night of 11 April 1937, and for my beautiful, intelligent, generous wife Ólga Leonídovna Kérenskaya and our firstborn, Liliána Rustamovna Zyuganova, whom I survived for.

“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”—Buddha.



Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. Now that the semester’s over, I’ll be able to do much more commenting and returning visits!

This is the conclusion of the scene I’ve been sharing from, edited somewhat to fit in 8 sentences. It’s April 1937, and Rustam Zyuganov, the cousin of now-adult former orphanage girl Inessa, has just survived a mass grave. During the second half of that year, a barbed wire fence was erected around the Kurapaty forest, thus making escape even more astronomically difficult. Rustam’s offense was telling a joke about Stalin at work, and Inessa’s husband Roman, a junior professor finishing up his Ph.D. in film studies, was writing a paper about Vera Kholodnaya, a very popular actress who died of the flu pandemic in 1919 and was later declared an enemy of the people.

I’m familiar with the cycles of the Moon because I use a Hebrew perpetual calendar. Rosh Chodesh, the celebration of the new month, indicates a new Moon, and if a Gregorian date corresponds to around the 15th of a Hebrew month, it means the Moon is full.


When he finally reaches the top, he’s covered in sweat, blood, sand, and dirt, and the breath of fresh air into his lungs and the solid ground beneath his feet are the sweetest things he’s ever experienced.  Then he remembers that his survival is extremely dangerous, and he drops back onto his knees to smooth the sand over again, so it doesn’t look as though anything were disturbed.

He knows the area well enough to know how to get to his father’s house from here.  It’s too dangerous to return to his own apartment.  For a split second he wonders if God might exist after all, then remembers that no miracle was granted to his cousin-in-law or the countless other victims now buried in the forest.  He just got lucky with very quick thinking and a calm attitude.  He doesn’t attribute the new moon in the sky to a divine miracle either, since that’s just what the Moon does at this point in its monthly lunar cycle, appear as a tiny crescent that doesn’t give off much light.  It just happened to come at a time when he most needs to stay hidden.


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’ve been sharing from my current WIP, my third Russian/North American historical novel, which is set from 1933-48 and is probably my most ambitious of my Russian historicals so far.

It’s now April 1937, and one of my favorite former orphanage girls, Inessa, now an adult, just had her husband Roman and cousin Rustam taken away. Before the Great Terror, Kurapaty was a popular forest on the outskirts of Minsk, but now it’s become a regular site of mass killings. Roman has already been shot in the head, but Rustam has kept his wits about him as he fights to stay alive and sane in a mass grave.


Once they’re shielded from view, he struggles to untie the rag and pull out the gag with minimal movements.  All the while, more bodies are falling on top of him, and his skin, clothes, and hair are becoming soaked with blood.  After endless minutes, sand is smoothed over the top of the pit.

Rustam lies there among the dead and dying, struggling to breathe, as he listens for every little sound.  Finally, it appears as though the murderers and their dogs have left the forest.  There are no further gunshots, and all the muffled screams have stopped.  He softly whispers Roman’s name, and is met only with silence, not even a muffled noise.  Rustam unties the rag and pulls out the gag, to give his cousin-in-law some dignity in death, and kisses him before he claws his way to the top of the pit, fighting off the heavy dead bodies and earth pressing on top of him and pulling him down every few inches.


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m now sharing from my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest: Lyuba and Ivan in the Age of Anxiety. This is early in Part II, in a series of chapters entirely focused on the characters who chose to remain in the Soviet Union and now, in 1937, are all betrayed big-time by the Revolution they truly believed in and supported.

The NKVD (one of the prior incarnations of what became the KGB) just stormed into now-grown-up orphanage girl Inessa’s apartment and took away her husband Roman and her cousin Rustam, who’s married to her adoptive sister Olga, one of her old friends from the orphanage. They also wanted her adoptive brother Fyodor, who lives upstairs with his blood sister Klara, but luckily for him, he was visiting friends out of town. Now Roman and Rustam have arrived at a popular forest known as Kurapaty, and Rustam has to do some very fast thinking.


As the shooting begins, Rustam notes how many seconds it takes and how the bodies are falling.  The officers are shooting the condemned in twos, from the side of the head, so that they don’t waste ammunition and can literally kill two birds with one stone.  By the time Rustam and Roman’s line moves up to their assigned pit, Rustam has noticed that the NKVD butchers are throwing earth over the batches of corpses.  He also can plainly hear the muffled screams, gasps, and moans, so not all of them have immediately died.

He has no time left to think when an officer raises his Nagan revolver to Roman’s head and fires.  Rustam immediately jumps into the pit in such a way to make it look like he’s falling from being shot.  He’s been holding Roman’s hand the entire time, and feels the pulse fading.  With no time to waste on feeling sick or anguished, Rustam claws out an air pocket as more bodies fall into the pit and the earth is thrown on top of them.