"My name is Valera Minin: son, husband, father, lieutenant in the Komi police, ex-husband, trial witness, psychiatric prisoner. I have experienced good times and I have experienced unimaginable pain. Beyond everything I have experienced the excruciating ache of injustice."
“'Tell the truth!' I told her. Stupid advice, it turned out! I should rather have told her to take to the bottle, to offer bribes, and to neither remember nor say anything."
"There is a saying in Russia, that the ‘drawbar’ can turn left or right. It means that the law can apply to individuals in whichever way best suits the judge, and it is usually connected to an individual’s politics or wealth. In Russian, this drawbar is the dyshlo – the drawbar attached to the front axle of a horse-drawn farm wagon. Harnessed to a dyshlo, two horses can turn the cart right around."
Russian Justice: The Horror and The Fear was published in 2020 by Huge Jam, an independent publisher. The editor-owner wrote Valera Minin's book on a voluntary basis from his emails.
An authentic firsthand account: Valera Minin sent his story to his publisher via emailed snippets in Russian. From these moving snapshots, and many subsequent exchanges that continue to this day, 'Huge Jam' has created a book that has Valera's authentic Komi voice and portrays the full extent of his suffering, against a researched backdrop of similar instances and public figures. Available in Kindle and paperback on Amazon worldwide, or download as an ePub from this site (latter option available soon).
Valera's story would easily pack a feature length documentary, or documentary series, with an endless supply of hooks, intrigues, controversy, incredulity, and revelations. An authentic social and political commentary that has at its heart a man's 43-year quest for justice.
The publisher has started a film screenplay, but is happy to pass the baton on to a professional screenwriter or film production agency! How could they not have been tempted to make a start on a story that is 'pure cinema'? See more in red below.
Scenes that shout BIG SCREEN!
I had no inkling that my life would contain episodes worthy of sharing, in fact I wasn’t really even aware of being me. I was part of the beautiful Komi landscape... The house of my childhood was on the shore of a lake. The views were beautiful. This is often true of any view that features a sea, a lake, a river, or even the tiniest of streams. Beyond the water I could see a beautiful field, with flowers. And behind us? A forest. The air was sweet and clear, though peppered generously with mosquitos... With my brother Alexander, three years my senior, I would fish, and I would hunt ducks; especially in autumn when the water became a temporary stopping place for every southward-bound duck, goose and swan, or so it seemed. Modest prey, given that Vorkuta, means “abundance of bears”!
My mother was born under the rule of Tsar Nicholas II in 1910. From an early age she had a devout belief in God and managed to hold on to her faith and live by it for all of her 94 years... My instinctive memories of her are flavoured with food and milk… but not just for infantile reasons! Yes – she fed me very well: Mother loved to cook with her traditional Russian stove, the treasured stove that imparted at least as much taste into the food as it did aroma into the house. I would wake in the morning to the warm smell of koloboks. But my mother was also a milkmaid on the collective. She worked hard on the farm and more often than not harvested the biggest milk yields. If I could not find my mum at home, then I knew she was hard at work with the dairy herd.
... those people who were repressed and found themselves illegally condemned cursed and despised Chernov and Stalin because they were sent to the Taiga, to build a railroad to Vorkuta for mining the precious black coal. Laying sleepers in minus 50 temperatures, buffeted relentlessly by strong winds. Ten years later, Vorkutlag – the largest forced labour camp in European Russia - was connected to the rest of the world via a prisoner-built railway line; the general belief being that the price of the railway’s construction was one human life for each sleeper.
So it was that my beautiful village was a ‘rural locality’ situated in the north of the coal-mining Komi ASSR. My mother told me that we occasionally gave food to the Baltic prisoners who were led in columns through our village, carried on river barges. Her heart went out to them.
It might as well have been a televised costume drama… the other defendants all arrived carrying bags and cases containing their belongings, like a displacement scene from Dr Zhivago. But they knew their parts well, and the script too. The bribes and networking would ensure that they were released. And so they were.
I made my way by train to Moscow, travelling across Kirov. I met up with my friend Gennady. We sat in the dining car and I told him everything that had happened. I asked him to accompany me to the embassy so as not to be alone. He refused, despite the help that I had given him years before when he was taken to court by an ex-girlfriend. When I rose from the table, I spilled the salt and took it as a bad omen.
It felt like a dream to be in Moscow, standing in front of the American Embassy that was bestrewn with flags. The stars and stripes! It was like a scene from a movie, and I admit that despite my mental exhaustion I did have a thrill of excitement as I contemplated the conversations I intended to have. A dream come true, one might say, to share details about the worst violations of human rights and the most criminal judges with an office that stood for democracy and freedom. I remember that, not far from the entrance, was a Zhiguli car, stranded without its wheels. The date was October 13th 1979.
But this was the last straw for him. Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause please for comrade Komlev who, on July 13th, 1978, finally succeeded where Stalin’s inquisition and the Nazi prison camps had failed: Yevgeny Mezhogsky was dead. The Komi hunter, confused, shamed and broken-hearted, turned his gun on himself on his 55th birthday: one month before Galina’s trial came to court.
A car came from the psychiatric hospital and two nurses now took me. As we drove past a kiosk selling newspapers, one of the nurses taunted me: “You want the truth? Well, there’s the truth in the kiosk, selling for three kopeks.”
Psychiatric hospital no. 15 in the 3rd ward (Kashirskoye Metro Station) was where I then found myself. They examined me and sent me to the showers, then they tied me down to a bed and injected my backside. At first, the pain from it was slight, but it intensified gradually. The hellish pain of feeling that your spine was being twisted backwards. It was impossible to endure as it culminated in the feeling that every muscle in my body was being unnaturally twisted. I began to scream, just as an outlet for the pain... My guess was that I had first been injected with some kind of nerve agent or muscle paralysis agent, as an attempt at intimidation. Under Stalin, people were shot with a firearm. Under Breshnev people were shot with chemicals in a mental hospital.
I also spent a lot of time playing chess with an off-duty mess officer. We would play for butter rations... With open access to bread and butter rations it was no wonder that all army cooks had fat faces. My chess rival was no exception... his pudgy face developed a long-suffering expression as he tired of me winning...
I didn’t exactly ingratiate myself with other comrades either at times. I recall a group of us being sent to clear an area of forest. We lit a fire there and shortly after one of our number announced that he had found a mortar bomb. He chomped at the bit to throw it, but I tried to harness his passion for drama by explaining that there was a fair chance it would explode. They tend to do that. It’s their thing. I reported the incident to an officer, but my auguring was met with a cold reception. Never mind that we could all have died.