Russia’s ‘Sons of the Gulag’ struggle to return home after exile By Reuters

2/2 © Reuters. Victim of massive Soviet political repressions Elizaveta Mikhaylova talks about her life and her parents in the Vladimir region 2/2

By Tom Balmforth and Evgenia Novozhenina MOSCOW / ZOLOTKOVSKY RAZEZD (Reuters) – Elizaveta Mikhaylova, who lives in a log cabin 300 km from Moscow, feels trapped in the same forced exile imposed on her family during Josef Stalin’s Great Terror when his father was sent to the Gulag prison camps. The 72-year-old is one of a shrinking group of some 1,500 pensioners or “Sons of the Gulag” who were promised accommodation in their families’ hometowns by the government after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, but who they haven’t received anything for 30 years later. Mikhaylova was born in exile in the Soviet Republic of Moldova after her father was exiled from Moscow as “enemy of the people.” She was held there by Soviet restrictions on freedom of movement, but later returned to Russia after selling the family flat. That was enough to buy a simple cabin near a railway line a five-hour drive from Moscow, where he lives with his two adult daughters on a monthly pension of $ 220. They burn wood to keep warm in winter, there is little mobile coverage and no hot water. His older sister, Lenina, lived there until she died in 2019 during their long struggle to return to Moscow. “I am so sorry that she did not live to see him (a return to the Russian capital). I really regret it. Her health may not be able to cope with the current conditions we live in,” says Mikhaylova, who met her father at the age of eight when he returned from a second season in the camps. As their numbers have decreased over the years, the plight of the Gulag children often seemed like a lost cause until late 2019, when Mikhaylova and two other elderly women won appeals in Russia’s Constitutional Court. He declared that they were eligible for housing in Moscow, rejecting the inconveniences in their applications and, more generally, told the government to expedite their applications for housing and all others. Mikhaylova’s claim had been delayed by a previous ruling by a Moscow court that only her father was explicitly exiled from Moscow and that her mother could have continued to live there alone and have given birth to Elizaveta without him. The fate of her and many other claims remain unclear. Online petitions signed by 80,000 Russians and more than 100 public figures have urged the government to intervene. Critics say a bill drafted by the government to implement the Constitutional Court ruling fails to remove bureaucratic hurdles that could cause plaintiffs to wait another 30 years to obtain a home. NGOs and lawmakers have drafted rival legislation that they say would speed up claims. Lawmakers in parliament are ready to discuss the two bills this month and choose between them. Mikhaylova said she would be watching closely. “We are not where we want to be or where we should be. This is exile.”

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