MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian activists have created a perfume with notes of gunpowder and ash to evoke the terror felt by victims of Josef Stalin’s purges, and protest the planned opening of a perfume shop in the building where thousands were sentenced to death.
Just 500 meters from the Kremlin, in house number 23 on Moscow’s Nikolskaya Street, 31,456 people were handed death sentences between 1937-8, then executed elsewhere, according to the city’s Gulag History Museum.
The sentencing occurred during Stalin’s Great Terror, a series of purges in which the security services killed hundreds of thousands of people on trumped up charges.
The building’s owner, Vladimir Davidi, head of Esterk Lux Parfum, wants to build a perfume and fashion house on the site, the Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported, but more than 46,000 people have signed a petition opposing the development.
Esterk Lux Parfum did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Alexei Nesterenko’s father was convicted in the house on Nikolskaya Street by the NKVD, the forerunner to the KGB and FSB security services. Nesterenko, now in his eighties and who was only a baby when his father was killed, protests every Wednesday at the site, on what is today a busy shopping street.
“He was convicted in this building, sentenced to capital punishment for being in a terrorist, counter-revolutionary organization,” Nesterenko told Reuters. “At that time, the NKVD gave such sentences to anyone.”
Nesterenko said the house represented “the essence of all the injustice of that time” and said he would support a memorial or museum being erected in its place.
According to official records from the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union, almost 700,000 people were sentenced to death from 1937-8 during the peak of the Great Terror.
Some estimates put the figure at more than one million.
The perfume, cased in the shell of a real Soviet bullet, opens with notes of ink and stale paper, to evoke the signing of a death penalty, followed by the stench of a damp basement, gunpowder and burning embers, said Nikita Petrusyov, the campaign’s creative director.
“We created a symbol, a luxury package, and inside is death,” he said.
Petrusyov said it was “awful and absolutely crazy” to have a luxury boutique at a site where thousands were killed.
The perfume is presented lying on a bed of soil, taken from the outskirts of Moscow, near the site of mass graves, where many of those convicted in the Nikolskaya house were shot.
Reporting by Dmitriy Turlyun and Alexander Marrow; Writing by Alexander Marrow