Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




Fate in My Hands: The Death Penalty in the Soviet Union after Stalin
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Registration required. Please note that all attendees must follow Columbia’s COVID-19 Policies and Guidelines. Columbia University is committed to protecting the health and safety of its community.  To that end, all visiting alumni and guests must meet the University requirement of full vaccination status in order to attend in-person events.  Vaccination cards may be checked upon entry to all venues.  

Please join us for a discussion with Yana Skorobogatov. In 1954, just one year after Joseph Stalin’s death, the leaders of the Soviet Union passed a law making homicide a death penalty-eligible crime for the first time in the country’s history. Over the next thirty-seven years, approximately 38000 Soviet citizens would be sentenced to death by shooting. This talk will examine the nearly four decades worth of oral and written records that these condemned men and women produced – interrogation transcripts, courtroom testimonies, pardon letters, and many others – as they navigated this most extraordinary of experiences. At once intimate and highly curated, these records offer unparalleled access into the shifting morals, legal paradigms, and discursive practices that their authors turned to as they asked the Soviet state to save or avenge human life. Moderated by Valentina Izmirlieva, Director of the Harriman Institute. This event is part of a Director’s Seminar series, which allows new Harriman faculty members to introduce their research to both colleagues and students across disciplinary and departmental divides.


Yana Skorobogatov is the Harriman Chair Assistant Professor of Russian and Soviet History at Columbia University. Her first book, currently in progress, is the first history of the Soviet death penalty after 1954 as told from the perspective of those who endured it. She is in the early stages of her second book project, an account of the transition from communism to capitalism on the Russian island of Sakhalin from Gorbachev to Putin. She received her PhD in History from the University of California, Berkeley.