Families of Soviet Gulag prisoners still waiting for compensation in long-running legal battle

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By Mark Armstrong  with AP
Families of Soviet Gulag prisoners still waiting for compensation in long-running legal battle
Copyright  NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP or licensors

In a run-down wooden hut deep in the Russian countryside, Elizaveta Mikhaylova has been waiting for justice for 30 years.

The daughter of a Gulag prisoner, the 72-year-old is among the ageing children of those sent to the infamous Soviet camps who were promised compensation they are yet to receive.

Under a law passed after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, they are entitled to accommodation in the city where their parents were before they were sent into exile. In Mikhaylova's case this is Moscow, which is around five hours drive away.

Her father Semyon, a manager in the chemical industry, was arrested during the mass purges set in motion by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and accused of participating in a counter-revolutionary organisation.

"My parents wanted me to go back to Moscow so somehow I have to do it. I promised that I would do everything I could. My parents wanted me and my sister to go back there, that's why I am still fighting," she said.

Mikhaylova's father is just one of hundreds of thousands of people who faced the same fate.

Grigory Vaypan is a Russian human rights lawyer who is representing people the matter known as the "children of the Gulag".

"We have managed to draw attention to these people and to show that they exist," he said. "They are struggling to return home. They have the right to return. The law must work!"

Supporters say it is the least the country can do for the remaining victims of Stalinist terror -- a period of history that Russian authorities often ignore, highlighting instead moments like the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany.

A verdict by the Constitutional Court on the children of the Gulag cases was followed by a parliamentary bill but it proved insufficient on first reading. The second reading of the bill is due to start on January 18.