MOSCOW — A 79-year-old retired KGB agent who helped send hundreds of Estonians to Siberia 50 years ago was convicted Friday of crimes against humanity and sentenced to four years in prison.
Mikhail A. Neverovsky, who was found guilty of selecting 274 people for deportation and personally putting three families on a train bound for Siberia, received the harshest sentence yet in Estonia for participating in mass deportations of the Soviet era.
Ainu Rea, 62, who was sent to Siberia at the age of 12 because her family was on Neverovsky's list, said justice had been served.
"I would feel sorry for him if I didn't remember what he did to us in 1949," she said. "My eyes see a sick, elderly man with a cane, but my heart tells me that today he got what he has deserved--but successfully avoided for so many years."
Hours before the verdict and sentence were announced by a court in Estonia, Neverovsky was hospitalized for what his wife, Tamila, described as severe stomach pains. She charged that Estonia was taking revenge on her ailing husband because the masterminds of the deportation had all fled Estonia or died long ago.
"This is worse than Stalin-era repressions," she said. "They are trying to vent their rage because they can't lay their hands on those people who really made all the decisions to deport the Estonians."
The Soviet Union occupied Estonia for a year in 1940-41, lost it to Germany after the outbreak of World War II, and then took over again in 1944. It deported tens of thousands of suspected enemies--mainly nationalists and well-to-do farmers--as it strengthened its rule in the Baltic republic during the 1940s.
Although the Soviet Union sent millions of people to Siberia during the reign of Josef Stalin, few of those who took part in the deportations have been held accountable in any of the former Soviet republics.
Since Estonia regained independence in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, investigators have painstakingly pursued aging former Soviet officials and operatives who assisted in the occupation of Estonia and took part in the deportations.
Neverovsky is the fourth to be convicted this year in Estonia of crimes against humanity but the first to be sentenced to prison. Many had expected he would get the same eight-year suspended sentences that two others convicted in similar cases had received.
During the trial, which began July 19 in the coastal town of Parnu, Neverovsky admitted delivering the deportation order to two families but denied that he had drawn up and signed the list of people to be deported. He also denied signing documents transferring three families to the train that carried them to Siberia.
Some of Neverovsky's victims testified at the trial about the horrors of the deportation and the hardships they faced in Siberia. Food was scarce, and some elderly committed suicide so young people would have enough to eat. Children were forced to do manual labor to survive. Many of those on Neverovsky's list died in Siberia.
"Someone should be held accountable for those hideous crimes," Rea said. "When Neverovsky drafted the lists of Estonians and took an active part in deporting hundreds of people, did he have mercy on us? We should not let it be forgotten without retribution."