It would be a gross exaggeration to call Yuri Dmitriev a sociable character. He is a stubborn, always cursing self-taught, mostly with a tip in the mouth. A nerd, pedantic, fearless, direct, headstrong, unwavering and obsessed with the search for the truth, otherwise he would not have searched for Soviet mass graves for decades and would have found thousands of victims that Stalin's secret police had secretly executed.

His friends call him "Khotabych" because Dmitriev reminds him of the bottle spirit from a Soviet fairy tale book with his beard, gaunt face and long hair. "A forest handcuffed in handcuffs," Dmitriev called himself when he was brought out of custody to his court sessions.

The court sessions are now over. After almost four years and two trials, Yuri Dmitriev was convicted on Wednesday in Petrozavodsk, Karelia, for sexual abuse of his adoptive daughter. Of the many processes that have been negotiated in Russia in recent years, this was one of the most disturbing.

Five to eight

Subscribe to the ZEIT ONLINE morning column - from Monday to Friday by email.

Register now

His daughter and grandchildren fight for Dmitriev. French writer Jonathan Littell, Nobel laureates Herta Müller, Svetlana Alexievich and Olga Tokarczuks, as well as many other intellectuals, historians and authors from Russia and abroad consider him innocent and stand up for Dmitriev.

The human rights organization Memorial sees him as a political prisoner. Petitions have been signed, letters have been written to Vladimir Putin, and the European Union has spoken of "flimsy allegations" against Dmitriev that are linked to his work as a historian. And while Yuri Dmitriev was in custody, he received an award from the Moscow Helsinki Group for Human Rights.

Those who have never heard of Yuri Dmitriev will stop now at the latest. It will be confused why one, against whom such serious allegations were made, receives so much support and recognition. May get angry because the adoptive daughter, who is 15 years old today, remains unmentioned. What about her protection, her life?

The Russian journalist Schura Burtin put these feelings into words in an impressive report that has been translated into German. He describes how he hears about the Dmitriev case for the first time and immediately thinks: There must be something in such accusations! There were these strange photos! And as he finds in the course of his research that the prosecutors want to get the historian at all costs. No matter what.