The Trial of Gleb Yakunin, 25-28 August 1980 (58.3)

<<No 58 : November 1980>>

The case of Father Gleb Pavlovich YAKUNIN, a member of the Christian Committee to Defend Believers’ Rights in the USSR, was heard from 25 to 28 August at the Moscow City Court.

The judge was V. G. Lubentsova who also presided over the cases of the Red Square ‘demonstrators’ in October 1968 (CCE 4.1), Vladimir Bukovsky in January 1972 (CCE 23.1), and Yury Orlov in May 1978 (CCE 50.1).

Yakunin (b. 1934) was arrested on 1 November 1979 (CCE 54.1) and charged under Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code. The prosecutor was Procurator Skaredov; the [court-appointed] defence counsel was lawyer L.M. Popov (CCE 21 and CCE 46).


The trial was held in the Moscow City Court building. The courtroom that was chosen can hold approximately 300 people, but was packed with “representatives of the public” who presented passes to obtain admission. Yakunin’s wife Iraida Yakunina (CCE 57.9) was admitted to the trial, but “there were not enough seats” for Yakunin’s other friends and relatives.

Seats were found for at least four KGB officers: one was responsible for detaining Tatyana Shchipkova (CCE 52.11; for her trial CCE 56.11); another took part in searches at the homes of members of the Christian Seminar; the third interrogated T. Lebedeva (CCE 54, CCE 56, and CCE 57); while the fourth had a chat with Adele Naidenovich (see CCE 28.3 [Case 24]) to persuade her to leave Moscow during the Olympic Games (CCE 54).

Gleb Yakunin, 1934-2014

The indictment against Yakunin cited a number of letters and appeals he had written. Foremost among there were his appeal to the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Nairobi (CCE 38.17) and an appeal to Christians in Portugal (both appeals were made together with Lev Regelson — this issue, CCE 58.4). Yakunin pleaded not guilty.


Victor Kapitanchuk [trial, CCE 58.4], a member of the Christian Committee, and Lev Regelson [trial, CCE 58.5], a participant in the Christian Seminar, were called as witnesses. Both were being held at the time in Lefortovo Prison. Victor Popkov, another participant in the seminar (trial, CCE 56.11), was also called as a witness. Regelson and Kapitanchuk both testified that they signed the documents cited against Yakunin and were involved in their composition. Kapitanchuk said that he had written and circulated several of them.

Popkov gave detailed evidence. In particular he confirmed that he was present at the meeting between Yakunin, Dmitry Dudko (CCE 56 and 57) and V. Kovalenko (CCE 55 and 57) and some foreigners, and Popkov recounted what Yakunin had circulated at the meeting, and to whom. He also confirmed the “incriminating” testimony of E. Berini-Waldvogel, a Swedish woman, which was read out in court. This testimony was also confirmed by Dudko and Kovalenko, during the pre-trial investigation.

In court A.I. Osipov, a member of the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Nairobi (Chronicle 38.17) and a Professor at the Moscow Theological Academy, and Father Superior Iosif Pustoutov, Head of Postgraduate Studies at the Moscow Theological Academy and an official in the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, both stated that the letter from Yakunin and Regelson had harmed the prestige of the Soviet authorities. By his unpatriotic actions, they said, Father Yakunin had set Christians throughout the world against the Soviet government.

F. Karelin (once a close friend of Yakunin) stated that many of the documents written by Yakunin were directed to the West, which “has never helped the Soviet State in any way”. When asked by the judge whether he considered the documents cited against Yakunin to be anti-Soviet, Karelin replied that it was for the court to answer that question.

Father Krivoi (from Lvov) quoted Yakunin as saying: “The KGB has entangled the whole world in its tentacles.” He gave a very bad character sketch of Yakunin, saying that he was capable of drinking two bottles of vodka. (Yakunin then asked: “Over how long a period?”) In his indictment speech the Procurator referred to Krivoi’s evidence, saying that Yakunin was a drunkard. Krivoi also stated that he had bought an icon from Yakunin, who apparently, traded in them.

Witness Fedotova (whom Yakunin does not know) testified that she had heard a conversation between her son [Eduard-Georgy Fedotov] and Alexander Ogorodnikov, who complained that Father Gleb received money from Solzhenitsyn but did not share it with him.

Churchwarden A. Shushpanov of the Nikolo-Kuznetskaya Church [central Moscow] began shouting almost as soon as he entered the courtroom that Yakunin was an abettor of imperialism and an anti-Sovietist and that he belonged in the dock. He also said that Yakunin was an enemy of peace and supporter of war. Yakunin replied by requesting that Shushpanov be sent for psychiatric examination. Yakunin considers Shushpanov a KGB agent, and together with Khaibulin and Kapitanchuk (CCE 46.17) has written about this to Patriarch Pimen. Shushpanov once offered Yakunin a large sum of money to help the work of the Christian Committee, which he wanted to join. Yakunin did not accept the money and refused to admit Shushpanov to the Committee.

Witness E.B. Zagryazkina, financial administrator of the church at Vagankovo cemetery [east Moscow], stated that in all her life she had never met such a decent, honest, good, brave and moral man as Father Yakunin. Her evidence during the pre-trial investigation had been unfavourable; in 1973-74 she gave a great deal of evidence against Petrov-Agatov.

Witness Kudryavtsev refused to give evidence in spite of the insistent demands of Judge Lubenstova. Kudryavtsev stated that the authorities had given him “a diploma of schizophrenia”, so they had no right to question a person who was not mentally responsible.

Witness A.I. Rogov told the court that Yakunin hated the Soviet authorities and that he was a traitor to his people. Yakunin petitioned the court to be allowed to call Khudyakov, who was present at his conversation with Rogov, as witness. Khudyakov was not called.

Similarly Dudko was not called, even though Yakunin remarked that the name of Dudko had been mentioned many times in the indictment and that Dudko’s testimony, given in the pre-trial investigation, was frequently quoted during the proceedings.

Among the witnesses whom the court listed as having failed to appear were V. Fonchenkov (CCE 53) and L. Poluektova (CCE 54). They had not received summonses to appear, but had asked to be called as witnesses and were standing outside the court building, as they had not been admitted to the courtroom.


In his speech the prosecutor [Procurator Skaredov] declared that Yakunin was an inveterate criminal, an anti-Sovietist, an enemy of the Motherland and the Church, and a thoroughly degenerate character, a drunkard.

He asked for a special ruling from the court that, according to the facts ascertained during the proceedings, it was necessary to conduct a pre-trial investigation of actions by Yakunin that contravened Articles 88 (“violation of the regulations on foreign-exchange dealings”) and 154 (“speculation”) of the RSFSR Criminal Code. The procurator stated that the guilt of the accused was fully proven, and asked the court to sentence Yakunin to five years in strict-regime camps and five years in exile. Defence counsel requested a mitigation of the sentence.

Before making his final speech Father Yakunin asked: “Are this court and the public here interested in the facts which motivated me to act in defence of the human rights of Christians?” Judge Lubentsova said that no one was interested. When Yakunin asked what would be of interest to the court, she replied that Yakunin could make a plea to the court. Yakunin replied that he had no pleas to make. “Then that’s everything!” said Lubentsova.

Father Yakunin’s final speech consisted of a single phrase: “I thank God for the fate he has given me”. His sentence was five years in strict-regime camps and five years in exile.

While the judgment was being read out a television camera recorded the proceedings. This film was later shown on British television.


On 29 August the Moscow Helsinki Group adopted Document No. 140, “The Trials of Tatyana Velikanova and Father Gleb Yakunin”. On the same day a letter entitled “Who has been Condemned?”, concerning the trials of Velikanova and Yakunin, was signed by 57 people (CCE 58.1).

On 2 September Trud [Labour] newspaper published an article “Whom Was ‘Father’ Gleb Serving?” by L. Kolosov. The article states in part:

During the trial it was ascertained that ‘between 1964 and 1979 G. P. Yakunin was engaged in the purchase and resale of articles used in church services, antiques, books, manufactured goods and artefacts made from precious metals and stones, including silver coins minted before the Revolution — all with the aim of systematically obtaining large amounts of illegal income…

The article also asserts that Yakunin condemned the use of material he had written by Radio Liberty, the NTS and other centres of subversion whose aims are hostile to the Soviet Union. It stated that Yakunin would in future desist from the activities for which he was convicted …

Father Gleb Yakunin

Gleb Yakunin graduated from the Biology and Game-keeping Faculty of the Irkutsk Agricultural Institute in 1958. He then entered Moscow Theological Seminary, but was expelled in 1959 “for delays in returning books to the library”.

In 1962 he was ordained a priest and began to work in the town of Dmitrov (Moscow Region). In 1965 Fathers Nikolai Eshliman and Gleb Yakunin sent an “open letter” to Patriarch Alexy. Patriarch Alexy [1] replied by forbidding them to work as priests “owing to their attempt to destroy the good relations which exist between Church and State”, and “for disturbing the peace of the Church”. (This appeal to Alexy, and others to the Assembly of Bishops in 1971 and to [Alexy’s successor] Patriarch Pimen asking to be tried according to canon law, were all without effect. They both accepted the ruling.) [2]

Since 1966 Yakunin has worked as a reader and choirmaster at various churches in the Moscow Region. In 1974 he criticized Metropolitan Serafim’s statement supporting the deportation of Solzhenitsyn.

When the USSR Council of Ministers declared Easter Day 1975 a working day, Yakunin sent an “Open Letter” to them, describing the government’s decision to be “blasphemous” (CCE 36.//). That same year he made the appeal with Lev Regelson to the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Nairobi, which called on Christians of different denominations to join in defending persecuted Christians and in glorifying and honouring contemporary martyrs and confessors of the Christian faith.

In 1976 Yakunin and Regelson sent an analysis and criticism of Soviet legislation on religion to the World Council of Churches (CCE 41.3). They also sent a letter to Christians in Portugal concerning the possible consequences of the Communists coming to power in that country, and referred to the special spiritual link between Christians in Russia and Portugal. That same year Yakunin, Regelson and V. Kapitanchuk appealed to the leaders of the Russian Church in Exile to consider the possibility of canonizing martyrs of the Russian Church who had suffered during and after the Revolution. It was then that Yakunin, Kapitanchuk and V. Khaibulin founded the Christian Committee to Defend Believers’ Rights in the USSR. In 1977 the Committee made an appeal to Brezhnev and to leaders of the [Russian] Orthodox Church after the publication of the draft [1977] Constitution of the USSR (CCE 46.//).

In 1978 the magazine Russian Revival [Russkoe vozrozhdenie] published an article by Yakunin on the attitude of the Moscow Patriarchate to the Stalin personality cult. That same year Yakunin, Kapitanchuk and V. Shcheglov issued an appeal to the Conclave of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church concerning the Vatican’s policy towards Eastern Europe.

In the years 1977 and 1979 Yakunin drew up two reports for the Christian Committee, one concerning economic discrimination against church officers by the State, the other on the present situation of the Russian Orthodox Church (CCE 56.//). In 1979 Yakunin, Kapitanchuk, Regelson and V. Fonchenkov called for support for the canonization of twentieth-century Russian martyrs and confessors of the Christian faith, a process being prepared by the Russian Church in Exile.