While working around the airport of the port city of Odessa in Ukraine, mass graves were found with the remains of between five and eight thousand people. They are said to have been killed during the Stalin Terror in the late 1930s. According to researchers, there are 29 graves. Together, they are the largest mass grave ever found in Ukraine.
The victims are all from the area, Sergei Gutsalyuk, director of the regional branch of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance conducting the excavations, told AFP. It is said that they were executed on the spot between 1937 and 1939 by members of the NKVD secret police, the predecessor of the KGB and one of the most powerful state agencies in the Soviet Union.
Because the excavation work to expand the airport has not yet been completed, Gusalyuk said the number of casualties is expected to increase. A local historian cooperating with the investigation told Ukrainian media that the mass graves are located at a former NKVD military site. Graves are encountered through Roman archives. Previous excavations in 2008 had already discovered 1,000 bodies, all with a bullet hole in the skull.
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Gusalyuk doubts the possibility of identification. Documents related to the purges are still partially classified and kept in Moscow. Given the poor political relations between Russia and Ukraine, it seems that Russian cooperation is out of the question.
Since the early 1930s, on the orders of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been persecuted, imprisoned, and sentenced to death. In the Odessa region, about 15,000 people were said to have been convicted between 1938 and 1941, of whom 9,000 were executed. The total number of victims of terrorism is estimated in the tens of millions.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of August 30, 2021
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