Victims of Stalin's purges reburied in Ukraine ceremony

NOT FORGOTTEN: Mass graves found earlier this year were filled with lost family members who were tortured and shot by the dreaded NKVD


Mon, Oct 29, 2007 - Page 6

Ukraine on Saturday reburied some 2,000 people killed by the Soviet secret police before World War II and dumped in mass graves near the capital.

The 1,998 bodies, 474 of which were Poles, were dug up earlier this year in Bykovnya, a wooded area outside Kiev where Ukrainian officials believe some 30,000 people may have been buried during the 1930s and early 1940s.

The mass graves were filled with people who were tortured and shot by the dreaded NKVD, a precursor to the KGB, during Stalin's rule in the run up to the war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

Others estimate up to 100,000 people were killed.

"I was eight years old. It was just three of us -- father, mother and me. And they took him," Maria Marzhetska said of her father, who was seized by the NKVD in 1937. "Every morning, every evening we were at the police station."

She only found out his fate 60 years later.

In a sombre ceremony attended by some 100 people, simple red coffins, some draped with flags, were lowered one by one into graves. Relatives and officials prayed by their side.

Under communist rule, the existence of mass graves filled with the victims of Stalin's rule was denied. It was only in the 1990s that it was acknowledged and a memorial was built.

Polish historians and officials believe that several thousand Polish soldiers and officers who were captured as the Soviet Union encroached Polish lands to defeat the Nazis were buried there, including an estimated 15,000 massacred near the Katyn woods.

"This is a very important place for Poles because it is ... linked with Katyn," said Andrzej Przewoznik, general-secretary of Poland's Council for the Protection of Monuments to Struggle and Martyrdom.