Remains of 230 people found in Tartu Soviet-era war grave

Excavations of Raadi war grave.
Excavations of Raadi war grave. Source: Ove Maidla / Tartu linnavalitsus

The remains of several hundred people were found in a Soviet-era grave site in Tartu this week, far fewer than initially reported in data from the time.

Earlier this week, Tartu City Council moved a Soviet-era monument in Raadi, Tartu. Bodies in the adjoining mass grave have been removed from the public space and will now be reburied in cemeteries.

"In total, the remains of 230 people were found, of which 65 were believed to belong to the Red Army and 165 were estimated to be from the Lemmatsi anti-tank trench," said Hellar Lill, director of the Estonian Military Museum, who conducted the excavations.

Figures reported during the Soviet-era estimated several thousand people were buried at Raadi, Lille said. But this week's excavations show this was an exaggeration.

"The war museum's forecast of a few hundred buried war victims corresponded to reality," he said.  

Lill said previous work carried out by archeologist Arnold Und showed quite precisely where the graves were located so it is possible to guess who was buried there: either Red Army soldiers or those killed at Tartu concentration camp.

Excavations of war graves at Raadi. Source: Ove Maidla / Tartu linnavalitsus

However, no signifiers were found with the bodies to enable further identification.

Lill said the bodies will now be placed in coffins and reburied in the coming weeks.

"We are still specifying which cemetery and specifically where, but of course, a respectful ceremony will take place during the burial of the remains with church priests and other attendants," he emphasized.

On September 12, a bronze Soviet-era sculpture was removed from the site and will be handed over to the Tartu City Museum.

The Raadi monument is the latest Soviet statue to be removed from Estonia's public space following discussions about their future sparked by Russia's war in Ukraine.

Many of the statues, such as the T-34 Tank in Narva, praise the Soviets as liberators who defeated the Nazis in 1944. The USSR's following occupation of Estonia lasted until 1991.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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