Over 100 sets of human remains are likely buried at a mass grave in the South Estonian town of Viljandi, excavation work which began this week has revealed.
Experts say the remains may be of Soviet Russian soldiers who perished in a nearby prisoner of war camp located in the Männimäe district of town, while the figure is far higher than expected before work began.
The that graves, at nearby Viirats, are being exhumed at all is the result of the ongoing removal of Soviet-era monuments across Estonia, in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Under current Estonian law, if human remains are an integral part of a memorial site, the matter is one for the state, generally overseen by the War Graves Commission (Sõjahaudade komisjon) and the national military museum (Sõjamuuseum).
War museum director Hellar Lill told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Wednesday that: "In fact, we have found the remains of more than 100 people so far, and more will emerge."
"There was a prisoner of war camp on Männimäe, in Viljandi, during the German occupation (of 1941-1944 – ed.), and in Viirats there was a satellite site of this prison camp, likely a hospital. Most probably the wounded soldiers died in the hospital, and were buried in a mass grave near here."
The exhumation work began on Tuesday, while it soon became clear that the earlier estimates of 20 sets of human remains likely to be found needed revising upwards.
Jaak Pihlak, director of the local museum, said a Soviet-era monument cited the names of six people who fell in battle in 1941, adding that no battles had taken place in the vicinity, and that this, along with the far higher number of dead buried in the mass grave, pointed towards the monument being there simply for propaganda reasons.
The status of Soviet prisoners of war who fell into Nazi German hands was particularly pitiful, he added, as such people were declared by the Stalinist regime to be personae non gratae in effect – not helped by the fact that Soviet POWs were captured by the Germans in vast numbers-
The work continues, while the museum hopes to start similar excavations at Suislepa and Kärstna, which lie to the southeast of Viljandi, close to the shores of Lake Võrtsjärv.
Editor: Andrew Whyte
Source: Aktuaalne kaamera