War grave excavation begins in Haapsalu

War grave excavation work getting underway in Haapsalu.
War grave excavation work getting underway in Haapsalu. Source: Juhan Hepner/ERR

The excavation of war graves in the Western Estonian town of Haapsalu began Wednesday morning.

The entire number of remains interred at the central Haapsalu site was not known ahead of the work, and includes those buried in the early 1980s, as well as two earlier common graves, in the vicinity, dating back earlier than the Soviet period.

All remains will be exhumed and re-interred at another location.

The Estonian War Museum (Eesti Sõjamuuseum) is overseeing the work.

Arnold Unt, archaeologist with the museum, said the grave: "Is in three layers The oldest is the burial site dating to World War One. In World War Two, Läänlased (natives of Lääne County-ed.) who were executed number around 38 and were buried here in the city center, after the war."

"In the early 1980s, the last action took place, when an unknown number of Red Army soldiers' remains, and those who were excavated from an Orthodox cemetery were brought here as well. This then forms a separate component, but what is there and to what extent, we cannot say until we have started the excavation.

Before this excavation, heavy concrete slabs covering the grave site had to be removed using machinery (see cover image).

Last month, a monument glorifying the Red Army had been removed from the site.

The work is set to last three days.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine brought the many such cemeteries, monuments and other edifices across Estonia which, while in the case of human remains they will be treated with respect, are seen as inappropriate where they contain symbolism glorifying the Russian Federation's (as stated in its own constitution) predecessor state, the Soviet Union.

Sometimes neutral grave markers are put in place, while remains are often reinterred at other sites as here – and indeed cataloged and dealt with in a much more thorough and compassionate way than they were by the Soviet authorities themselves.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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