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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Memorial Honors Massacre Victims




KHARKIV, Ukraine -- The Ukrainian and Polish prime ministers paid tribute over the weekend to thousands of people massacred by Soviet secret police and unveiled a memorial marking the 60th anniversary of the killings.


Simple Catholic and Orthodox metal crosses marked mass graves on the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where about 4,300 Polish officers killed by Soviet NKVD secret police between March and May 1940 lie with some 5,000 Ukrainians.


"We are standing at a place that witnessed the anti-human crimes of Stalin's regime," a somber Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko said at the ceremony Saturday.


"Let Kharkiv be a sacred place for both nations ? a monument and warning for the future," he said.


Yushchenko was accompanied by Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek.


Several hundred family members of the slaughtered Polish officers and members of the local Polish community held flowers and red-and-white Polish flags as Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Jewish religious leaders prayed and blessed the graves.


Polish and Ukrainian soldiers standing at the burial place chanted "Glory to heroes!" and fired their last salute into the air.


A military orchestra performed mournful music as politicians and relatives of the dead walked through the cemetery to lay wreaths at the foot of two unpainted red metal walls with engraved names of the slaughtered.


"For many years I did not know where my father was buried but now I can be with him here," said Janusz, a 69-year-old Pole, wiping away tears. He said he was only 9 years old when his father was executed.


He said he had come to Kharkiv every year since 1990, when the bodies of Polish officers were first found.


In 1940, the Soviet Politburo ordered the shooting of more than 21,000 men, many of whom are buried in Kharkiv and Katyn, the other infamous burial place near Smolensk in central Russia.


But the resting place of thousands of other Poles remains a mystery a decade after Russia revealed documents about the slaughter.


The Soviet Union invaded Poland on Sept. 17, 1939, under a secret pact with Nazi Germany to divide Eastern Europe between the two powers.


Thousands of Polish reserve officers were arrested and sent east in one of the most tragic events of modern Polish history.


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Poland and Ukraine have been trying to build up good neighborly relations as they both strive to align their economies with Europe.


"Ukraine and Poland share a difficult road to a common European home. ? We are doing it together, shoulder to shoulder, as good neighbors and friends," said Yushchenko.