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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Victims of Stalin's Rule Reburied Near Kiev

ReutersSoldiers standing near a coffin during a reburial ceremony Saturday outside the village of Bykovnya, near Kiev.
BYKOVNYA, Ukraine -- Some 2,000 people killed by the Soviet secret police and dumped in mass graves were reburied over the weekend in woods outside Kiev.

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

The mass graves were filled with people who were tortured and shot by the 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 8 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 said. She only found out his fate 60 years later.

In a somber ceremony, attended by some 100 people, simple red coffins, some draped with flags, were lowered one by one into graves and blessed by a priest. 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 the graves were 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 pushed into Polish territory to defeat the Nazis -- were buried there, including an estimated 15,000 massacred near the Katyn forest.

"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.

"This is a place where we would like the Polish [Catholic] cross and Polish memories of those people resting in the Bykovnya forest to be."