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Soviets Say Mass Grave Holds Victims of Stalin

March 24, 1989

MOSCOW (AP) _ A government commission has found that thousands of skulls and bones buried in a mass grave outside Kiev were those of victims killed during Stalin’s repressions, not by Nazi soldiers, Tass reported Friday.

The conclusion supports the testimony of elderly witnesses in the nearby village of Bykovnia who said they saw trucks that dripped blood rumbling to Darnitsa Forest in the 1930s, before the Nazis occupied the area.

Earlier government estimates said the site contains from 6,000 to 68,000 bodies, but unofficial estimates said bodies of up to 300,000 people were stacked in the grave.

The villagers broke five decades of terrified silence to accuse Josef Stalin’s secret police after the Ukrainian government erected a monument in May 1988 blaming Nazi occupiers for the crime. The villagers forced Ukrainian authorities in December to establish the commission, saying three previous investigations had covered up the truth by blaming Nazi troops.

The report from Tass, the official Soviet news agency, did not mention the earlier investigations.

Viktor Kulik, head of the investigating commission, told Tass that investigators found family names engraved on some objects in the grave.

″Examination of the archives later confirmed that the victims were ‘people’s enemies’ charged in the 1930s with counterrevolutionary and nationalist activity, espionage and conspiracy,″ Tass said.

″Official confirmation has been given to the version that in the Darnitsa Forest near the village of Bykovnia outside the Ukrainian capital of Kiev are buried victims of the repressions of the 1930s,″ Tass said.

Western historians estimate 20 million Soviets were killed under Stalin, particularly during the Great Purge of the late 1930s, but Soviet officials ignored the dark side of Stalin for most of the past 50 years.

The examination of Stalin’s crimes begun briefly under Nikita S. Khrushchev was revived in 1987 under President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost.

Western historians also blame the Soviets for the massacre of 4,250 Polish officers unearthed in 1943 in a mass grave 310 miles away in the Katyn Forest. Earlier this year, Polish authorities said Stalin’s forces killed the officials, although official Soviet commissions have blamed the Nazis.

A joint Polish-Soviet commission is examining Katyn and other ″blank spots″ in Soviet history.

Earlier commissions on Bykovnia had blamed the Nazis for the killings even though villagers insisted the bodies were already there when the Germans occupied Kiev in September 1941.

Several of the villagers told The Associated Press they personally dug up the graves on orders of the Germans, one of them just days after the Germans arrived.

One man, Mikola Lysenko, discovered the bones and skulls in 1987 after grave robbers had uncovered them, and set out on a personal crusade to uncover the truth.

He located witnesses in Bykovnia and won support from the Ukrainian Writers’ Union and the newly formed Memorial society, which is dedicated to baring the truth of Stalin’s crimes.

Lysenko was unavailable for comment Friday as he does not have a telephone.

Another resident, Petro Z. Kukovenko, said he summoned the courage to speak after a Soviet commission reburied the bones and erected the memorial blaming the Nazis. In an interview last month, Kukovenko said a German officer forced him and four other men to exhume the site four days after Nazi troops occupied the area in 1941.

″When they (the Soviets) put up this monument, I became ashamed that they were blaming this on the wrong people,″ said Kukovenko, 74.

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