On Thursday Ukrainian authorities exhumed a mass grave in Sloviansk, in eastern Ukraine, Human Rights Watch reports. From April until July 5, the city, now back under Ukrainian government control, had been under the control of anti-government insurgents.
‘It’s too soon to say whether the people buried there were victims of a crime. Several local residents believed the bodies came from the nearby morgue. At the time the bodies were allegedly dumped, there was no electricity in parts of Sloviansk, which would have caused a problem for refrigeration facilities used to store bodies in the morgue. When the women asked the insurgents who was being buried, the insurgents said they were unidentified bodies,’ Yulia Gorbunova, a researcher in Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division, says.
Among the police, forensic experts, and journalists standing around the grave witnessing the exhumation, there were several local residents searching for loved ones who went missing when insurgent forces controlled Sloviansk. ‘One woman said that insurgent forces had abducted her husband in May. She said that he called her on May 21 to say goodbye. He said that the insurgents were holding him and they would execute him in 15 minutes. The next day she identified his body in the morgue, but the insurgents refused to give her the body for burial. Another person standing around the burial site, a man in his thirties, said that he was looking for his friend who got into a fight on the street and was then picked up by the insurgents. Nobody has seen him since,’ the author reports.
It’s understandable why these local residents wonder if the grave contains victims who died at the hands of insurgents. Insurgents systematically kidnapped, abducted, beat, and sometimes tortured activists and residents they suspected of supporting the Ukrainian government. Human Rights Watch, among others documented this pattern in Sloviansk and in other cities. We also documented the killing of a local politician whose body turned up in Sloviansk two days after he had been last seen in the custody of armed insurgents, Ms Gorbunova stresses. Documents discovered by foreign journalists also indicated that insurgents carried out summary trials and executions in Sloviansk.
‘Only a proper investigation can help to determine who the people are whose bodies were dug out from the mass grave today, and what happened to them. Independently, it is crucial to bring to light the abuses that happened in Sloviansk while it was under insurgent control,’ The HRW researcher sums up.