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Ukraine reburies 2,000 victims of Stalin's rule

BYKOVNYA, Ukraine (Reuters) - Ukraine on Saturday reburied some 2,000 people killed by the Soviet secret police over several years up to the Second World War and left in mass graves at a site near the capital.

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The 1,998 bodies, 474 of which were Poles, were dug up earlier this year at in Bykovnya, a village and woods in the suburbs were Ukranian officials believe some 30,000 could have been buried during the 1930s and early 1940s.

The mass graves were filled with people -- others estimate up to 100,000 -- that were tortured and shot by the dreaded NKVD, a precursor to the KGB, during Stalin’s repressive and violent rule in the run up to the Russia’s Great Patriotic War.

“I was 8 years old. It was just three of us, father, mother and me. And they took him,” Maria Marzhetska said of the father who was seized by the NKVD in 1937. “They said for 10 years he wouldn’t write (home).”

“Every morning, every evening we were at the police station,” she said. But she only found out his fate 60 years later.

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In the sombre ceremony which was attended by a hundred or so people, simple red coffins, some draped with flags, were lowered one by one into the ground 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 and it was only in the 1990s that it was acknowledged and a memorial was built.

Polish historians and officials believe that several thousand Polish soldiers and officers that were captured as Russia encroached Polish lands to defeat the Nazis were buried there, like the estimated 15,000 massacred near the Katyn woods.

“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.”