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Mass grave in E. Ukraine: Terrorist torture or power cut-off in morgue?

Mass grave in E. Ukraine: Terrorist torture or power cut-off in morgue?
A mass grave in Ukraine’s Slavyansk, a former stronghold of the armed resistance, prompted accusations of atrocities from Kiev. But the mass burial may have been prompted by electricity cutoff at the city morgue nearby.

The grave exhumation started on Thursday, conducted by authorities loyal to Kiev. They discovered 14 bodies - one of them female and the rest male, according to media reports.

Local residents told Human Rights Watch activist, Yulia Gorbunova, they had witnessed the exhumation of the grave on June 11. The city was in control of the militia at the time.

Bodies wrapped in cellophane were brought in by a truck in two runs and dumped in the grave, the witnesses said. Later in the day, the militias brought in two priests to the grave to conduct a burial prayer at it.

“We don’t really know who the people in this grave are and what happened to them. What is important is that there is an investigation,” Ole Solvang, researcher and security adviser for Human Rights Watch, told RT.

Experts dig a hole to exhume four unidentified bodies at a mass grave in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on July 24, 2014. (AFP Photo / Marion Thibaut)

But Ukrainian officials didn’t even wait for the exhumation before saying the grave would produce evidence of atrocities committed by the militias.

“I met a police team of criminal investigators in Slavyansk. They discovered a grave of Slavyansk civilians tortured to death by the terrorists. There are dozens of them. They were cut and burned alive,” media presidential aide Yury Lutsenko said.

Local residents however told HRW that the bodies most likely came from the city morgue. Before the burial the morgue power supply was cut as Slavyansk infrastructure failed due to damage from shelling by Ukrainian troops.

The bodies could well belong to civilians and militia fighters killed in the previous days, who had to be buried quickly, due to imminent decomposition, in the dysfunctional morgue. At least some of the bodies exhumed were wearing military uniforms.

The possibility that the people buried in the mass grave were victims of some crime cannot be ruled out either. The militia enforced de facto martial law in the later weeks of the siege on the city. People suspected of crimes like looting and disturbing the order were summarily tried and forced to dig trenches for the militias. There are also reports of abductions, beatings and even executions by militia fighters perpetrated against people they suspected of sympathies for the government in Kiev.

An unbiased investigation into the alleged atrocities in Slavyansk is required, although it’s not immediately clear whether the Ukrainian authorities can conduct one. So far they have failed to deliver on their promise to fully investigate the mass killings in Kiev in February, which was the bloodiest episode of the armed coup in the country, and in Odessa, where dozens of anti-government activist died in a fire started by radical Kiev loyalists, trapping them inside the burning building.