Workers building a road outside of Vladivostok, Russia, have found at least 495 skeletons buried in what is believed to be a Stalin-era mass grave. They haven’t finished excavating the area yet, but so far they’ve uncovered 3.5 tons of bones.
Millions of Soviet citizens were executed or died in labor camps during Stalin’s rule from the 1920s until his death in 1953, but discoveries of mass graves became less frequent after a surge in finds that followed the 1991 Soviet collapse.
Experts were checking the hypothesis that the bodies were victims of Stalin’s purges.
“Practically all of the skulls have bullet wounds,” said Yaroslav Livanksy, the head of a group of volunteers who helped to excavate the site.
He said money and clothes from the 1930s had been found at the site. A crushed child’s skull was discovered close to a bead bracelet and a small slipper.
The variety of small personal belongings and the copious bullet holes in the head suggest that the victims were rounded up either without being told where they were going, or were told they were being taken to a work camp. Instead of going to the gulag where, dismal nightmare of a life though it would have been, those personal belongings would have at least been of use, all those people were taken to the outskirts of town and murdered.
There were large numbers of empty vodka bottles buried with the remains. Livansky thinks they were probably left behind by the executioners either rejoicing in a job well down or escaping the hideous reality of having just shots hundreds of men, women and babies in the head.