1,500 Graves: Russia’s Dead Soldiers in Ukraine or Russia’s Victims?

In eastern Ukraine, on the edge of the occupied city of Donetsk, there’s a cemetery. It’s much like any other and serves the local community around the eastern edge of the town of Makiivka. Since the conflict started in 2014, Google Earth shows around 160 people have been buried in the formal part of cemetery.

Cemetery location – Red square.

But, this small isolated cemetery holds more than a few hundred local burials. It also plays host to around 1,500 seemingly unmarked and overgrown graves. These forgotten graves first appeared during Russia’s 2014 invasion.

Oct 2018: Bottom left: the formal cemetery. The approx. 1,500 unmarked graves are shown in the 3 red areas.
May 2019: Clear to see the unmarked graves are now severely overgrown. Around 150 graves have been added since Oct 2018. These new graves show up in a lighter sand colour, as they’ve yet to become overgrown with weeds and grass.

Now I’ve written on this cemetery before and posted videos on it. However, I was so struck by the above May 2019 satellite image showing the unmarked graves hidden by nature, I thought the site was worth another visit. Location Coordinates 47°59’50.89″N 38° 0’4.95″E

Burial questions and answers.
Q: Are they so-called paupers graves; the burials of those who have died without known relatives or means to pay for a proper funeral?

A: This is highly unlikely. Like anywhere else in the world, in eastern Ukraine burials of those without friends/family or the means to pay for a proper funeral take place in local cemeteries where they died. It stretches credibility to breaking point to think the Russia-led Donetsk people’s republic who control this area, suddenly ordered all destitute people to be buried in this remote graveyard. Also, you would expect some of the graves to later be tended and have headstones etc. Satellite imagery shows no obvious signs of graves having been enhanced or even tended.

Q: Perhaps the other local cemeteries are closed due to the fighting?
A: There are two large cemeteries in Makiivka and both have remained open and in use. So there’s no reason why this cemetery should used for what appear to be non-local burials.

Q: Are these unknown people buried during the chaotic early stages of the fighting?
A: 2014 & 2015 saw a large influx of Russian soldiers and mercenaries entering eastern Ukraine, along with vast numbers of refugees fleeing the fighting. However, satellite imagery still shows significant numbers of burials taking place every year after 2015 – including around 150 since Oct 2018 to May 2019. Added to which, the front lines largely been static since early 2015, so there is no longer a constant flow of refugees entering Makiivka, Donetsk city or wider region. So it’s safe to dismiss these graves as belonging to unknown civilians killed during the fighting.

Q: How many civilians have died in the fighting?
A: During the entire conflict period, from 14 April 2014 to 31 March 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recorded in total 3,055 conflict-related civilian deaths (1,814 men, 1,057 women, 98 boys, 49 girls and 37 adults whose sex is unknown). Taking into account 298 deaths on board of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 on 17 July 2014, the total death toll of the conflict on civilians has reached at least 3,353. These are civilians killed on both sides of the line.

This again gives weight to the evidence the 1,500 burials (close to half the confirmed numbers killed) are not those of civilians killed during the fighting.

The first unmarked graves are seen in June 2014 – red square.
Sept 2015: A second larger burial area is now being used. The first smaller burial area (far right) now holds around 50 graves, and the new one around 500. This larger burial area comprises rows of around roughly 32 graves.

Q: Do the graves belong to Russian soldiers or Russian mercenaries?
A: Until any evidence to the contrary appears, this would be the most likely answer.

Russia’s forces in eastern Ukraine comprise, Ukrainians, large numbers of Russian mercenaries and several thousands regular Russian troops. 2014/15 saw fierce fighting and heavy shelling along the now 500km front line. During that time, countless YouTube videos, social media posts and a mass of evidence showed huge numbers of regular Russian troops and mercenaries fighting in Ukraine and pouring into the country. Watch my video which details some of that evidence.

We know the Russian mothers and families of those Russian soldiers captured in Ukraine were unaware they were fighting in eastern Ukraine. In 2014, Russians set up a Soldiers’ Mothers Committee to demand information on why their sons are fighting Ukraine, to report news about Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine and to seek information on their missing sons. The Kremlin moved swiftly to persecute and arrest the leaders of this group. In addition, we know of burials of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine – BBC report.

Close-up of the largest burial area. Fresh graves are seen at the top. Note the numerous well used vehicle tracks bringing the bodies. Up to May 31st 2019, this section holds approx. 1,200 graves. The graves may have wooden markers, but there’s little sign of much else or any official graveyard maintenance.
To the left of the larger central area, a third burial area was added in either late 2015 or early 2016.

So, there’s good evidence indicating large numbers of Russian soldiers and mercenaries fought and died in eastern Ukraine and that the Kremlin’s VERY keen to avoid news of this getting out. Naturally Ukrainians killed while fighting for Russia would be buried in their local cemeteries and would expect to be tended by their families. We also know this is not the “official” so-called Donetsk people’s republic military cemetery as it’s here in the nearby city of Donetsk > 47°55’59.49″N 37°56’36.74″E. Up to Sept 2018, it holds around 900 graves, with a significant number without gravestones or details as to whose buried there.

Picture of the “official” military cemetery.

My assessment.
The 1,500 graves belong to predominantly Russia’s cannon fodder mercenaries. Those without anyone able or willing to pay for the bodies transfer back to Russia. Not hard to imagine the low-life dregs of humanity who relished the chance to go fight in a war; one which Russia paid them to undertake.

Some of the graves maybe Russian regular soldiers and those on what the Russian Ministry of Defence call contracted service. This is where soldiers ending their service, former soldiers & civilians can join the Russian army for a limited time. These may account for some of the earlier burials when the Kremlin was less keen to have funerals routinely taking place across Russia.

One last haunting point cannot be overlooked.
The graves maybe those of Ukrainian civilians and possibly even some captured Ukrainian soldiers from early in the conflict. All murdered by Russia’s forces & Russia’s sham republics during the on-going occupation. Or a grim mixture of both Russia-led soldiers and murdered Ukrainians.

Time will tell who is really buried here. Until then, this small unassuming cemetery is filling up with bodies.
And it seems the only people visiting the graves are the gravediggers.

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