Jewish community leaders in southern Ukraine asked Thursday for control over the land where a mass grave believed to contain thousands of Holocaust victims was found.
The community asked local authorities to cede the land so the site could be commemorated and respected properly, said Avraam Volf, the leading rabbi for Odessa and southern Ukraine.
"People have been walking on this territory, cars passing it, cattle driven," Volf said in a statement. "We must do everything possible to prevent such blasphemy."
The mass grave was discovered by chance last month by workers digging gas pipelines in the village of Gvozdavka-1, northwest of Odessa, regional Jewish leaders said earlier this week.
Jewish leaders in Ukraine and Holocaust scholars said thousands of Jews were brought to the area in November 1941, and that as many as 10,000 were killed.
Promise of assistance
Village council leader Vera Kryzhanivska pledged to help the Jewish community, and said the council would discuss the land request next week.
"I can predict that the decision will be positive," she said.
The Jewish community said it planned to erect a fence around the site, rebury the victims and put up a monument. Experts from Europe and Israel are expected to come to the site next week to consider identification and reburial efforts.
"Not only the dead need this, the living need it most of all. All people regardless of nationality or belief need it," Volf said.
Jewish community members held a commemorative service at the site Thursday and met with local officials.
Roman Shvartsman, from Odessa, said three additional sites with remains had been found, and that residents had suggested there were likely two more.
"Anywhere you dig you find bones — teeth and craniums," Shvartsman said. "It was terrifying."
Kryzhanivska said part of the land was used for grazing and farming and part for keeping tractors and other machinery.
"We knew about this mass grave along the river. But we didn't know where exactly it was located," she said.
Ukraine's Jewish population was devastated during the Holocaust — a tragedy powerfully symbolized by Babi Yar, a ravine outside the capital of Kiev, where the Nazis slaughtered some 34,000 Jews over two days in September 1941.
About 240,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis in the Odessa region, which was occupied by the German-allied Romanians, according to Shvartsman. A mass grave with remains of about 3,500 Jews was found in the region last year.