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Newspaper announcements seek relatives of Civil War dead

A century on, there are plans in Finland to relocate the remains of Civil War dead from a mass grave, now in an industrial zone in Heinola.

The State Administrative Agency has posted announcements asking possible relatives to come forward. Image: Janne Ahjopalo / Yle

The Southern Finland Regional State Administrative Agency has taken an unusual step to try to find descendents of those buried in a mass grave in the Vierumäki district of Heinola, about 150 km north of Helsinki.

The agency has published an announcement in the largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, and the government gazette, Virallinen Lehti. It asks those who believe they have relatives buried in the present-day Versowood industrial zone for their views on a plan to move the remains to a church cemetery. Heinola’s Lutheran church is located a couple of kilometres away in the town centre.

The grave is believed to contain the remains of hundreds of people from the Red side who died in fighting during the Civil War of 1918. However details of how many people were buried there - or exactly who they were - remain unclear.

Exhumation and DNA tests

According to a memorial stone at the site, it holds the remains of 300 individuals who “died for their convictions” during the war, which immediately followed Finland’s declaration of independence from the Russian Empire.

Story continues after photo

1918 sisällissodan joukkohaudan muistomerkki Vierumäellä Heinolassa.
A memorial stone at the site. Image: Juha-Petri Koponen / Yle

However according to some estimates, there may only be a few dozen individuals buried at the site. In any case, identifying and transferring them would be a laborious, costly venture, involving exhumation and DNA tests.

The wood processing company Versowood and the city of Heinola want to move the remains to the churchyard because the present site is now surrounded by an industrial zone.

The place is difficult to find and potentially dangerous due to the heavy machinery operating around it.

Altogether more than 25,000 supporters of the Red side are believed to have died or disappeared during the war or in prison camps after it, along with close to 5,000 from the victorious White side.

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