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'On the Eve of the First World War, the single Siberian province of Irkutsk was larger than all of India'
W.Bruce Lincoln

Spooky human remains found as Bratsk Reservoir dries up

By The Siberian Times reporter
08 July 2016

Many dozens of skeletons, bones and coffins from old graveyard found as water level lowers.

The graves were supposed to have been dug up during the Soviet era and moved to a new cemetery before the giant lake was created. Picture: Vesti.Irkutsk

Pictures and video shows how a graveyard, in use until 1958, has reappeared after it was flooded in the early 1960s to make a giant reservoir on Angara Riva serving Bratsk Hydroelectric Power Station.

The graves were supposed to have been dug up during the Soviet era and moved to a new cemetery before the giant lake - the second largest in the world by volume and twice the size of Hong Kong - was created, but it is now clear this did not happen. 

Bones, whole skeletons and coffins wedged into the ground are now visible after a significant fall in the level of water in the reservoir. One local visited the scene on the dry floor of the reservoir and recorded a video. 

Old cemetery Old cemetery

Bones, whole skeletons and coffins wedged into the ground are now visible after a significant fall in the level of water in the reservoir. Pictures: Baikal Teleinform

'The water has gone, the cemetery was washed away, and the coffins appeared from under the ground,' he said on the recording. What is the normal depth for burials? Two metres? So you can imagine how much ground was washed away.

'The remains should be reburied, that's what I think. The bones are everywhere... Here was a child... small coffin, small bones... Is it possible to make a DNA test to learn who these people were?' 

The creepy scene was spotted by locals in late June, among them the head of Osinsky district Viktor Matynkov. 

'This is an old burial ground, which was organised long before the flooding of the bed of Bratsk Reservoir,' he said. 'All the time it was under water. Now the water level has decreased somewhat and the graveyard has surfaced. We have not had such cases before.' 

Old cemetery


Old cemetery Old cemetery

'The remains should be reburied, that's what I think. The bones are everywhere... Here was a child... small coffin, small bones...'  Pictures: Vesti.Irkutsk, Baikal Teleinform

The site, accessible by foot, is some 5 kilometres from the nearest village  Irkhidey in Irkutsk region. The graveyard is believed to have been in existence since tsarist times. 

District deputy head Boris Khoshkhoev told IrkutskMedia that no burials were carried out after 1958, though it was another decade before the reservoir was full to its maximum level  covering 5,470 square kilometres (2,110 sq miles).

'The old-timers of Irkhidey recall that before the flooding, a group of hired workers came to the village, and they were supposed to rebury the remains of people,' he said.

'Unfortunately, they did not do this. They just gathered all the wooden crosses from the tombs and burnt them. So the graves turned to be under the water. By the way, on the site of the old cemetery locals have found a coin that is  dated to the year 1836, so the cemetery could be at least 180 year old.'

'The level of the reservoir has decreased some 22 centimetres comparing with last year, and the water has receded 200 metres from the usual shoreline, say locals.

Bratsk dam


Golden Sands beach

At the time of its inauguration, the reservoir was the largest artificial lake in the world. It is now listed as the second largest by volume, with a capacity of 169.27 cubic kilometres.' Pictures: Galina Generalova, @klezka

The reservoir is popular for swimming for locals in the summer, although the most popular beach is some 15 km from the uncovered graveyard. The nearest city is Bratsk, with a population of some 246,000, and it is used to supply water to a number of local towns.

The reservoir was made with the building of a concrete dam 125 metres (410 ft) high and 4,417 metres (14,491 ft) long. The Baikal Amur Mainline railroad runs along the top of the dam.

At the time of its inauguration, the reservoir was the largest artificial lake in the world. It is now listed as the second largest by volume, with a capacity of 169.27 cubic kilometres, and the tenth by surface area. 

The cause of the fall of the water level is believed to be the filling of another reservoir downstream at Boguchany in Krasnoyarsk region. 

Local officials plan now to cover the exposed graveyard in soil, reburying the remains.

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