A mass grave believed to contain the remains of thousands of Jews killed by the Nazis has been found in southern Ukraine, a Jewish community representative said Tuesday.
The grave was found by chance last month when workers were digging to lay gas pipelines in the village of Gvozdavka-1, near Odessa, said Roman Shvartsman, a spokesman for the regional Jewish community.
The Nazis established two ghettos during World War II near the village and brought Jews there from what is now the nearby nation of Moldova as well as Ukrainian regions including Odessa, Shvartsman said. In November 1941, they set up a concentration camp in the area and killed about 5,000 Jews there, he said.
"Several thousand Jews executed by the Nazis lie there," Shvartsman told The Associated Press.
Shvartsman said the Jewish community had known about the mass killing in the area, but had not known exactly where the bodies were left.
Yitzhak Arad, a Holocaust scholar and a former director of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, said he was not surprised by the discovery because the village was a known site of mass executions of Jews during the Holocaust.
He said some 28,000 Jews were brought to the area from surrounding towns in November 1941, and put the death toll at 10,000, with 500 people dying every day.
Holocaust expert Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he did not recall Gvozdavka-1 specifically, but was not surprised by the reported finding.
"I'm not surprised that, even in these days, there are discoveries such as these. It underscores the enormous scope of the plans of annihilation of the Nazis and their collaborators in Eastern Europe," Zuroff said.
Hundreds of mass graves exist in Ukraine, likely with many yet to be uncovered, Zuroff said. "Ukraine was an enormous killing field, hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered," he said.
Anatoly Podolsky, director of the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies, said there are believed to be some 250-350 mass grave sites from the Nazi occupation, during which some 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews are believed to have been killed - including those massacred near their homes and those deported to camps elsewhere.
Podolsky said most of the sites had been discovered, many since the 1991 Soviet collapse, but that there were still some left to find.
Ilia Levitas, the head of Ukraine's Jewish Council, put the number of mass Jewish graves in the country at more than 700.
According to Shvartsman, the names of 93 Jews killed at the Gvozsdavka-1 site have been established. He said Jewish community members planned to conduct studies at the newly found site to identify victims.
"We must figure out their names. It is our debt before victims and survivors," he said.
Odessa's chief rabbi, Shlomo Baksht, has voiced plans to put a fence around the site and erect a monument to the victims this year.
Ukraine's Jewish population was devastated during the Holocaust. Babi Yar, a ravine outside the capital, Kiev, where the Nazis slaughtered some 34,000 Jews over two days in September 1941, is a powerful symbol of the tragedy.
About 240,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis in the Odessa region, according to Shvartsman. He said a mass grave with remains of about 3,500 Jews was found in the region last year.