Ukraine’s National Police this week said the bodies had been exhumed from a grave at a Sloviansk cemetery as part of a criminal investigation into the deaths of civilians during an armed conflict.

People were killed during the months in 2014 when the town was under the control of “former” Russian military intelligence operative Igor Girkin aka Strelkov and his militants, Unian report.

The first evidence of extrajudicial executions and other war crimes was reported by western journalists who arrived in Sloviansk soon after the militants fled. Girkin, who is on trial in the Hague for his believed role in the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17, enjoys boasting of his “feats” in Donbas, and in 2016 admitted to extrajudicial executions during an interview.

Although the latter was later removed, it has been widely reported, and was undoubtedly saved for submissions from Ukraine to the International Criminal Court. More recently, Girkin also admitted to using civilians in Donbas as human shields in combat.

Russian television had already tried to pass the murders off as Ukrainian soldiers’ work, claiming – falsely – that they had been killed for helping the militants. In fact, they may have been killed to steal their cars – which would not be the first time that militants, treated as heroes by Russia, killed purely for gain.