Headstones were pushed over, and some smashed to pieces, in a century-old cemetery on the outskirts of Vita earlier this month in an act of vandalism that has left community members disgusted and upset.
Two dozen gravestones located throughout the Ukrainian Catholic-Orthodox Cemetery, also known as the Vita Community Cemetery, were damaged in the incident.
Emerson RCMP were notified on Sunday, April 11, an RCMP spokesperson said. As of Monday, an investigation had produced no leads.
Vita resident David Machula reported the vandalism, which he said occurred after his last visit to the cemetery on Thursday, April 8. Machula said a passing motorist was the first to notice the damage two days later.
St Demetrius Ukrainian Catholic Church and Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church jointly maintain the cemetery, which is open to the community. Established in 1905, it is where many local pioneers are buried.
"This is the first cemetery in the area," said Robert Cesmystruk, who has lived in Vita since 1946.
Last Thursday, he and Machula met at the cemetery to take stock of the damage. Cesmystruk clutched a blue folder containing the names and locations of gravestones too weathered to read.
Both men said they have relatives interred at the cemetery.
"My grandparents are buried here and my uncles and aunts," Machula said.
Cesmystruk said his family has used the cemetery, located a mile north and a mile west of the village, since the 1940s. He couldn’t recall ever seeing vandalism there before.
"It’s 110 years old. Never been any problem like that."
Numerous headstones and small obelisks lay tipped over or broken, their flower vases in pieces.
"They even had to smash the metal crosses," Cesmystruk said. "They went to the trouble of doing that."
Two flat granite grave covers were also cracked. Nothing appeared stolen.
No tire tracks were found and the fence and gate were left intact, leading Machula to speculate the vandals carried out the spree on foot.
"They were just walking around and pushing over whatever they could push over," he said.
Machula said he was struck by the senselessness of the crime.
"It was pure vandalism, that’s all there is to it."
Judy Antonowich, treasurer of the cemetery board, said yesterday the total value of the damage is still being tabulated.
The cemetery grounds, maintained by the board, are considered distinct from gravestones, which are the responsibility of individual families.
Antonowich said some insurance companies may cover the damage, while others won’t.
The board is compiling a list of the damaged headstones which they intend to publish on the RM of Stuartburn website in the hopes of notifying all affected families.
Cesmystruk and Machula said the past year has been an especially difficult one for families that have lost a loved one, owing to strict funeral attendance limits during the pandemic. Currently, no more than 10 people may attend a funeral. Now, they said, some families must also deal with headstone replacement costs.
Antonowich agreed, saying the vandalism couldn’t have come at a worse time.
"We definitely don’t need this right now."
Anyone with information on the vandalism is asked to contact Emerson RCMP at 204-373-2505.