Russian, Serbian graves desecrated by vandals at Rookwood Cemetery

MORE than 70 gravestones in the Russian, Serbian and non-denominational sections of a Sydney cemetery have been vandalised during a late night break-in.
Natalya Mihailova | 12 December 2014

The offenders broke into Rookwood Cemetery on Hawthorne Ave and pushed over or smashed 76 gravestones between 9pm on Tuesday to 6am yesterday.

Police initially reported the damage occurred in the cemetery’s Russian and Ukrainian areas but cemetery officials revealed no Ukrainian graves were affected.

Rookwood General Cemetery Trust CEO Fiona Heslop does not believe the vandalism was racially motivated.

Ian McIntosh, CEO of the Rookwood Necropolis Trust, inspects the damage. Picture: Phillip Rogers

Ian McIntosh, CEO of the Rookwood Necropolis Trust, inspects the damage. Picture: Phillip Rogers

Ms Heslop said the areas attacked were the Serbian and Russian orthodox as well as non-denominational sections called Magnolia Grove and the Remembrance Lawn.

“The way I’m looking at it, the path through the cemetery doesn’t seem to focus on one denomination alone,” she said.

“It’s not far from the gate, they could have quite easily climbed over the gate.”

The vandalism came the day before Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko arrived in Australia for a two-day visit.

The vandals also smashed ornaments and vases. Picture: Phillip Rogers

The vandals also smashed ornaments and vases. Picture: Phillip Rogers

Mr Poroshenko arrived this morning and will join Prime Minister Tony Abbott at a Melbourne prayer vigil for victims of the downed flight MH17.

Ms Heslop believes a weapon must have been used to damage many of the gravestones.

“I don’t think you could understand someone’s headspace who does something like this,” Ms Heslop said.

“Some of the headstones are quite old so if they pushed hard it will fall, it would be a hell of a lot of a push but it will fall,” she said.

One of the toppled headstones. Picture: Phillip Rogers

One of the toppled headstones. Picture: Phillip Rogers

“They have grabbed crosses on top of the monuments and pulled them off. It looks to me like they’ve done it with something. The marble has been cracked too.”

The 76 families will be contacted by the cemetery and informed of the damage but staff are also distressed by the incident.

“We will contact the families over the next two days,” Ms Heslop said. “It brings up the memories for all the families.

“(The staff) deal with death on a daily basis but shouldn’t have to deal with this,” she said.

“When you see someone come in and do that to that area, the staff feel a bit helpless.”

Officers investigating the incident have called for anyone with information to come forward.

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