Soldiers killed 200 years ago during Napoleon's defeat are laid to rest
France and Russia buried 126 people, including three young drummer boys, with military honours
The remains of French and Russian soldiers and their followers who died during Napoleon Bonaparte's retreat from Moscow in 1812 were buried with military honours on Saturday.
The men, women and children were discovered in a mass grave two years ago and identified from the metal buttons on their uniforms.
Officials gathered with descendants of 19th-century Russian and French military leaders at a ceremony in the windswept western Russian town of Vyazma to re-bury the remains of 126 people killed in one of the bloodiest battles of Bonaparte's Russian campaign.
Snow fell and a military band played in temperatures of minus 15°C as uniformed pall-bearers carried eight flag-draped caskets at a cemetery in Vyazma, a town 200 kilometres west of Moscow.
The caskets containing the remains of 120 soldiers, three women and three teenagers were lowered into the snow-covered ground to the sounds of a gunners' salute.
"As generations pass, death and time reconcile everyone," Yulia Khitrovo, a descendant of Russian field marshal Mikhail Kutuzov, considered a national hero for repelling Bonaparte, said at the ceremony.
Prince Joachim Murat, a descendant of one of Napoleon's most celebrated marshals, saluted the fallen soldiers of Russia's army and Napoleon's Grande Armee.
"Two hundred years ago, French and Russian soldiers clashed during very fierce battles in this region. The courage of the French and Russian soldiers was such that they continued to fight despite appalling weather conditions," Mr Murat said.
He expressed hope that their deaths would serve as a reminder to the current generations of the "price of peace and brotherhood".
The interment took place as France marks the bicentenary of Bonaparte's death this year.
The remains were discovered by French and Russian archaeologists in 2019.
The dig was led by Pierre Malinowski, the Kremlin-connected head of the Foundation for the Development of Russian-French Historic Initiatives.
The three women whose remains were reburied are believed to have been so-called "vivandieres", who provided first aid and kept canteens in the French army, while the three adolescents are believed to have been drummer boys.
They are thought to have fallen during the Battle of Vyazma on November 3, 1812, at the beginning of the French army's retreat from Moscow and before the crossing of the Berezina River.
"Direct descendants of the main players in the conflict are meeting here together in a sign of reconciliation to commemorate the Russian and French soldiers that their ancestors commanded more than 200 years ago," Mr Malinowski said.
The site was discovered during construction work and was at first believed to be one of the many Second World War mass graves that dot western Russia.
But research by the Russian Academy of Sciences showed that the remains were of victims of Napoleon's campaign, said anthropologist Tatyana Shvedchikova.
Alexander Khokhlov, head of the archaeological expedition, said the discovery of metal uniform buttons helped establish that some of the victims served in the French army's 30th and 55th line infantry regiments and 24th light infantry regiment.
Updated: February 13, 2021 09:01 PM