Kyiv, Ukraine –
Poppies, the blood-red flowers that cover the battlefields of two world wars in Europe, were mourned on Saturday on the coffin of another dead soldier, this one killed in another European war, in Ukraine.
Among the hundreds of mourners for Roman Ratushnyi, 24, were friends who had protested with him during months of protests that toppled the pro-Russian Ukrainian leader in 2014 and who, like him, took up arms when Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of its neighbour. this February.
The arc of his shortened life symbolized that of Ukraine’s post-independence generations who sacrifice their best years in the cause of freedom. First with defiance and dozens of lives against brutal riot police during the Maidan protests in Ukraine in 2013-2014 and now with weapons and even more lives against Russian troops.
“Heroes never die!” Friends, family and admirers shouted in Ukrainian as Ratushnyi’s coffin was loaded aboard a hearse in a square in the Ukrainian capital now decorated with destroyed Russian tanks and vehicles. Their charred carcasses contrasted with the gleaming golden domes of an adjacent cathedral where priests had previously chanted prayers for Ratushnyi, who was well known in Kyiv for his civic and environmental activism.
From the square, the hundreds of mourners then marched in a silent column behind his coffin to Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square. The sprawling square in central Kyiv gave its name to the three months of protests that toppled President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 and helped fuel the political and patriotic awakening of Ukrainians born after independence in 1991.
Ratushnyi had “a heart full of love for Ukraine”, said Misha Reva, who traveled in his soldier’s uniform from the front lines of the war on a night train to say goodbye to the friend whom he first encountered on Maidan, in the midst of the war. protests. Ratushnyi was then only 16 years old; Reva was in her early twenties. It was Ratushnyi who introduced Reva to the woman who is now his wife, also in the square.
During protests where riot police used batons and eventually bullets with abandon, the two friends sheltered together for a night at St. Michael’s, the cathedral where the memorial service for Ratushnyi was held on Saturday morning. Poppies and a traditional loaf of bread were placed on his coffin draped in the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine.
Reva said he and Ratushnyi were committed to fighting on the very first day of the Russian invasion on February 24. After taking part in the defense of Kyiv in the first weeks of the invasion, Ratushnyi then joined an army brigade, doing military intelligence work, Reva said. He was killed on June 9 around the town of Izyum on the eastern front of the war, according to the environmental campaign group that Ratushnyi led in Kyiv. He fought for the preservation of the development of a wooded park where you ski in winter.
“He was such a solid, big personality,” Reva said. “It’s a big loss for Ukraine.”
During the Ratushnyi commemorations, anti-aircraft alarms sounded. These are daily occurrences in Kyiv, which is now relatively peaceful, but reminders of the war raging in the east and south. Other reminders were the dozens of soldiers, some holding flowers, among the mourners. Some draped yellow and blue flags over their shoulders.
“He was a symbol, a symbol of a new Ukraine, of freedom and of a new generation that wants to fight for their rights,” said 21-year-old Serhli Sasyn.
The “best people are dying now,” he added.
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