Ukraine crisis: A moment of dignity for the dead then the recriminations fly
In his sermon Father Nicolai dwelt on the parable of Cain and Abel; brother slaying brother; the calamity of a house divided: three generations of one family sobbed in the corner holding on to each other, three bodies lay in open caskets, heaped in flowers, the dead from Ukraine’s internecine strife.
There was dignity, grace and grief during the service at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Slovyansk. As the service ended, mourners came forward with more bouquets.
Elderly women in scarves and elderly men, Soviet veterans in frayed dress uniforms, bent down to kiss the foreheads of the fallen. As the bodies of 53-year-old Sergey Rudenko, Pavel Pavelko, 42, and 24-year-old Alexander Sigano were taken outside there were roars, over and over, of “Glory to the Heroes of the Donbass”, as the bells tolled.
Then, as a young man who had taken part in the fatal fight spoke of how one of the victims had been hacked to death with a knife, an argument broke out with a group of men in balaclavas, they insisting that all had, in fact, been shot. A doctor who had examined the wounds was called up to adjudicate, but his verdict was drowned by a man with a loudhailer shouting: “The Ukraine junta had declared war on us. It is killing our people. We shall fight back, we shall be victorious.”
The acting president of Ukraine also promised action with the re-launch of a military mission at the end of a ceasefire over Easter offered by his government. Oleksandr Turchynov claimed that “brutally tortured” bodies had been found of people who had been kidnapped by separatists in the region. One, that of a local politician, Volodymyr Rybak, from his Fatherland party.
Separatist officials accused Kiev of putting up a smokescreen. Aleksei Andriovich, who described himself as a captain in the people’s militia, maintained: “This is an attempt to hoodwink people when the world can see how Turchinov’s so-called government is killing civilians. They declared a false truce and then used Right Sector [a ultra-nationalist group] to carry out these murders.”
There are still unanswered questions about what exactly happened at the checkpoint at the village of Bylbasovka in the early hours of Easter Sunday. But, the crowd which had gathered outside the church had no doubts, the killings adding to their firmly-held views that fascists had been coming from Kiev to carry out attacks.
“What is going on today is proof enough. They first send their troops, who refuse to fight the people, so they send terrorists. I fought in Afghanistan and now I find myself fighting in my own city,” said an indignant Mikhail Grushanin. “The Americans are paying for this, even if is the people in Kiev sending them.”
A younger man, Maxim, came over: “They have got a female terrorist in prison now. She was sent to co-ordinate these attacks. She was doing the same thing in the Maidan [the centre of protests in Kiev which led to the current government getting in power]. They should have dragged her along here to see what her people had done.”
Pro-Russian militants have been holding Irma Kart, 29, a journalist and activist who had arrived from Kiev in the morning after the checkpoint shooting. She has been accused of involvement in the torture of anti-Maidan reporter Sergiy Rulyov and membership of Patriots of Ukraine, a group with links to the Right Sector. Another journalist, Simon Ostrovsky, was arrested late tonight at a checkpoint in Slovyansk. The newly-installed pro-Moscow mayor, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, admitted that the highly-respected documentary maker, for Vice News was being held in custody, but refused to say for what reason.
Mr Ponomaryov had accused Ms Kart of war crimes. Produced before a group of journalists, including myself, on Monday, she had protested: “I did not have anything to do with torture. I want to say sorry for what had happened, but they shouldn’t put all the evil on me. They are just trying to find people to blame.”
Leonid said he did not want to focus on who killed Sergey Rudenko; he wanted to talk, instead, about his friend. “He was not involved in politics, he was not a soldier, he was just a driver. He was at the checkpoint because it had been set up to guard our homes. You saw in church just how much it had affected his family; he had always worked so hard for them. Forget about politics, we are just talking about a good man who has gone.”
As the mourners were taken by buses for the burials, Father Nicolai, too, was reflecting on the losses: “Easter should be a time of rebirth and life, instead we have this. I have told the families that those who die at such a holy time doing good things will go to heaven. These men were doing something good – they were defending their community.
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