Hundreds of mourners have gathered in Ukraine’s capital for a well-known Kyiv activist who was killed after taking up arms against Russian invaders.
The 24-year-old Roman Ratushnyi had been a teenage protester during months of demonstrations that toppled Ukraine’s pro-Russian leader in 2014.
He was also known as an environmental campaigner in Kyiv who led a fight to preserve a wooded park from development.
Poppies were lain on his coffin at a memorial service, before mourners walked in a silent column behind his coffin to a vast plaza in central Kyiv where three months of protests helped overthrow then-president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.
Mr Ratushnyi’s sacrifice symbolises that of Ukraine’s post-independence generations, who are giving up their best years, and sometimes their lives, in the cause of freedom.
“Heroes never die!” friends, family and admirers shouted in Ukrainian as Mr Ratushnyi’s coffin was loaded aboard a hearse on a square in the Ukrainian capital now decorated with destroyed Russian tanks and vehicles.
Their charred hulks contrasted with the shiny gold domes of an adjacent cathedral where priests had earlier sung prayers for Mr Ratushnyi, a well-known figure in Kyiv for his civic and environmental activism.
From the square, the mourners then walked in a long silent column behind his coffin to Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square.
The vast plaza in central Kyiv gave its name to the three months of protests that overthrew Mr Yanukovych in 2014 and helped fuel the political and patriotic awakening of Ukrainians born after independence in 1991.
Mr Ratushnyi was killed on June 9 around the town of Izyum on the war’s eastern front, according to the environmental campaign group that he led in Kyiv.
“He was a symbol, a symbol of a new Ukraine, of freedom and a new generation that wants to fight for its rights,” said Serhli Sasyn, 21.
“The best people are dying now.”
On the battlefield, Western-supplied heavy weapons that Ukraine has been pushing for are reaching front lines, although not in quantities that Ukrainian officials say would be needed to push back Russian forces to positions they occupied before the invasion or beyond.
The Associated Press was granted rare access on Saturday to the firing of US-supplied M777 howitzers on Russian positions in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
The powerful artillery pieces are helping Ukrainian forces reply in kind to Russian batteries that have been pounding towns and villages to rubble.