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From Bucha to Kramatorsk, Ukraine pays homage to war dead

St Andrew's Church in Bucha, Ukraine, held a special service for the anniversary of Russia's invasion
St Andrew's Church in Bucha, Ukraine, held a special service for the anniversary of Russia's invasion - Copyright POOL/AFP Stanislav Kogiku
St Andrew's Church in Bucha, Ukraine, held a special service for the anniversary of Russia's invasion - Copyright POOL/AFP Stanislav Kogiku
Thibault MARCHAND with Phil HAZLEWOOD in Kramatorsk

From Kyiv’s war-ravaged outskirts to near the eastern front lines, Ukrainians paid homage on Friday to the victims of Russia’s year-long invasion.

In St Andrew’s Church in Bucha, a town synonymous with alleged Russian atrocities, a priest called for prayers “for peace in Ukraine and its defenders”.

“We have gathered to remember Russian crimes and terror,” the priest told his congregation in the town northwest of Kyiv.

The church houses a small photo exhibition detailing the terrifying weeks when the town was under Russian occupation before it was retaken at the end of March 2022.

It was near the church that a mass grave was dug in haste to bury hundreds of victims before Russian forces withdrew.

“What we feel is sadness and a belief in victory,” said Sergiy Zamostyan, a former professor.

“We stayed here for a month with my wife during the occupation. We didn’t go anywhere. We saw all these terrible things,” 

“At the cemetery there are 50 of our soldiers buried and 450 civilians that they (Russian soldiers) shot. Why? Tell me, why?” Zamostyan said.

He lived on Yablunska Street, he said, where AFP reporters saw the bodies of 20 people in civilian clothing lying in the street after Russian forces left.

“There was a man in the garden near us. We didn’t know him. Just a man lying dead, we saw it with our own eyes,” he said.

– ‘We’ve had enough’ –

At the local cemetery in the town, which numbered around 30,000 people before the war, a second ceremony was held near freshly dug graves.

After Russian soldiers withdrew the fighting moved to southern and eastern Ukraine, but Bucha continues to pay a heavy price.

The burial places, covered in wreaths and Ukrainian flags, were for soldiers from the town killed in the last few months.

The most recent grave was that of Oleksiy, a 29-year-old soldier killed in January.

His mother, Tetiana, came back from Germany where she had sought refuge to bury her son.

“We are tired,” she said, supported by a friend of Oleksiy’s. “We’ve had enough of this war. It’s tough, they don’t want to leave us in peace.”

Near the church, Galyna Gamuleta, 64, said she felt more confident now because “we have weapons, we have support, we have our own army”.

In the first days of the attack on Bucha by Russian forces “we were here, under fire for two weeks.

“It was so frightening that I don’t want to think about it. We had to go, leave our home. We couldn’t even imagine that this could happen,” she said.

– ‘Biggest love’ –

Yuriy Lototskyi, a 60-year-old electrician, said he was relieved “about not being bombed any more”. He hoped that “everything will get better, that we will be able to defend our territory and put Russia in its place”.

“I think that, thanks to aid from Western countries, we will win because our spirit is strong. We just need help with the weapons,” he said.

Some 700 kilometres (435 miles) southeast of Bucha, Kramatorsk was also burying its dead.

This city is close to the eastern front line and the town of Bakhmut, which Russian and Ukrainian forces have fought over for months.

Under a grey sky, 30-year-old Mykhailo Sikirin was buried in a coffin in the blue and yellow colours of Ukraine’s flag.

A member of the national guard, he was killed during the bombardment of a trench last week in Shypylivka in the eastern region of Lugansk.

“He died for the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine,” said the priest at the graveside. “This is the biggest love of any man.”

Tearful mourners clutching wreaths and bouquets of flowers stood heads bowed as a lone soldier played the Last Post and three other comrades fired three single shots into the air.

“The actions of these soldiers are why we are here and safe and alive,” said the priest, looking at Ukrainian flags flying high above 21 other graves in a new burial plot in the cemetery.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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