Under gray skies and incessant rain, the small town of Pokoroditsk, 240 kilometers south of Moscow, bids farewell to Igor Skupko, who was killed in Ukraine. The young soldier who was hailed as a “hero” was brought down by “fate”.
The 23-year-old soldier’s body lay in a closed coffin, covered in red cloth, contrary to Orthodox custom, under the gaze of saints who appear in frescoes adorning the local church. Igor Skupko was killed on March 11 in Ukraine, where Russia has been waging an offensive for more than a year.
“We pray for the soul of the deceased to rest in peace and for his sins to be forgiven voluntarily or involuntarily,” says an old priest with a white beard.
The small church was packed and part of the audience had to stay outside in the rain.
The casket is then taken away and taken away for burial by a police car and an ambulance.
In the cemetery on the outskirts of Pokoroditsk, a small town of 30,000 people, a small alley already contains five graves covered in garlands of artificial flowers with photos of smiling young men in military uniforms.
“Alleys of glory”, as they are called in Russia, can now be found in many Russian cities.
About fifty people walk through the mud with the coffin, family members in tears.
The mayor of Pokoroditsk, Vadim Ikonin, delivers a short speech, carefully avoiding mention of the word “war,” forbidden by Russian authorities on pain of prosecution.
Mr. For Ikonin, the young soldier was a victim of “fate.” “We accompany Igor Skupko on his last journey, who participated in a special military operation and died while performing his military duty,” he says.
– “He shall live” –
“He was happy to live, he was strong and ambitious. He had to live and live, but fate decided otherwise. May the earth be sweet to him,” says the mayor.
“Our country is grateful to guys like him, thanks to their courage and their heroism,” regional military commissar Alexey Tsakov said.
For this sacrifice, the authorities tearfully give Igor’s widow a posthumous decoration, the Order of Courage, in a wooden casket.
None of the relatives wanted to speak during the ceremony. Only the cries mingled with the sound of the rain. The coffin was placed in the grave to the sounds of the Russian national anthem. Soldiers fired three rounds.
In Efremov, another small town about 80 kilometers south of Pokorodits with a population of 37,000, Vadim Artyushkov and his wife Elena came to meditate at their son’s grave.
Alexei was killed at the age of 42 on November 6 near Bakhmaut in eastern Ukraine, an industrial city that has been the center of fighting for months and the scene of massive destruction and heavy casualties on both sides.
“He left as a volunteer” to fight in Ukraine, “he drove a Tiger armored vehicle and was very proud of it,” says Vadim.
Residents of Efremov learn of the losses “with pain and sadness,” he adds. But, he firmly believes, “Nobody can tell you not to do it.”
The city’s cemetery contains at least 11 graves of soldiers who died since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine on February 24, 2022. they.
On a road at the entrance to the city, two large posters with photos of the deceased, the same names as on the grave and the inscription: “Glory to the heroes of Russia!”
Russian officials have not released any casualty figures since the Defense Ministry announced that 5,937 soldiers had been killed in Ukraine in September 2022.
According to Western estimates, Russian forces suffered more than 150,000 dead and wounded.
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