KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian soldiers, family and mourners gathered in frigid weather in Kyiv on Sunday to pay tribute to a soldier killed fighting against Russian forces in Bakhmut, the strategic city under siege on the eastern front.
An open casket, outdoor service was held in Kyiv’s Independence Square for Maj. Oleh Yurchenko who was killed in Bakhmut on Jan. 2. Fellow soldiers carried the coffin while others knelt on the ground. A bugle played and later a male quartet sang solemn hymns as an Orthodox priest conducted the service attended by about 200 people.
Yurchenko, 45, nicknamed “Happy,” volunteered for the army after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24. He had been head of security for TIU Canada, an energy company operating in Ukraine, according to a Facebook post.
Yurchenko was well-known as a Ukrainian patriot as he had been a participant in pro-democracy demonstrations in 2004-2005 and later in 2014 which ousted Viktor Yanukovych as president. Kyiv’s Independence Square was the center of both demonstrations so it was fitting as the site for the religious ceremony for Yurchenko.
“He was the best Ukrainian, a kind father, a very responsible person,” said Yurii Zhukovskyi, a Ukrainian soldier. “It is a very heavy loss, because these are the best people in Ukraine, and they are dying. It is a great pity. And no matter how many enemies are killed, we are sorry for (the death of) one such person.”
Another fellow soldier, Ruslan Boyko, praised Yurchenko’s positive outlook.
“He was a very brave, very cheerful person who always tried to help everyone, to be ahead in any situation,” Boiko said. He said that Yurchenko was always ready “to take on more responsibility, more tasks and protect everyone as much as possible.”
Olesia Yurchenko, the fallen soldier’s 22-year-old daughter and eldest child, said the family is grieving his death but trying to live by his principles.
“It is about everyone cherishing their virtues: hard work, kindness, honesty, loyalty to their country, their family,” she said. “Because this is what my father taught me. Not to give up, not to retreat.”
She said that her father “always said that we still have to build the country … build Ukraine.”