Ukraine rebels bid farewell to notorious commander


Thousands of pro-Russian rebels and supporters in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday turned out to bid farewell to notorious rebel commander Arseny Pavlov, who was killed in a weekend bombing.

Some 5,000 people queued outside Donetsk’s opera theatre to pay last respects to the 33-year-old Russian, known as “Motorola”, who died Sunday when a homemade device exploded in his apartment block.

A Russian army veteran from the Komi region, Pavlov joined the fighting that broke out in east Ukraine in April 2014 as a volunteer, rising to prominence after appearing on Russian television broadcasts.

He boasted in a 2015 interview of shooting 15 Ukrainian prisoners of war, prompting Kiev’s defence ministry to say he was lucky to die in a bombing rather than serving an “inevitable” life sentence.

Some mourners carried flowers and black-and-orange St. George’s ribbons that symbolise World War II victory and have been adopted by the Kremlin-backed insurgents, an AFP correspondent reported from the scene.

The grandiose memorial ceremony was also shown live on Russian state television.

More than 100 armed men in camouflage guarded the Opera House as the open coffin stood in the foyer covered with the flag of the Sparta battalion that Pavlov led.

A billboard outside displayed photos of Pavlov with the slogan “Heroes do not die” while a howitzer gun stood by the entrance.

The leader of self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) Alexander Zakharchenko arrived with his bodyguards to stand by the coffin.

“A great public figure, a real warrior, a man who remained undefeated in an open battle is now gone”, said 63-year-old Alexander Kurenkov, a rebel fighter standing in the guard of honour.

“He was killed in a terrorist attack,” he added.

Natalia, a 32-year-old doctor carrying a bunch of red carnations, praised Pavlov as “a hero of DPR, a hero of Russia.”

Several people told AFP that state employees including teachers and doctors were “strongly recommended” to be present at the ceremony.

“Lessons were cut for all the teachers to come here. Students were also freed from classes”, said Viktor, a 42-year-old history teacher.

Fighting in east Ukraine — which has claimed nearly 10,000 lives — has dragged on despite a peace plan brokered by Germany and France, which has run aground amid acrimony between Russia and Ukraine.

Pavlov is the latest in a series of rebel leaders to be killed in the war-torn region controlled by militias.

© 2016 AFP

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