Hundreds gather for Alexei Navalny’s funeral

Updated

The day of the funeral of opposition leader Alexei Navalny began with much emotion when a family spokesperson announced that the body had not been handed over to relatives. Since he died in an Arctic prison, those around him have struggled to see his body. Shortly after, Navalny’s team said that the hearse with the remains of the Russian opponent was heading to the Moscow church for his funeral.

Nearly 1,000 people gathered to greet the dissident. The Kremlin has warned against «unauthorized» demonstrations.

According to his followers, several Moscow churches refused to celebrate mass in honor of the man who fought against official corruption and staged massive protests that identified him as the main political enemy of the country’s president, Vladimir Putin. Many Western leaders have blamed the Russian leader for his rival’s death, a charge rejected by the Kremlin, AP reports.

Navalny’s team eventually gained permission to enter the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Alleviate My Suffering, which was surrounded by crowd-control barriers on Friday. Hours before the service, hundreds of people waited to enter the church under the watchful eye of numerous police forces.

Navalny’s followers await his funeral.ALEXANDER NEMENOVAFP

Western diplomats and local politicians Boris Nadezhdin and Ekaterina Duntsova could be seen in the long line. Both aspired to face Putin in presidential elections mid-month and to oppose the war in Ukraine, but their candidacies were not approved.

After arriving at the church by hearse, the coffin left the vehicle amid applause and singing «Navalny! Navalny!». Some shouted «You weren’t afraid, and neither were we!»

A photo taken inside the temple showed an open coffin with Navalny’s body covered in red and white flowers, and his mother sitting next to it holding a candle.

The opponent’s father was also present, but it is unclear who else in his family was present.

His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, gave a speech just two days ago in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Her daughter studies at Stanford University in the United States and the whereabouts of her son are unknown.

All of Navalny’s closest aides left Russia under pressure and watched the funeral, broadcast live on his YouTube channel, from abroad.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov asked those gathered in Moscow and elsewhere not to violate the law and noted that any «unauthorized (mass) gathering» constituted a violation.

The burial is planned in the nearby Borisovskoye cemetery, where there was also a strong police presence.

His mother’s struggle

The opponent’s mother spent eight days trying to convince authorities to hand over her son’s body after his death on February 16 in Penal Colony No. 3 of Kharp, a city in the Yamalo-Nenets region, about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow.

Even on Friday itself, the morgue where the body was kept delayed the delivery, said Ivan Zhdanov, a close associate of Navalny and director of his Anti-Corruption Foundation.

At first, the authorities said they could not hand over the body because they had to carry out post-mortem examinations. Navalnaya, 69, asked the president via video to return the mortal remains of her son so she could bury him with dignity.

At least one funeral director said he is «prohibited» from working with Navalny supporters, according to his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, on social media. The opposition team also had difficulty finding a hearse.

Russian authorities have not yet disclosed the cause of death of Navalny, who was 47 years old.

The opponent had been in prison since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow to face secure detention after recovering in Germany from a nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.

Both its Anti-Corruption Foundation and its regional offices were designated «extremist organizations» by the government in 2021.