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Navalny funeral: How Russia bid farewell to Putin’s fiercest critic

Hundreds of mourners braved the tight security and the risk of arrest to attend the Navalny funeral, the Russian opposition leader who died in a remote Arctic prison.

Navalny, who was 47, was an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin and a prominent anti-corruption activist. He died on Feb. 16 under mysterious circumstances, sparking outrage and suspicion among his supporters and Western leaders.

The funeral service

The Navalny funeral service was held on March 1 at the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Soothe My Sorrows, a majestic five-domed Russian Orthodox church in southeastern Moscow.

The church was located in the Malino district, where Navalny once lived with his family. It was one of the few churches that agreed to host the funeral, as many others refused or faced pressure from the authorities.

The church did not announce the funeral on its social media pages, and the event was not covered by the state-controlled media.

Hundreds of people, including relatives, friends, supporters, diplomats, and presidential hopefuls, lined up outside the church hours before the service began. They had to pass through metal detectors and police checkpoints to enter the church.

Some of the mourners chanted “Navalny! Navalny!” and “You weren’t afraid, neither are we!” as the coffin was carried into the church. The coffin was covered with red and white flowers, the colors of the opposition movement.

Inside the church, Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, sat beside the coffin holding a candle. His father, Anatoly Navalny, was also present, but it was unclear who else from his family or allies attended.

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His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, had addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, two days earlier, accusing Putin of killing her husband. His daughter, Daria Navalnaya, is a student at Stanford University, and his son, Zakhar Navalny, is reportedly in hiding.

Many of his closest associates have left Russia under pressure or fear of prosecution and watched the funeral online. The service was live-streamed on Navalny’s YouTube channel, which has over 6 million subscribers.

The burial

After the service, Navalny’s body was taken to the Borisovskoye Cemetery, a few kilometers away from the church. The cemetery is known for being the resting place of many Soviet dissidents and human rights activists.

The burial was also surrounded by a heavy police presence, as well as loyalists of the Kremlin who shouted insults and threats at the mourners.

Navalny was laid to rest in a private ceremony, attended only by his family and a few close friends. His grave was marked by a simple wooden cross with his name and dates.

The aftermath

Navalny’s death and funeral have become a new flashpoint in the tense relations between Russia and the West, as well as a rallying cry for the Russian opposition.

Navalny’s supporters have accused the Kremlin of poisoning him with a nerve agent in August 2020, and then withholding proper medical care and access to his family and lawyers while he was in prison.

They have also claimed that the authorities delayed the release of his body for eight days, until the traces of the poison had disappeared, and tried to blackmail his mother into agreeing to a quiet and non-public funeral.

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The Kremlin has denied any involvement in Navalny’s death and said that the cause of his death remains unclear. It has also dismissed the allegations of poisoning as a Western plot to discredit Russia and interfere in its internal affairs.

Western leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Emmanuel Macron, have condemned Navalny’s death and called for an independent and transparent investigation.

They have also imposed sanctions on several Russian officials and entities and threatened to take further action if Russia continues to violate human rights and international law.

Since Navalny’s death, dozens of his supporters have been detained or fined for laying flowers or holding signs at various memorial sites across Russia. Some of them have faced criminal charges of extremism or terrorism for their involvement in Navalny’s movement.

However, despite the crackdown, Navalny’s supporters have vowed to continue his fight against corruption and authoritarianism and to honor his legacy and vision for a democratic and prosperous Russia.

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