Hundreds of supporters including Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of mercenary outfit Wagner, turned out Saturday for the funeral of a high-profile Russian military blogger killed in a bomb attack.
Last week an explosion ripped through a cafe in Russia’s second city Saint Petersburg, killing 40-year-old Vladlen Tatarsky and wounding dozens.
Investigators have accused Ukraine and members of Russia’s embattled opposition of being behind the blast.
Mourners, some carrying flowers, gathered at the prestigious Troyekurovskoye cemetery in western Moscow for the closed-casket funeral amid beefed-up police presence.
Some supporters sported on their clothes the letters Z and V — symbols of Moscow’s assault on Ukraine. Prigozhin turned up with a sledgehammer, Wagner’s calling card, which he placed near the coffin of the blogger known for his staunch anti-Ukraine stance.
Carrying lighted candles, priests in white robes led a funeral service at the cemetery. Tatarsky’s awards were placed on velvet cushions near his casket.
Among them was the Order of Courage, one of the country’s top decorations, which President Vladimir Putin posthumously bestowed on Tatarsky for his “bravery.”
Since the start of Moscow’s assault on Ukraine, military bloggers have become an influential force and often criticize the regular forces on the battlefield.
Tatarsky, who hailed from the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk, initially fought alongside pro-Kremlin separatists and later became a popular blogger with half a million followers on social media.
One of the mourners, Alexei Sobolev, said that like Tatarsky, he joined pro-Kremlin separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014, the year Russia annexed Crimea.
The 45-year-old described Russia’s offensive in Ukraine as a “war for survival.”
“They’ve decided to destroy us all, it is simply a matter of time,” he added.
Anna Ivannikova, a 33-old manager, said Russia was losing its “best” people.
The attack on the blogger came after Darya Dugina, the daughter of a prominent ultranationalist intellectual, was killed in a car bombing outside Moscow in August which Russia also blames on Ukraine.
Ivannikova called Tatarsky’s murder an “attempt to kill the very meaning of truth.”
“These deaths should not have happened,” she added.
Prigozhin, whose ragtag forces are leading the assault for towns in eastern Ukraine, praised the blogger for helping “destroy the enemy.”
“He is a soldier who stays with us, whose voice will always live and speak only the truth,” Prigozhin said in a statement released by his spokespeople.
Clutching a bunch of red roses, Leonid Slutsky, head of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, praised the “true son of great Russia,” expressing hope that thousands would follow in his footsteps.
At a Kremlin ceremony marking the annexation of four Ukrainian regions last September, Tatarsky recorded himself saying: “We will defeat everyone. We will kill everyone. We will rob everyone as necessary. Just as we like it.”
Russian authorities claim without any evidence that supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny
helped Ukrainian authorities carry out the bombing attack. A 26-year-old Russian woman, Darya Trepova, was detained and charged with terrorism.
Investigators say Trepova has brought a statuette rigged with explosives to a cafe in Saint Petersburg and handed it over to the blogger, whose real name was Maxim Fomin.
Putin this week accused Western security services of having helped Kyiv stage “terror attacks” in Russia.