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Ukraine begins to mourn its war dead

The caskets arrive in three separate funeral vans. Thirty young soldiers await them to load and escort them. They are so young that several have acne. One carries the blue and yellow flag, and three others each carry a cross with the name, title, and dates of birth and death of the deceased. It is 11 o’clock in the morning on the 14th day of the war between Ukraine and Russia.

Inside the church a chant begins and three priests come out onto the sidewalk. The widow of one of the soldiers who comes in those three coffins, a girl of no more than 25 years old, with a black cloth diadem that crosses her forehead, who hugs the portrait of her husband killed in combat, he finally releases the pain that had been destroying his soul. Her scream chills the blood.

The grief of the young widow of one of the fallen soldiers. Photo Marcelo Ferreiro, Clarín’s special envoy

There are about 100 people in front of the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, in the center of Lviv, its facade covered by restoration work stopped by the Russian invasion. Its parish priest, Stepan Sus, is the general military chaplain of the Archdiocese and that is why the funerals of the soldiers are held here.

Little by little people enter through the central nave. They are mostly older people. Several of them were minutes ago at the side door, begging for food. Now, in addition to hunger, they suffer from sadness.

A group of female soldiers stands out. They wear red berets and bouquets of flowers in their hands. The statues seem to look at them.

The temple commands respect. A crucified marble Christ on a side altar is joined by another Christ lying as if in a glass coffin. The candles, very thin, increase the mortuary atmosphere. The three carved wooden coffins, with gilded handles and a cloth guard that surrounds them, rest on supports covered in red velvet before the central altar, which since it was carved in 1747 has seen much life and death.

The deceased are Lieutenant Dmytro Kotenko, 21 years oldfirst lieutenant Vasyl Vychyvanyi, 28and the soldier Kyrylo Moroz, 25.

Farewell with honors.  It is the second day in a row that Lviv holds a funeral mass for fallen soldiers.  Photo Marcelo Ferreiro, Clarín's special envoy

Farewell with honors. It is the second day in a row that Lviv holds a funeral mass for fallen soldiers. Photo Marcelo Ferreiro, Clarín’s special envoy

Vasyl was a sapper. He died in a Russian bombing near Mariupol, in the southern part of the country.

I was trying to place some mines near a bridge so that the Russians would not advance when Grad missiles killed him instantly.

“There is no body there, only fragments”says Vasyl’s father, dashing despite the pain, pointing to the coffin. His eldest son is also a Ukrainian officer, stationed near the border with Belarus.

"Why do they take our children away from us?"cried the mother of one of the Ukrainian soldiers killed in the war.  Photo Marcelo Ferreiro, Clarín's special envoy

“Why are they taking our children away from us?” cried the mother of one of the Ukrainian soldiers killed in the war. Photo Marcelo Ferreiro, Clarín’s special envoy

The priest’s chant continues, like a litany in Ukrainian. He recites a prayer: “We accompany you on your last journey, it is a journey to heaven where you will continue to defend us.”

“We must thank the parents of these heroes who join our defenders in the skies,” he continues.

Another religious shakes a censer over the coffins, after splashing them with holy water. The rite that is followed here is the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic, which today has about four million followers, almost all of them in this country and especially in the west: religion is another point that marks differences with the east of the country, mostly Ukrainian Orthodox And not to mention Russia, which historically wanted to impose its own Orthodox Church.

The ceremony in the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, in the center of Lviv, to bid farewell to three soldiers killed in the war.  Photo Marcelo Ferreiro, Clarín's special envoy

The ceremony in the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, in the center of Lviv, to bid farewell to three soldiers killed in the war. Photo Marcelo Ferreiro, Clarín’s special envoy

It is the second day in a row that they hold a funeral mass. On Tuesday they fired Ivan Koverznev and Viktor Doubttwo other soldiers from Lviv who died a few days ago in Mykolaiv.

In his sermon, the priest said that “they died for love.” “They fought for the love of their land, to their country, to their families and to the Ukrainian people,” he said. It is war. Maybe you can’t say anything else.

Iván, 24, had signed up as a volunteer in the Ukrainian army and had long been fighting against separatist groups in Donbas, where pro-Russians have occupied parts of Donetsk and Lugansk for years. He was a lieutenant.

Viktor was a journalist. Soldier and journalist. He was 44 years old, with a wife and a 16-year-old daughter.

During the mass, the priest declared them as “heroes of Ukraine”. His photos will be among the hundreds of other war dead that appear on the walls of this temple, a pilgrimage center for Ukrainian patriotism.

According to a US military analyst, more than 1,500 Ukrainian soldiers died in the first days of the war alone. Then the fighting intensified. For its part, the Ukrainian armed forces reported that they would not report the number of casualties suffered so far. The local government did estimate the number of Russian soldiers killed in battle so far at 12,000.

The mass for Vasyl, Dmytro and Kyrylo ends with a phrase that sounds at all hours: Slava Ukraine! “Glory to Ukraine”harangues the chaplain.

After mass, one of the coffins is loaded into the funeral van to be taken to the Lychakiv cemetery.  Photo Marcelo Ferreiro, Clarín's special envoy

After mass, one of the coffins is loaded into the funeral van to be taken to the Lychakiv cemetery. Photo Marcelo Ferreiro, Clarín’s special envoy

Outside, a minimal military band of two trumpets and a drummer begins to play. The coffins are loaded back into the funeral vans, to be transported to the historic cemetery of Lychakiv, where the salvos will resound.

Vasyl’s mother cries so much her whole body must ache. “Why do they take away good people, why do they take away our children?”ask the sky.

An old teacher of journalists once said that in the stories you have to make people talk. This will fall short of the norm. Asking someone here something looks too much like digging a fresh wound with a knife. Better let it go.

The group of 30 young soldiers who escorted the fallen during the religious ceremony.  Photo Marcelo Ferreiro, Clarín's special envoy

The group of 30 young soldiers who escorted the fallen during the religious ceremony. Photo Marcelo Ferreiro, Clarín’s special envoy

It’s just noon.

An unproven legend says that Ernest Hemingway and some friends once bet $10 on whoever could tell a story in six words. Hemingway wrote: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn” (For sale. Baby shoes. Unused). And he took the money. It is a good exercise, without the intention of putting on his shoes. Here he would say: “Another war. Joint funerals. So much pain”.

The American writer gave birth to one of his best works after covering the Spanish Civil War as a correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance. He titled it “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” In Lviv, since Tuesday, all the bells in the city toll at five in the afternoon. They know who they do it for.

The fallen soldiers of Lviv are buried in the historical Lychakiv cemetery.  Reuters photo

The fallen soldiers of Lviv are buried in the historical Lychakiv cemetery. Reuters photo

Special envoy to Ukraine.

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