With tears and anger, Slavyansk buries its dead
Irina Boyevets was standing innocently on her balcony when a bullet smashed into her head. Anatoly Korochka was burned alive when his delivery truck was raked by machine gun fire. On Wednesday, the war-torn town of Slavyansk buried two of its own.
The funerals of the two civilians, caught in the crossfire as their country spirals towards civil war, sent tensions rising to boiling point in this besieged town of more than 110,000 that has become the epicentre of rebel activity.
Irina, a 30-year-old teacher, "stepped out on her balcony when she saw her husband's car arrive. He was halfway up the stairs when a sniper hit her in the face," said one of her friends, her eyes red from tears.
Her only crime was to be unlucky enough to live near the strategic road to Kharkiv where unusually violent clashes took place on Monday near a checkpoint manned by the Ukrainian army.
Anatoly was on the same road when he also found himself under fire in the battle that Ukraine said ended up killing 30 rebels.
Machine gun fire slammed into the side of his van, sparking an inferno that incinerated the 51-year-old.
"His body was unrecognisable," said one of his friends.
Perhaps for this reason, his remains were wrapped completely in white linen, surrounded by white, red and yellow flowers as they lay on a bier in the church.
- 'Shame on America' -
At first silent and calm, the large crowd outside the church suddenly exploded in anger, chanting: "No to fascism! Shame on the US! Shame on the EU! Long live Russia!"
One woman screamed: "Is firing on the people how you protect the people?"
"The citizens have had to barricade themselves in at home with their kids," said another.
Government forces, waging a fierce battle with separatists in what they described as an "anti-terrorist operation", are using rockets against the innocent citizens of Slavyansk, said pensioner Tatiana.
The army has gradually tightened its noose around the town and there are tentative signs that pro-Russian fervour might be on the wane.
At the nearby town hall that rebels have occupied for several weeks, the Russian flag that has flapped on the roof ever since had disappeared, leaving only that of the "People's Republic of Donetsk."
Rebel spokeswoman Stella Khorocheva played down the significance of that. Maybe it's to "make the rest of the world understand that there aren't any Russian soldiers here," she told AFP.
She insists that the self-proclaimed mayor of the city, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, is "alive and well" despite the sudden disappeance from the scene of the former soap factory manager who was omnipresent until recently.
"I can't tell you where he is for obvious security reasons," said Khorocheva.
During the day on Wednesday, the sound of guns fell quiet on the outskirts of the town but "self-defence" gunmen told AFP their position had come under heavy artillery fire overnight.
And in other parts of the town, there were signs the siege was developing into a stalemate as rebels started digging trenches.
© 2014 AFP