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Funeral held for Crimea stand-off's first casualties

AFP , Saturday 22 Mar 2014

Crimea held a joint funeral on Saturday for a Ukrainian soldier and a pro-Moscow militiaman killed this week -- the first casualties since Russian forces seized the Black Sea peninsula.

"These are Crimean heroes," the Moscow-ruled region's prime minister Sergei Aksyonov said at the funeral, where Orthodox priests prayed over the open coffins laid side by side.

There were many soldiers carrying red carnations among the mourners at the Officer's Club in the regional capital Simferopol, as well as Cossack troops and even some Russian bikers who came to pay their respects.

Mikhail Sheremet, the leader of the pro-Moscow militia in Crimea, said the two men -- Ukrainian junior officer Sergei Kokurin and pro-Moscow militiaman Ruslan Kazakov -- were victims of "a provocation".

A crowd of friends and family members, including Kokurin's pregnant widow, walked behind the coffins to the sounds of the Ukrainian navy's brass band before loading them onto minivans to head for the cemetery.

"We cannot say anything, because there is an investigation," a naval officer who carried Kokurin's portrait in the procession said.

Crimean prosecutors have said they believe the shots that killed both men during a confrontation at a Simferopol military installation on Tuesday came from the same place, and that the gunfire was aimed against both the Ukrainian military and Russian forces.

Authorities in Crimea have blamed the attack on a "sniper" from western Ukraine, but a city-wide manhunt has yielded no results yet.

Ukrainian media has claimed that Kokurin was killed by automatic fire from a Kalashnikov.

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