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Ukraine honors the top officials killed in a helicopter crash

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky weeping attended the memorial service on Saturday. Seven coffins were raised in the Echo Hall in central Kyiv by military pallbearers in full ceremonial dress to the sound of a lone trumpet and army-style drum.

Mourners in black roses and clutches gathered near Maidan Square in the Ukrainian capital to pay their respects to Interior Minister Denis Monastyrsky and his colleagues, who died in a helicopter crash earlier this week.

“The war didn’t break them, and they didn’t allow others to be broken,” the eulogy writer and concert director told hundreds of mourners, including senior government officials.

Outside, Ukrainian and European Union flags fluttered over half-staff in a wintry breeze, nearby roads were blocked off and lined with anti-tank barriers, and law enforcement men patrolled the empty streets.

Monastyrsky, a 42-year-old trained lawyer who took office in 2021, was one of nine people on board a state emergency services helicopter when it crashed this week near a kindergarten and apartment complex in the city of Brovary in Kyiv.

He was among an emerging generation of politicians in Ukraine and was the highest official to die after the Russian invasion that began in February last year.

During the ceremony, the moderator explained that Monastyrsky called Ukrainian President Zelensky on February 24 last year to inform him that Russia had invaded.

He added that Monastyrsky orchestrated the distribution of weapons to the residents of the capital as the Russian forces approached.

“We have to move forward.”

“Glory to Ukraine,” he said, concluding his remarks, which prompted repeated reactions from hundreds in the hall: “Glory to our heroes.”

Zelensky and his wife, Olena Zelenska, arrived at the ceremony dressed in all black and carrying wreaths of flowers to comfort the loved ones of the victims.

Families had gathered before the president arrived, some weeping at the coffins, each draped in the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag and beside a large black-and-white photograph of the victim.

Zelensky later said: “Ukraine is losing its best sons and daughters every day.”

Among the dead was photographer Mykola Anatsky, 34, who was traveling with the minister to the front lines from the devastated city of Bakhmut.

“Kolya was a very smart and kind child. He could still do a lot for Ukraine,” said his childhood teacher Lyudmila Zakharenko, noting that her former student had given birth to a newborn daughter.

“It’s scary because the best people die,” the 53-year-old said, choking.

Ukrainian intelligence officer Ilya Samoilenko, who was captured by Russian forces weeks after they laid siege to the Azovstal steelworks in the southern city of Mariupol, called Monastyrsky’s death a “great loss”.

“We are in a war. Therefore, the people involved in enabling and strengthening our defenses are very important,” he told Agence France-Presse, referring to the dead Interior Ministry officials.

However, Samoilenko, who had prosthetic eyes and a prosthetic arm to prove his inability to die defending Mariupol last year, said Ukraine could not afford to mourn for long.

“We can live two days of grief,” he told AFP, adding that the plane crash in Brovary was no reason to stop “our victory.”

“We have to move. We have to move forward. We have to move forward,” Samoilenko, dressed in camouflage, said as the ceremony concluded.

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