Tim Judah writes: From the cemetery in Khrestysche we could see for miles across the valley and the rolling green hills. Men from the village militia pointed to the horizon and said that their enemies were “over there,” somewhere. And then the funeral party came walking up the path from the village, bearing the open coffin of twenty-one-year-old Aleksandr Lubenets. “He was very cheerful. He loved life,” his father, Vladimir, told me. “And then some bastard decided to end it. They shot him in the back.”
Krestysche is on the outskirts of Sloviansk, in eastern Ukraine. Aleksandr and two of his mates, were part of the local rebel militia, which has been ringed by anti-government barricades for the last few weeks. What exactly happened is unclear. Yevgeniy, the commander of Aleksandr’s group, said, “He wanted to be hero.” On April 24, the three friends ran into Ukrainian soldiers or police and that was the end of it.
On the same day, in the nearby town of Gorlovka, forty-two-year-old Volodymyr Rybak was buried. A policeman turned local councilman, he remonstrated with the men who had put up a rebel flag in town. A few days later he and a man later identified as a student from Kiev were found in a river near Sloviansk. Rybak’s body, which had been weighted down with a bag of sand, showed signs of torture. As mourners came to pay their respects at his home in Gorlovka, Elena, his widow, sat by his open coffin stroking his face.
If war is coming, which is the way it feels, Aleksandr and Volodymyr will be remembered and not just by their families and friends. When the Balkan conflict began in the early 1990s the names of the very first to die were engraved in everyone’s memory and later in the history books. Soon after, the individual names and faces gave way to the torrent of numbers. [Continue reading…]