But one woman, overwhelmed with grief, could not. She sat on a bench crying as relatives comforted her. When a military band began playing Ukraine’s national anthem, she wept harder.
“Glory to Ukraine,” an officer called out.
“Glory to the heroes,” mourners responded.
To visit Krasnopilske cemetery during a military funeral is to experience the brutal sweep of Ukraine’s war with Russia and the terrible intimacy of families’ loss. Twenty-seven soldiers were laid to rest last Friday. Of those, 12 were buried as unknowns in a military section that grows larger almost by the day.
For Povorotny, the small cemetery on the outskirts of Dnipro speaks to the sacrifice his people have paid in blood since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24. In just three months, the cemetery’s military section has added 293 graves, compared with 175 in the previous eight years, since war broke out with Moscow-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region in 2014.
“You can see how the war changed. And this is just one cemetery, one of thousands of cemeteries in Ukraine,” said Povorotny, a military chaplain and archpriest in the Orthodox Church of Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region’s diocese.
Povorotny has conducted about 10 mass burials at the cemetery since the war began, he said in an interview following Friday’s ceremony. Every week, he conducts one or two individual funerals, too. He estimated that more than 700 members of the military have been killed in the Dniepropetrovsk region alone.
But when he looks into the faces of the mourners, he said, he’s convinced he can see their faith in ultimate victory, despite their losses and pain.
“Putin called it a special operation. Before that, they called it a civil war,” Povorotny said, holding a hand over the wooden cross hanging from his neck. “For us, it’s a real war of independence.”
The funerals that occur daily around Ukraine are also unfolding with new protocols that have been rewritten to reflect Western customs, such as those followed by the United States, and uniquely Ukrainian traditions, instead of those inherited from Russia and the Soviet Union.
And they come as…