A sea of Ukrainian flags marks the graves of the fallen at Kharkiv’s cemetery N°18.

The cemetery, at Bezliudivka, on the outskirts of Ukraine’s second city, has had a military section for several years.

It has been burying Ukrainian soldiers since the Russian invasion three months ago. And on Saturday, more soldiers were laid to rest beside their comrades.

Two coffins placed on trestles belonged to Sergiy Profotilov, born in 1976, and Igor Malenkov, born in 1985. Both were killed at Vilkhivka, to the east of Kharkiv.

The official date of their deaths marked on their graves was May 11. But that was probably when their bodies were recovered from the village, the scene of fierce fighting before its liberation over a month ago.

“They were found with five other bodies that we couldn’t identify,” said one soldier, who spoke on condition he is not identified.

“We suspect they were executed,” he added. “They were killed by bullets to the back of the head.”

Only half a dozen soldiers and the brother of one of the dead were present for the ceremony, which lasted about an hour.

The military chaplain recited the prayers and sprinkled incense on the coffins under the grey sky, against a background of Russian and Ukrainian artillery fire just a few kilometers away.

The mourners laid red carnations on the graves. Then, after a brief exchange of greetings and embraces, they went their separate ways.

The brother walked alone down a line of dozens of graves, the death certificate in his hand.

Two pickup trucks arrived carrying soldiers from Ukraine’s foreign legion. About a dozen of them have come to pay a final homage to one of their comrades, a Dutch soldier killed by artillery fire.

It was forbidden to film the ceremony or to identify the fallen fighter.

Here, there was no religious ceremony, but a brief speech in English given by an officer. One soldier, with a British flag on his vest, gave a military salute. Another touched the cross before leaving.

At a fifth ceremony, the family of 47-year-old Olexandr Gaponchev was mourning his death at Tsyrkuny, north of Kharkiv. Many of those present in tears. 

And a few minutes later, the fifth funeral of the day started.

The mother of the fallen soldier wept inconsolably over her son’s coffin, held up by members of her family, as rain began to fall.

Then as the coffin was lowered into the ground, each mourner threw a fistful of earth into the grave before the cemetery workers filled it in and planted a wooden cross with the name of the dead soldiers.

Behind that grave, a line of Ukrainian flags flapped in the wind, one for each grave.

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