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Funeral held for Belarusian activist killed in Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A funeral for a Belarusian military volunteer and activist who died fighting on the frontlines in eastern Ukraine was held in Kyiv on Saturday.

Eduard Lobov was killed in fierce artillery battles in Vuhledar against Russian troops as part of a small but dynamic regiment of Belarusian dissidents fighting alongside the Ukrainian armed forces. His body will be taken to Warsaw for burial.

Russian troops have ramped up attacks in the east of Ukraine, particularly in the industrial towns of Bakhmut and Vuhledar. Moscow has said its main goal is to capture the eastern Donetsk province which it considers a part of Russia.

Lobov is the latest casualty of the Kalinowsky Regiment, the unit named after a prominent Belarusian revolutionary who initiated an uprising against imperial Russia in the late 1800s. Volunteers oppose Belarusian authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Russia. They believe Ukraine’s victory over Russia will spur regime change in Minsk.

“This is a very special regiment, consisting only of Belarusians. This is not their country, this is not their nation, but it’s their war,” said Bohdan Yaremenko, a lawmaker in Ukraine’s parliament who attended the funeral. “I am here as a sign of my support, and of my solidarity from my heart to theirs.”

Olena Kharkhel, held a portrait of Lobov in the church as his comrades paid their last respects. Her husband, also a Belarusian dissident, died fighting in the east with the regiment in June. He and Lobov had been good friends.

“By fighting against Russia, we can liberate Belarus from Lukashenko’s regime,” she said.

One by one, the volunteers walked to Lobov’s coffin, draped with the Belarusian flag to pay their last respects in Kyiv’s Cathedral of St. Alexander. Most covered their faces to conceal their identities.

Lobov served four years of jail time for acts of disobedience in his native Belarus in 2010. Following his release in 2014 he fled to Ukraine and joined the armed forces as a military volunteer.

Belarusians make up a prominent contingent of foreign fighters in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine propelled them to mobilize. The regiment itself was formalized in March 2022 and has been active in numerous key battles from the early days of the war, including in Mykolaiv, Kherson and the defense of Bucha and Irpin. Lobov participated in the latter.

“We can say he spent his entire life defending high ideals and sacrificing for others,” said friend and fellow volunteer Jan Melnikov.

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