Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin joined mourners grieving for Ukraine’s youngest hero, a 27-year-old commander dubbed Da Vinci, at the cathedral of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery in Kyiv.
Thousands knelt on the city’s main square on Friday at the service for Dmytro Kotsiubailo, who led a feared battalion called the Da Vinci Wolves and was killed by Russians in the battle for Bakhmut days earlier.
Kotsiubailo took up arms after joining Right Sector ultra-nationalists in 2014 and began fighting Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Zelensky announced his death in a video address on Tuesday.
Zelensky awarded Kotsiubailo the Hero of Ukraine decoration, the country’s highest honour, in December 2021.
On Friday, Zelensky and Marin also laid flowers at a nearby memorial to fallen Ukrainian soldiers.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin attend the funeral of Ukrainian serviceman Dmytro Kotsiubailo, at the Saint Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery in Kyiv on March 10, 2023
People pay their respects around the coffin holding the body of Ukrainian soldier Dmytro Kotsiubailo, known as Da Vinci
Dmytro Kotsiubailo was a 27-year-old volunteer fighter who led a battalion called the Da Vinci Wolves
Marin echoed other Western leaders who have accused Moscow of war crimes in Ukraine and said Russian soldiers and leaders would be held accountable in a courtroom.
‘Putin knows he will have to answer for his crime of aggression,’ the Finnish leader said during a news conference. ‘The future tribunal must bring justice efficiently and answer Ukrainians’ rightful demands.’
In a rare public sighting, Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, Valery Zaluzhny, came to kneel beside the coffin on the central square.
‘The path to our victory is very hard. And the price for this victory is the lives of our warriors, the best citizens of Ukraine, who have stood in the defence of the country with weapons in their hands,’ Zaluzhny said in a speech.
Flags with the emblem of Kotsiubailo’s battalion – three snarling wolves – fluttered around the coffin.
Pictured: Finnish MP Sanna Marin (file photo). ‘Putin knows he will have to answer for his crime of aggression,’ the Finnish leader said during a news conference. ‘The future tribunal must bring justice efficiently and answer Ukrainians’ rightful demands’
Zelensky and Marin made a surprise appearance at the ceremony. Thousands of mourners marched through central Kyiv to pay final respects on Independence Square, known as the Maidan
Zelensky and Marin paid their respects at the ceremony at the St Michael’s Church on March 10, 2023 in Kyiv
Marin comforts one of the mourners at the funeral in the cathedral of Kyiv’s St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery
Soldiers in parade uniform carried the coffin out to a khaki truck loaded with flowers.
Mourners carrying flowers and Ukrainian flags marched down the hill to Maidan through closed streets. Many were weeping as they filed past the open coffin.
The funeral underscored the heavy impact of the Russian invasion and the long-running battle for the devastated eastern city of Bakhmut.
The centre of Bakhmut has become a ‘killing zone’ as Ukraine’s forces stave off the Wagner Group’s efforts to cross the front line, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) posted today in its latest Defence Intelligence update.
It said: ‘Over the last four days, Wagner Group forces have taken control of most of eastern part of the Donbas town of Bakhmut. In the town centre, the Bakhmutka River now marks the front line.’
The MoD said Ukrainian forces hold the west of the town and have demolished key bridges over the river, which runs through north-south through a strip of open ground 200m to 800m wide, between built-up areas.
Zelensky and Marin pay homage to Ukrainian soldiers who lost their lives in the war in Kyiv, on March 10, 2023
A Ukrainian soldier touches a coffin of Ukrainian serviceman Oleh Khomiuk during the funeral
People mourn beside the coffin of killed Ukrainian serviceman Dmytro Kotsiubailo on March 10, 2023
Orthodox priests lead the funeral service at Saint Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, on March 10, 2023, in Kyiv
Relatives and friends attend a funeral service of Oleh Khomiuk and his son Mykyta Khomiuk, who were killed in Bakhmut, at Independence Square on March 10, 2023, in Kyiv
A funeral ceremony was held for five civilians who died as a result of Russian missile attack in the village of Velyka Vilshanytsia, Lviv Region on March 11, 2023
The post continued: ‘With Ukrainian units able to fire from fortified buildings to the west, this area has become a killing zone, likely making it highly challenging for Wagner forces attempting to continue their frontal assault westwards.
‘However, the Ukrainian force and their supply lines to the west remain vulnerable to the continued Russian attempts to outflank the defenders from the north and south.’
On the battlefield on Friday, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said the fighting in Bakhmut had ‘escalated,’ with another push by Russian forces to break through Ukrainian defense lines that have largely held firm for the past six months.
Just west of Bakhmut, shelling and missile strikes hit the Ukrainian-held city of Kostiantynivka, damaging multiple homes.
Thursday’s Russian onslaught, much of which took place before dawn, was the largest such attack in three weeks, deploying more than 80 Russian missiles and exploding drones.
The barrage, which also damaged residential buildings, killed six people and left hundreds of thousands without heat or running water.
The salvo was noteworthy for the range of munitions the Kremlin’s forces used, including hypersonic Kinzhal cruise missiles that are among the most sophisticated weapons in Russian’s arsenal.
Zelensky attends the funeral ceremony at the St Michael’s Church on March 10, 2023, in Kyiv
Ukrainian soldiers carry coffins of Ukrainian servicemen Oleh Khomiuk and his son Mykyta Khomiuk
A group of people attend the funeral ceremony for five civilians who died as a result of Russian missile attack in the village of Velyka Vilshanytsia, Lviv Region
Flowers have been placed on top of the coffins at a ceremony for five civilians who died during a Russian missile strike in Velyka Vilshanytsia, Lviv Region
A farewell ceremony to volunteer soldiers Oleg Khomyuk and his son Mykyta, killed in a battle near Bakhmut of the Donetsk region, in Kyiv
Ukrainian flags and flowers in the nation’s colours are seen at farewell ceremony to Oleg Khomyuk and his son Mykyta
The bombardments on energy infrastructure that gathered pace last autumn have become less frequent.
‘The interval between waves of strikes is probably growing, because Russia now needs to stockpile a critical mass of newly produced missiles directly from industry,’ the MoD said in an assessment on Friday.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the strikes were in retaliation for a recent incursion into the Bryansk region of western Russia by what Moscow claimed were Ukrainian saboteurs. Ukraine denied the claim and warned that Moscow could use the allegations to justify stepping up its own assaults.
Ukraine has decided to fight on in Bakhmut because the battle there is pinning down Russia’s best units and degrading them ahead of a planned Ukrainian spring counter-offensive, an aide to Zelensky said.
The comments, by Mykhailo Podolyak, were the latest signal of a shift by Kyiv this week to continue the defence of the small eastern city, the site of the war’s bloodiest battle, as Moscow tries to secure its first victory in more than half a year.
‘Russia has changed tactics,’ Podolyak said in an interview published by Italy’s La Stampa newspaper. ‘It has converged on Bakhmut with a large part of its trained military personnel, the remnants of its professional army, as well as the private companies.’
Podolyak added: ‘We, therefore, have two objectives: to reduce their capable personnel as much as possible, and to fix them in a few key wearisome battles, to disrupt their offensive and concentrate our resources elsewhere, for the spring counter-offensive. So, today Bakhmut is completely effective, even exceeding its key tasks.’
Ukrainian servicemen from 24th brigade are seen along the frontline south of Bakhmut near New York, Ukraine, on March 10, 2023
Ukrainian servicemen of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army patrol around the town of Velyka Novosilka, Ukraine, on March 7, 2023
Ukrainian servicemen light a fire with gun powder to warm up near the city of Bakhmut in the Donbas region on March 5, 2023
Russia has made Bakhmut the main target of a winter offensive involving hundreds of thousands of reservists and mercenaries. It has succeeded in capturing the eastern part of the city and the outskirts to the north and south, but has so far failed to close a ring around Ukrainian defenders there.
Kyiv, which had seemed at the start of March to be planning to withdraw to positions west of the city, announced at the start of this week that its generals had decided to reinforce its troops in Bakhmut and fight on.
In a morning update on Friday, the Ukrainian general staff reported a large number of attacks along the front and said ‘the enemy is not halting its attacks on Bakhmut’.
Moscow said capturing Bakhmut would be a step towards taking all of Ukraine’s Donbas industrial region, a major objective.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that seizing the city would punch a hole in Ukrainian defences and let Moscow advance deeper.
The intense trench warfare has been described by both sides as a meat grinder. Kyiv’s decision to stay and fight rather than withdraw has been interpreted as a sign it believes Russia’s losses are far worse than its own.
Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Friday his Wagner private army had opened recruitment centres in 42 cities as he seeks to replenish its ranks after heavy losses in the battle for Bakhmut.
In an upbeat audio message, Prigozhin said new fighters were coming forward but gave no indication of the numbers involved. He also said ammunition supplies had improved, but remained a concern.
Wagner has led some of the fiercest fighting in Russia’s attempt to take Bakhmut, where the Ukrainian army is still holding out after more than seven months of attritional warfare.
Buildings damaged by a Russian military strike in the front line city of Bakhmut on March 3, 2023
An empty street and buildings damaged by a Russian military strike in Bakhmut on March 3, 2023
Ukrainian servicemen ride in a tank near Bakhmut on March 10, 2023
In a separate post on social media on Friday, Prigozhin said Ukraine was preparing a counteroffensive near Bakhmut, adding: ‘Of course we are doing everything we can to prevent this from happening.’
Prigozhin at one point posted a gruesome photo of lines of Wagner corpses and he has waged a public feud with Russian military bosses over shortages of ammunition.
In January, the United States assessed that Wagner had about 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, including 40,000 convicts Prigozhin had recruited from Russian prisons with a promise of a free pardon if they survived six months. In February, however, he said he was no longer being allowed to hire convicts.
Ukrainian officials have claimed that nearly 30,000 of Wagner’s fighters have deserted or been killed or wounded, a figure that has not been independently verified.
In another audio message on Friday, Prigozhin said he had thanked the government for a ‘heroic’ increase in production of ammunition but said he was still worried about shortages for his fighters and the Russian army as a whole.
Prigozhin said his men had been ‘blown away’ by the fact they had started to receive ammunition deliveries labelled as produced in 2023. He said ammunition was now being produced ‘in huge quantities, which cover all the necessary needs’.
But he then appeared to contradict himself, saying: ‘I am worried about ammunition and shell shortages not only for the Wagner private military company but for all units of the Russian army.’
Repair work continued on Saturday across Ukraine following the massive Russian missile and drone strike two days earlier.
Ukraine’s state grid operator said power supply issues persisted across four provinces following the barrage.
In what has become a familiar Russian tactic since early October, the Kremlin’s forces struck Ukraine from afar on Thursday.
The apparent aim of attacking power stations and other infrastructure is to weaken Ukraine’s resolve and compel its government to negotiate peace on Moscow’s terms.
Ukrainian soldiers fire a self-propelled howitzer towards Russian positions near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on March 5, 2023
The wreckage from a Russian military strike in the front line city of Bakhmut is shown on a desolate street on March 3, 2023
A Ukrainian a BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle near the city of Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on March 3, 2023
Ukrainian authorities scrambled to counter the consequences of the latest bombardment, part of a recurring cycle of urban smash-and-repair that has brought little change in the course of the war, which recently entered its second year.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said in an assessment that ‘these missile strikes will not undermine Ukraine’s will or improve Russia’s positions on the front lines’.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said the Russians are striking civilian infrastructure because they can’t efficiently target Ukrainian military assets.
‘The Russians lack data about the location of Ukrainian troops and weapons, so they are targeting civilian infrastructure and using the same old methods of attacking civilians to sow fear and panic in the society,’ he said. ‘Ukraine has survived the winter and Russia’s strikes on the energy system in the spring hardly make any sense.’
Ukraine’s capital had most of its power supply restored Friday, officials said.
Power and water were restored in Kyiv, said Serhii Popko, the head of the city’s military administration. Popko said, however, that about 30 per cent of consumers in the capital remained without heating and that repair work was ongoing.
Power supplies were fully restored in Ukraine’s southern Odesa region, private provider DTEK said Friday afternoon.
Around 60 per cent of households in the city of Kharkiv that were knocked off grid by Russia’s missile strikes on Thursday were also back online, authorities said, though significant damage remained in the Zhytomyr and Kharkiv regions in Ukraine’s northwest and northeast.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has indicated that Ukraine will eventually have to seek a peace deal with Putin.
The Prime Minister suggested negotiations with the Kremlin – which could lead to the portioning of Ukraine – were inevitable.
His remarks saw him accused of giving ‘succour’ to Putin, by suggesting the conflict could end without the outright military defeat of Russian forces.
Addressing reporters ahead of a summit with French President Emmanuel Macron, Sunak said: ‘Of course, this will end as all conflicts do at the negotiating table, but that is a decision for Ukraine to make.
‘What we need to do is put them in the best possible place to have those talks, at an appropriate moment that makes sense for them.
‘At the moment the priority is giving them the resources, the training and the support they need to push forward and create an advantage on the battlefield.’