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President Zelenskyy among large crowds mourning ‘Da Vinci,’ a celebrated 27-year-old battalion commander killed near Bakhmut

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy comforts relatives of a killed Ukrainian serviceman Dmytro Kotsiubailo, known as "Da Vinci,” during the funeral service at Saint Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery, on March 10, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine.Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy comforts relatives of a killed Ukrainian serviceman Dmytro Kotsiubailo, known as “Da Vinci,” during the funeral service at Saint Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, on March 10, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Global Images Ukraine/Getty Images

  • Ukrainian President Zelenskyy attended the funeral of a celebrated soldier who was killed earlier this week.

  • Dmytro Kotsiubailo’s call sign was “Da Vinci,” and he was 27 years old when he died.
  • He was one of the youngest commanders in Ukrainian history, according to local news.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy paid his respects at the funeral of a young battalion commander on Friday after his death was announced earlier this week.

Zelenskyy and visiting Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin made an appearance at the ceremony in Kyiv, as thousands of mourners gathered to honor the memory of killed Ukrainian serviceman Dmytro Kotsiubailo. 

The service was held at St Michael’s Golden Dome cathedral, and Zelenskyy laid flowers on his coffin. 

Kotsiubailo was one of the youngest commanders in Ukrainian history, according to local news outlet The Kyiv Independent — a  “legendary soldier” well-known for his bravery.

Kotsiubailo’s call sign was “Da Vinci” — as the soldier gave up on his dream of becoming an artist to fight for Ukraine, according to NPR. He led a battalion called the “Da Vinci Wolves.” 

People attend the memorial service for Dmytro Kotsiubailo, nom-de-guerre 'Da Vinci', former volunteer and serviceman, Hero of Ukraine, who was killed in combat against Russian troops in the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine March 10, 2023.People attend the memorial service for Dmytro Kotsiubailo, nom-de-guerre ‘Da Vinci’, former volunteer and serviceman, Hero of Ukraine, who was killed in combat against Russian troops in the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine March 10, 2023.

REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura

Ukraine’s president announced in a video address on Tuesday that Kotsiubailo was killed fighting in Bakhmut — a bloodsoaked city at the center of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. 

“It hurts to lose our heroes. Brave, courageous, strong. Loyal to themselves and to the state,” Zelenskiy wrote on Telegram on Friday.

“I handed over to Oksana Kotsiubailo, Da Vinci’s mother, the Cross of Military Merit, which her son was posthumously awarded. We will never forget. And we will always be grateful.”

The large crowds later marched through Kviv to Independence Square in honor of the fallen soldier — among them were Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov and General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, per Reuters.

Before Russia’s invasion of the country, Kotsiubailo was awarded a “Hero of Ukraine” decoration for his role in fighting pro-Russian separatists after joining the ultra-nationalist group Right Sector in 2014, according to the AFP.

People attend a memorial service for Dmytro Kotsiubailo, nom-de-guerre 'Da Vinci', former volunteer and serviceman, Hero of Ukraine, who was killed in combat against Russian troops in the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine March 10, 2023.People attend a memorial service for Dmytro Kotsiubailo, nom-de-guerre ‘Da Vinci’, former volunteer and serviceman, Hero of Ukraine, who was killed in combat against Russian troops in the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine March 10, 2023.

REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura

The honoring of Kotsiubailo has reopened questions about the Right Sector and other far-right elements reputed to have a history of violence, antisemitism, and homophobia.

Russian propaganda has repeatedly sought to justify Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a mission to defeat “neo-Nazis,” backed by the West and bent on destroying Russia.

The Independent’s Kim Sengupta interviewed Kotsiubailo in the Donbas in 2022. The battalion commander had made strenuous efforts to block any neo-Nazis joining his outfit, he wrote.

Kotsiubailo was quoted as saying: “We are nationalists; I am a nationalist. In this unit, we have Jews, Muslims, Christians; you’ll not see anyone with a Nazi or fascist tattoo or anything like that. We have volunteers from lots of different countries; we don’t mind where they come from, or their religion.” 

 

 

 

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