SIMFEROPOL, Crimea -- They are on opposing sides in Russia's Crimean standoff, but they came together on March 22 to honor two of their dead.
Ukrainian soldiers and Russian Cossacks stood side by side with red carnations in the House of Officers in Simferopol to pay their last respects to their comrades killed in disputed circumstances on March 18.
Ukrainian soldier Sergiy Kokurin and Russian Cossack Ruslan Kazakov were slain during the storming of a Ukrainian military cartography center by pro-Russian self-defense groups.
Their coffins were placed in the same room, overcrowded with their relatives, colleagues, officials and the press, a temporary moment of peace in a tense conflict.
The two sides dispute responsibility for the deaths.
Ukraine's Defense Ministry reported that Kokurin was shot in the heart by militants of the Russian-backed self-defense forces, who also severely wounded two other Ukrainian soldiers.
The Crimean authorities, however, claim that a sniper was shooting at both sides.
"The tragedy happened thanks to provocateurs, who were shooting both sides," Mikhail Sheremet, head of Kremlin-backed Crimean self-defense unit, told journalists.
Sheremet said prosecutors are investigating the case.
Several Russian media organizations reported that a young man from western Ukraine allegedly was captured as a suspect.
But the Simferopol-based Center of Journalist Investigation reported, based on its sources, that Kokurin, who was standing on the observation watchtower, was shot from below during the attack on his unit, so his death couldn't have been the work of sniper allegedly firing from the roof.
But for the crying relatives and friends of both men killed, the investigation wasn't the priority during the funeral.
Kokurin, 37, was a Simferopol native who leaves his mother, a 4-year-old son and a pregnant wife. He joined the Ukrainian army in 1997, “and since that time never gave up on the idea of serving the Ukrainian nation,” the Defense Ministry wrote on its Facebook page. “Everyone in the team knew him as an honest, hardworking person and a smart professional,” the notice reads.
Kozakov, 33, was Russian citizen from the Volgograd region who leaves a wife and two small children. His was honored as a Hero of Russia, and his body will be returned to his home area. Ukrainian agency Ukrinform reported that Kazakov was also the veteran of Chechen campaign.
Sergey Aksyonov, the Crimean prime minister, showed up at the funeral and said the authorities of the peninsula were planning to provide help to families of both killed men.
Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Grytsenko can be reached at email@example.com and Kyiv Post photographer Anastasia Vlasova can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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