Dinosaur-shaped balloons floated over the coffin of an eight-year-old boy in a western Ukrainian village on Monday, as mourners gathered for a final farewell after he was killed in a Russian strike involving hypersonic missiles.
Volodymyr Balabanyk was killed on Friday outside his family home near the town of Kolomyia in the Ivano-Frankivsk region.
The scenic part of southwestern Ukraine has so far been spared the worst of the 17-month war.
Sobbing family members and Kolomyia residents gathered around the coffin, draped in white.
The boy's parents placed his portrait at their son's feet. His mother embraced his small head, while his father gently stroked his forehead.
Balloons tethered to bouquets of flowers and a teddy bear apparently belonging to the boy were perched next to the little coffin.
The local cemetery where he was buried had already received several adult victims of the war -- mostly military veterans from the region killed in distant battlefields.
The somber ceremony underscored how the war is taking a heavy toll on children.
"What has happened is not just a loss, it is a tragedy," Oksana Shegda, the boy's teacher told AFP.
"It is not just our tragedy, it's for the whole of Ukraine."
- 'His desk will remain empty' -
Balabanyk was fatally wounded by shrapnel just outside his house after a Russian missile struck close by.
Two of his siblings who remained indoors were spared the effects of the explosion which shook houses and blew out windows in the area, witnesses and neighbours said.
Shegda said his family, who declined to talk to the media, was gripped by sorrow.
"It is scary to think that his desk will remain empty, notebooks and textbooks will remain closed," she said.
"For our Kolomyia, this was the youngest" victim of war, said Svetlana Ivaniuk, a 31-year-old baker whose son was a close friend of Balabanyk.
Her son Oleksandr, who also loves toys like Lego and Hot Wheels like Balabanyk, was in shock.
"He told me: 'is it really him? Maybe you made a mistake','" Ivaniuk said her son told her after Balabanyk was killed.
When the news hit, she said she could not believe the strike hit their corner of western Ukraine:
"Here? Can that really be?"
- 'Senseless war' -
The strike shattered the illusion of safety in the relatively quiet region, known for its picturesque cathedrals, that has offered refuge to people fleeing war-ravaged areas in eastern and southern Ukraine.
"We are not protected in this country, in this city," Vladyslav Limishko, a taxi service employee in Kolomyia who attended the funeral told AFP.
"Nowhere is safe."
Many residents of Kolomyia, a sedate town on the Prut river cut off from conflict-ridden areas, had been inclined to ignore air raid alerts, but have now urged their children to take them more seriously.
Balabanyk was killed after Moscow launched a volley of hypersonic missiles at western Ukraine.
Ukraine said one of the missiles had been intercepted in the Kyiv region while others hit "civilian facilities" as well as an airfield.
The killing highlighted the suffering of children since Russia mounted its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
"Time and time again we are seeing children's lives cut short and families suffering the insurmountable grief of losing a child, all due to this reckless and senseless war," Aaron Greenberg, a UNICEF child protection advisor, told AFP.
An average of three children have been killed or injured every day in Ukraine since the escalation of the war, according to Save the Children.
"Innocent children are hurt as attacks on populated areas in Ukraine occur almost daily, and state of constant distress and fear has become the new norm for them," Amjad Yamin, advocacy director for Save the Children in Ukraine, told AFP.
"The toll on children and their families continues to show that explosive weapons must not be used around towns and villages."
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