Thousands waited in line on a frigid day in Moscow to get a glimpse of the coffin of Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition leader who was assassinated on Friday in the shadows of the Kremlin. A long-time foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Nemtsov was a one-time political star who became more of a rogue figure during Putin's reign. A supporter of Ukraine independence and a champion of democracy, Nemtsov was controversial over the last decade for his outspoken criticism of Putin, even predicting that his political work would get him killed. The 55-year-old opposition leader was scheduled to speak on Sunday at a rally protesting Putin's policies, including the ongoing military conflict in eastern Ukraine.
On Tuesday, thousands in Moscow gathered around Nemtsov's open coffin. Pallbearers carried his body through the streets during a memorial service, as mourners carried red carnations and held up messages for the slain leader.
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Thousands turned out in Moscow to view Nemtsov’s open coffin and say goodbye to the liberal politician.
Carried Through The Streets
Pallbearers carried Nemtsov’s coffin through the Russian capital as supporters lined the sidewalks.
Nemtsov’s body was laid out in Moscow’s Sakharov Centre. After the visitation and memorial service, he was laid to rest at the Troyekurovskoy Cemetery. According to BBC News, this is the same cemetery where Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was also murdered, is buried.
Nemtsov was shot at least four times in the back late on Friday while crossing a bridge over Moskva River in central Moscow. Russian government officials have denied any involvement in the apparent assassination, and a government agency is currently looking into a slew of possible theories, ranging from Islamic extremists to Nemtsov being a “sacrificial lamb” for his own opposition party.
According to The Guardian, government officials from Poland and Latvia were denied entry into Russia to attend Nemtsov’s funeral.
One of Nemtsov’s last interviews was with Newsweek Polska, in which the Parnas Party and Solidarnost leader took aim at President Putin, Russia’s flailing economy, and the country’s lack of freedom of speech.
Nemtsov told Newsweek Polska:
“We are realists. It is true that the government branded us as enemies a long time ago. … Even in my wildest dreams I would not try to organize the Maidan in Moscow. Putin is not Yanukovych. For years he was preparing himself for the fight with his own nation, if the nation would try to fight him. He has a powerful security apparatus, and now he has these fanatical militants. Each major protest can be easily drowned in blood. Despite this, we will try.”
In his last tweet and blog post, Nemtsov urged those who support democracy to come out on Sunday for the “Spring” march against war in Ukraine. “Putin is war!” Nemtsov wrote. “Putin is a crisis!”
“He was our ray of light,” Russian citizen Valentina Gorbatova told BBC News as she waited in line to view Nemtsov’s body. “With his help, I think Russia would have risen up and become a strong country. It is the dream of all progressive people in Russia.”
Although Speaker of the Polish Senate Bogdan Borusewicz was barred from entering Russia to attend Nemtsov’s funeral, he sent a letter to be read at the service. “Through my presence at the funeral, I had wanted to show that Poles are not anti-Russian, they are not enemies of a democratic Russia,” Borusewicz wrote, via Radio Poland.
“The shots were fired not only at Nemtsov but at all of us, at democracy in Russia,” opposition politician Gennady Gudkov said in a speech during the service, via Reuters. “We never thought this could happen, but it did. Rest in peace my friend, your work will be continued.”