Russia mourns, celebrates 3 martyrs Highest Soviet honor given to coup victims THE SOVIET CRISIS

August 25, 1991|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Tens of thousands of silent, solemn marchers yesterday mourned the three young men Russia has proclaimed martyrs to its freedom.

But even as they grieved, the birth of a new, democratic Russia was celebrated.

"From the names of the dead come the beginning of the newest democratic country in the world," said Andrei Kozyrev, the Russian foreign minister. "Now we know who our friends are -- they're the democratic countries of the West."

The procession traveled three miles in part of a seven-hour memorial, setting out from the heart of Moscow, next to the Kremlin Wall. There, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev awarded the fallen men the nation's highest honor, declaring them "Heroes of the Soviet Union." His voice nearly broke with emotion as he said, "I bow low before them."

Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, who had summoned the citizens of Moscow to resist the hard-liners' coup attempt last week, later called the three who died in that resistance "the defenders and saviors of our country."

And U.S. Ambassador Robert Strauss, summoning forth America's own revolution by quoting Patrick Henry -- "Give me liberty or give me death" -- assured the Russian people that the deaths were not in vain.

"May the democracy for which they gave their lives flourish among you," he said.

Deep within the masses of people, a medical specialist named Tanya quietly spoke. "We are not slaves anymore," she said.

Huge portraits of the dead men were held before the crowd. They showed the thoughtful, handsome face of Vladimir Usov, a 37-year-old employee of a joint venture who was at work nearby when the tanks came. He is the son of a rear admiral in the Soviet navy.

In another, Dmitry Komar, 23, an Afghan war veteran, wore a big, carefree boyish smile.

And Ilya Krichevsky, 28, a former tank driver himself, stared with intense eyes from his portrait. Mr. Krichevsky's family had not learned of his death until 24 hours after the tanks crushed him Tuesday night.

Russian authorities yesterday said the three were killed when tanks, on their way to attack the Mr. Yeltsin's Russian Federation building, crashed through citizen barricades. Now it is said that the deaths were enough to deter the army, which did not attack. The junta that had seized control of the government began to fall apart.

As the first speakers finished yesterday and the procession formed for the 3-mile walk ahead, the prayers of a rabbi fell on the square, followed by those of Russian Orthodox priests. Mr. Krichevsky was Jewish, the other two victims Christian.

In the square, fathers held small children on their shoulders, and flags and signs waved everywhere: "Russia, don't forget the heroes who fell for liberty."

Some stood silently, others offered impromptu testimony to their neighbors ("My son didn't vote for Yeltsin, but immediately after the coup he went to the White House.") and still others began earnest debates over politics.

"Even when Gorbachev is dying, he'll say 'I'm a Communist," one woman said.

L "He's wavy as a snake," one woman said to nods of agreement.

The procession started off slowly, stopping in neat formation several times along the way. First, there was an observance at the spot where the men died. Then came two more ceremonies, on two sides of the tall, white-stone Russian federation building half a mile away.

The way was guided by two rows of human chains, stretched out for a mile. Volunteers all, they kept quiet order as hundreds of police along the route watched, their hats doffed as the coffins passed.

Mr. Yeltsin, once again speaking from the balcony where he had inspired his unarmed citizen army to stand up to soldiers, addressed the parents of the dead men in an emotional speech.

"We will never forget their names," he said, "because their names from now on will be sacred for Russia."

Blue, flat-bed trucks carried the coffins, draped with the new Russian flag. Two more carried what seemed like a hillside of flowers and greenery. The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church marched along with a group of priests, followed by the rabbi.

Lines of young men the age of those who died led the procession, followed by a row of soldiers and then Afghan war veterans.

Relatives walked together, followed by thousands of people who wanted to affirm this moment in their history. The long tricolor banner that had hung from the Russian building during the siege last week was carried along, requiring a hundred people on each side to bear it.

Rows and rows of Muscovites watched from the sidewalks as the thousands marched by. They silently gave the V for victory sign, which was silently returned.

They reached the Vagankovskoye Cemetery on Year 1905 Street about 3:45 p.m., and the families and dignitaries entered the Church of the Resurrection for the service.

A separate service was held at the graveside for Mr. Krichevsky, the young Jewish man whose flag-draped coffin was covered with a prayer shawl. A mournful violin bade him farewell, and the long day was finished.

Voices of honor, voices of hope

"We came here to pay a last tribute to the heroes of the nation. I was here at the White House [the Russian parliament] for two nights. Now I know what a 'combat situation' is. And I do not want my child -- and future children -- ever to know what it is.

I want everybody to live in peace."

-- Ivan Teplov, 27, elevator mechanic

"We came here because we are women and we feel we must be here. This is what our hearts tell us."

-- Tatyana Malykh, 40, and her daughter, Olga, 16.

"This September I will come to the classroom a different teacher. Let them fire me if they want. I will start reading Solzhenitsyn to my students. The guys are heroes. They made me free in my thoughts and actions. I am very grateful for this."

-- Semyon Dedykh, 38, teacher of history.

"I don't even know who those guys were. For me they are a symbol of resistance, resistance to the dark forces of the past."

-- Natasha Andreyeva, 22, clothes designer.

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