'I will be proud of you forever': A funeral in east Ukraine

Lilia Panchenko is pulled away by her husband, Anatolii, right, as she says her final goodbye to their son, Oleh, along with his daughter, Ruslana, left, before his casket is covered during his burial service in Pekrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian soldier Oleh Panchenko, 48, was killed July 27 by Russian forces fighting in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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Lilia Panchenko is pulled away by her husband, Anatolii, right, as she says her final goodbye to their son, Oleh, along with his daughter, Ruslana, left, before his casket is covered during his burial service in Pekrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian soldier Oleh Panchenko, 48, was killed July 27 by Russian forces fighting in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Around 50 mourners escort two caskets draped in satin fabric through a leafy cemetery in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, family members of two soldiers killed last week on the nearby front

POKROVSK, Ukraine (AP) — Around 50 mourners escorted two caskets draped in satin through a leafy cemetery in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region Thursday, family members of two soldiers killed last week on the nearby front.

One casket was opened to reveal the military fatigues-clad body of 48-year-old Oleh Panchenko, which bore visible face injuries.

“Our hero, I will be proud of you forever,” Panchenko's mother, Lilia, said through fits of uncontrolled sobbing as she leant over her son, kissing his forehead. “God, why are you taking our boys from us?”

The funeral in Pokrovsk brought to 20 the number of Ukrainian soldiers buried there, in a newer section of the cemetery dedicated to military fatalities.

Nearly all of them were killed since Russia's invasion began on Feb. 24, though others fell during the last eight years of fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists over control of the eastern Donbas region.

As Russian forces continue to make slow gains in the Donetsk province, which makes up half of Donbas, Ukraine's government is providing funeral services for soldiers killed in the fighting, and benefits for family members left behind.

One such soldier, 26-year-old Serhiy Marchenko, was fighting in an artillery squad in the Donetsk region when he was killed on July 28.

At the cemetery in Pokrovsk, a small group of his relatives stood by his closed coffin, draped in a Ukrainian flag, as a priest in a blue vestment wafted the smoke of incense from a golden censer — part of an Orthodox funeral rite.

The grieving family members jumped as gunshots rang out in the cemetery — from three Ukrainian soldiers performing a three-volley salute in honor of the dead.

As the priest finished the rites, Lilia, Panchenko's mother, brushed flies off her son’s face with an embroidered handkerchief until it was time to cover his body and lower the coffin into the grave.

“Wait, just wait!” she cried as family members pulled her away, before the coffin was finally closed.

Panchenko's daughter, Ruslana, said he was an experienced soldier and squad commander who volunteered for the front line after hearing of alleged Russian atrocities in Irpin and Bucha, suburbs of the capital Kyiv.

He was killed on July 27 after serving nearly five months on the front, she said, and was the only survivor in his unit after heavy fighting in Zolote in the Luhansk region.

“He said it's time to kick (the Russians) out,” she said. “He didn't want to sit still. He wanted to defend and he was not afraid.”

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Ruslana Panchenko drops a handful of dirt on the casket of her father, Oleh, during his burial service in Pekrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian soldier Oleh Panchenko, 48, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Ruslana Panchenko drops a handful of dirt on the casket of her father, Oleh, during his burial service in Pekrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian soldier Oleh Panchenko, 48, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

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Ruslana Panchenko drops a handful of dirt on the casket of her father, Oleh, during his burial service in Pekrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian soldier Oleh Panchenko, 48, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

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Lilia Panchenko, right, is pulled away as she says her final goodbye to her son, Oleh, along with his daughter, Ruslana, before his casket is covered during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces on July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Lilia Panchenko, right, is pulled away as she says her final goodbye to her son, Oleh, along with his daughter, Ruslana, before his casket is covered during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces on July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

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Lilia Panchenko, right, is pulled away as she says her final goodbye to her son, Oleh, along with his daughter, Ruslana, before his casket is covered during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces on July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

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A cemetery worker places a cross on the grave of Serhiy Marchenko following his burial in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Marchenko, 26, a Ukrainian soldier who was fighting in an artillery squad in the Donetsk region when he was killed on July 28. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

A cemetery worker places a cross on the grave of Serhiy Marchenko following his burial in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Marchenko, 26, a Ukrainian soldier who was fighting in an artillery squad in the Donetsk region when he was killed on July 28. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

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A cemetery worker places a cross on the grave of Serhiy Marchenko following his burial in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Marchenko, 26, a Ukrainian soldier who was fighting in an artillery squad in the Donetsk region when he was killed on July 28. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

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Lilia Panchenko says her final goodbye to her son, Oleh, during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Oleh Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Lilia Panchenko says her final goodbye to her son, Oleh, during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Oleh Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

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Lilia Panchenko says her final goodbye to her son, Oleh, during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Oleh Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

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Lilia Panchenko, left, says her final goodbye to her son, Oleh, as family members say goodbye to Serhiy Marchenko at right during their joint burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian soldiers Marchenko, 26, and Panchenko, 48, were killed in battle with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Lilia Panchenko, left, says her final goodbye to her son, Oleh, as family members say goodbye to Serhiy Marchenko at right during their joint burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian soldiers Marchenko, 26, and Panchenko, 48, were killed in battle with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

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Lilia Panchenko, left, says her final goodbye to her son, Oleh, as family members say goodbye to Serhiy Marchenko at right during their joint burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian soldiers Marchenko, 26, and Panchenko, 48, were killed in battle with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

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The graves of recently killed Ukrainian soldiers line a cemetery as a gravedigger covers the casket of Serhiy Marchenko following his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Marchenko, 26, was killed in battle July 28 with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

The graves of recently killed Ukrainian soldiers line a cemetery as a gravedigger covers the casket of Serhiy Marchenko following his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Marchenko, 26, was killed in battle July 28 with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Combined ShapeCaption
The graves of recently killed Ukrainian soldiers line a cemetery as a gravedigger covers the casket of Serhiy Marchenko following his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Marchenko, 26, was killed in battle July 28 with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

Combined ShapeCaption
The graves of recently killed Ukrainian soldiers line a cemetery as a gravedigger covers the casket of Serhiy Marchenko following his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Marchenko, 26, was killed in battle July 28 with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

The graves of recently killed Ukrainian soldiers line a cemetery as a gravedigger covers the casket of Serhiy Marchenko following his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Marchenko, 26, was killed in battle July 28 with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Combined ShapeCaption
The graves of recently killed Ukrainian soldiers line a cemetery as a gravedigger covers the casket of Serhiy Marchenko following his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Marchenko, 26, was killed in battle July 28 with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

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Flowers surround a photo of Oleh Panchenko next to his grave during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Flowers surround a photo of Oleh Panchenko next to his grave during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Combined ShapeCaption
Flowers surround a photo of Oleh Panchenko next to his grave during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

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Ruslana Panchenko, places her hand on the head of her father, Oleh, as she stands over his casket with Oleh's mother, Lilia, during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Ruslana Panchenko, places her hand on the head of her father, Oleh, as she stands over his casket with Oleh's mother, Lilia, during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

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Ruslana Panchenko, places her hand on the head of her father, Oleh, as she stands over his casket with Oleh's mother, Lilia, during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

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Ruslana Panchenko, holds a photo of her father, Oleh, as she stands over his casket with Oleh's mother, Lilia, during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Ruslana Panchenko, holds a photo of her father, Oleh, as she stands over his casket with Oleh's mother, Lilia, during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Combined ShapeCaption
Ruslana Panchenko, holds a photo of her father, Oleh, as she stands over his casket with Oleh's mother, Lilia, during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

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Cemetery workers cover the caskets of Serhiy Marchenko and Oleh Panchenko following their burial service next to other recently killed Ukrainian soldiers in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Marchenko, 26, and Panchenko, 48, were killed in battle with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Cemetery workers cover the caskets of Serhiy Marchenko and Oleh Panchenko following their burial service next to other recently killed Ukrainian soldiers in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Marchenko, 26, and Panchenko, 48, were killed in battle with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Combined ShapeCaption
Cemetery workers cover the caskets of Serhiy Marchenko and Oleh Panchenko following their burial service next to other recently killed Ukrainian soldiers in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Marchenko, 26, and Panchenko, 48, were killed in battle with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

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The caskets of Serhiy Marchenko, left, and Oleh Panchenko, rear, are lowered during their burial service as family members look on in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian soldiers Marchenko, 26, and Panchenko, 48, were killed in battle with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

The caskets of Serhiy Marchenko, left, and Oleh Panchenko, rear, are lowered during their burial service as family members look on in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian soldiers Marchenko, 26, and Panchenko, 48, were killed in battle with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Combined ShapeCaption
The caskets of Serhiy Marchenko, left, and Oleh Panchenko, rear, are lowered during their burial service as family members look on in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian soldiers Marchenko, 26, and Panchenko, 48, were killed in battle with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

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Family members grieve over the casket of Serhiy Marchenko during his burial in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Marchenko, 26, a Ukrainian soldier, was fighting in an artillery squad in the Donetsk region when he was killed on July 28. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Family members grieve over the casket of Serhiy Marchenko during his burial in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Marchenko, 26, a Ukrainian soldier, was fighting in an artillery squad in the Donetsk region when he was killed on July 28. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

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Family members grieve over the casket of Serhiy Marchenko during his burial in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Marchenko, 26, a Ukrainian soldier, was fighting in an artillery squad in the Donetsk region when he was killed on July 28. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

Combined ShapeCaption
The caskets of Serhiy Marchenko, left, and Oleh Panchenko, are lowered during their burial service as family members look on in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian soldiers Marchenko, 26, and Panchenko, 48, were killed in battle with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

The caskets of Serhiy Marchenko, left, and Oleh Panchenko, are lowered during their burial service as family members look on in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian soldiers Marchenko, 26, and Panchenko, 48, were killed in battle with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Combined ShapeCaption
The caskets of Serhiy Marchenko, left, and Oleh Panchenko, are lowered during their burial service as family members look on in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian soldiers Marchenko, 26, and Panchenko, 48, were killed in battle with Russian forces in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

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Lesya Akhmadeeva leans over to kiss her uncle, Oleh Panchenko, goodbye during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Lesya Akhmadeeva leans over to kiss her uncle, Oleh Panchenko, goodbye during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

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Lesya Akhmadeeva leans over to kiss her uncle, Oleh Panchenko, goodbye during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Panchenko, 48, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

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Mayor Ruslan Trebushkin kneels while presenting the Ukrainian flag to Lilia Panchenko, the mother of Oleh Panchenko, during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian solider Oleh Panchenko, 48, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Mayor Ruslan Trebushkin kneels while presenting the Ukrainian flag to Lilia Panchenko, the mother of Oleh Panchenko, during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian solider Oleh Panchenko, 48, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

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Mayor Ruslan Trebushkin kneels while presenting the Ukrainian flag to Lilia Panchenko, the mother of Oleh Panchenko, during his burial service in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Ukrainian solider Oleh Panchenko, 48, was killed in battle with Russian forces July 27 in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman