Thousands defy Kremlin to show up at Alexei Navalny’s funeral

Mourners gathered outside church chant ‘Putin is a murderer’, ‘Russia without Putin’ and ‘No to war’

Thousands of Russians gathered outside a Moscow church for Alexei Navalny’s funeral in defiance of heavy police presence and Kremlin warnings, in what became the largest show of public dissent since President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Mourners on Friday chanted “Putin is a murderer”, “Russia without Putin” and “No to war”, despite the Kremlin saying that any gathering would be cracked down on, according to people who attended and footage on social media.

Six people were arrested in Moscow by late afternoon, according to OVD-Info, an independent rights monitor. Another 39 people were detained at memorial events for Mr Navalny across the country, most of them in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk and in the southern city of Voronezh.

The memorial service for the opposition leader was held at the Soothe My Sorrows church in Marino, the neighbourhood where Mr Navalny lived for many years before he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok in 2020. He was buried in the nearby Borisovsky cemetery.


Riot police limited access to the church and cemetery in what Mr Navalny’s team described as a Kremlin-directed attempt to limit public shows of support.

Despite that, crowds gathered in and around the church, according to Igor, an eyewitness. A long line formed on the street leading to the graveyard in a peaceful atmosphere, he said. Though people carried flowers, the mood was more political than mournful, he said.

“It’s worth coming here just to feel inspired... by the amount of people who were not afraid to come,” he said. “They used all the methods they could to scare people away. And yet it genuinely feels like there are tens of thousands of people here today.”

Around him, people chanted “Navalny” and “Putin is a murderer”. As Igor approached the cemetery, chants of “no war” grew louder, he said, with the demonstration spilling into a nearby mall. Others, he said, shouted their support for Mr Navalny’s wife: “Yulia, we’re with you!”

Mr Navalny’s parents were among a small group of people who paid their respects inside the church. But in a sign of how far the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent has gone, most of Mr Navalny’s family live in exile and were unable to attend the funeral.

His wife, Yulia Navalnaya, wrote on social media: “Lyosha, thank you for 26 years of pure happiness. Even the last 3 years. For your love, your support, making me laugh even from prison and always thinking about me. I don’t know how to live without you, but I’ll try to make you happy and proud of me up there.”

Oleg Navalny, his brother, who is on a Russian wanted list, said in a post: “Sleep well, brother, and don’t worry about a thing.”

Priests hurried through the lengthy Orthodox Christian service before mourners in the church could pay their respects to Mr Navalny, according to independent Russian news sites.

As a hearse drove his coffin to the graveyard, people waiting in line outside the church threw flowers towards it and chanted “Thank you!” before walking after it.

Mr Navalny’s body was lowered into the ground to the strains of Frank Sinatra’s My Way. Then, mourners played the score to the finale of his favourite film, Terminator 2, when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hero gives a thumbs up while descending into a vat of molten metal.

For many years Russia’s most prominent Putin critic, Mr Navalny died last month in a remote Arctic prison colony at the age of 47. His widow and his exiled team have accused Mr Putin of ordering his murder to scupper his release in a prisoner exchange.

The Kremlin has dismissed the allegations, while investigators in charge of the inquest claimed Mr Navalny died of natural causes.

Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesperson, told reporters on Friday that the Kremlin had nothing to say to Mr Navalny’s relatives and declined to comment on his political stature, according to state newswire RIA Novosti.

Mr Peskov said anyone who protested at the funeral would face a police crackdown. “We have to remind you there is a law and it needs to be observed – any unsanctioned gatherings will be against the law. So anyone who takes part in them will be held responsible under the law,” he said.

A video circulating on social media showed a woman shouting “Glory to the heroes” – the most common pro-Ukraine slogan – and the crowd supporting her, despite the fact that any signs of a pro-Kyiv stance in Russia are punishable by years in prison.

“There are so many people. It’s a real protest. I think they’ll round everyone up a bit later,” said Nika (35), an events manager who stood outside the church but left before the burial for fear of arrest.

“People are scared. A group was singing a funeral song very quietly and the guy next to me just burst out in tears,” she added. “But I’m so glad I went. There were so many people and I got to look them in the eye.”

In the days following Mr Navalny’s death, police arrested about 400 people who left flowers at monuments to Soviet political prisoners. His mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, has said officials in northern Russia refused to hand over his body for a week and threatened to let it rot unless she agreed to bury him in secret.

Once authorities released his body, Mr Navalny’s team said funeral agencies refused to hold a wake for him or provide a hearse after receiving anonymous threats.

Mr Navalny spent the past three years in prison after being poisoned with the nerve agent, recovering abroad and returning to Moscow in 2021. He was sentenced to decades behind bars on a series of charges ranging from tax evasion to extremism, with the Kremlin banning his foundation and forcing most of his followers into exile.

Ekaterina (29), a project manager, said she had initially been “slightly scared” of going because of the threat of arrest. She took her passport, some food and a tea flask just in case she was detained and had to spend “longer than expected in a police station”.

“It’s important to show that we remember and that there are many of us,” she added. “We don’t believe that if the opposition leader is killed, it’s over and we should just lock ourselves in our apartments and not go out anymore.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024