Ukraine rebel bodies repatriated to Russia

Donetsk leader calls for more Russian ‘peacekeepers’ to fight Ukrainian forces after battle for city’s airport.

Separatist leaders said local fighters and Russians were among the dead [John Wendle/Al Jazeera]

Donetsk, Ukraine – The coffins were lined up in a car park at Kalininsky hospital the Donetsk, all 30 wrapped in bright white, red or black satin, stacked one on top of the other.

They had been prepared for the bodies of Russians fighting with separatists for the city’s airport just days before. Leaders of the separatist movement on Thursday said many would be repatriated to their home country after their funerals.

It is further proof, if needed, that rebels fighting in the country’s east are crossing the border from Russia, despite statements from the Kremlin that it has nothing to do with the conflict and can do nothing to influence the rebels.

For Aleksander Borodai, a Russian security consultant turned prime minister of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic”, the separatists’ deaths were a sacrifice, and he was ready to call in more Russians to continue the fighting.

“We are prepared for more fighting and are ready to defend the city,” he said as he visited the Kalininsky hospital’s mortuary on Thursday, adding: “We hope we will not have a reason to request more assistance from the Russian side” .

Denis Pushilin, the speaker for the DPR parliament also at the mortuary, was more forthright: “We sent an official letter to the Russian government. We hope for any assistance including Russian peacekeeping troops.”

Separately, Oleksandr Lukyanchenko, Donetsk’s mayor, said on Thursday that many of those killed at Donetsk airport were Chechen. The republic’s pro-Moscow leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, was quick to make clear he had not approved their involvement.

Separatist rebels, under the banner of the Vostok Battalion, were forced out of Donetsk international airport on Wednesday, less than a day after taking it over on the news that the Ukrainian president-elect, Petro Poroshenko, had declared victory in the election and was preparing to fly into the region.

Funerals for those killed in the battle, and repatriations, are expected to continue for the next few days.

“It’s not possible to say exactly how many bodies there are because we have not been able approach the airport and snipers are working in the area,” Pushilin said. “There is no one we can talk with in the Ukrainian government.”

But this was not a battle fought entirely by foreigners: locals were among those also grieving at the mortuary.

“He was a good man. He was defending his land,” said Tatiana as she stood over the body of her son Mark, a 42-year-old from Donetsk, who she claimed was killed by an “American sniper” at the airport.

Source: Al Jazeera