Alexei Navalny's parents, supporters gather in Moscow for opposition leader's funeral, burial

Alexei Navalny's parents, supporters gather in Moscow for opposition leader's funeral, burial

Relatives and supporters of Alexei Navalny are bidding farewell to the opposition leader at a funeral Friday in southeastern Moscow, following a battle with authorities over the release of his body after his still-unexplained death in an Arctic penal colony.

After a short church service, the politician's allies urged hundreds of supporters who gathered at the church to head to the cemetery nearby.

His supporters say several churches in Moscow refused to hold the service before Navalny's team got permission from one in the capital's Maryino district, where he once lived.

The Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Soothe My Sorrows, which agreed to hold the service, did not mention it on its social media page. Authorities lined the road from a nearby subway station to the church with crowd-control barriers, and riot police deployed in big numbers early Friday. 

After the hearse arrived at the church, the coffin could be seen on livestreamed footage being taken out of the vehicle, as the crowd applauded and chanted: "Navalny! Navalny!"

Two black vehicles are shown surrounded by throngs of people near a building.
A hearse, reportedly containing a coffin with the body of Navalny, arrives at the Soothe My Sorrows church before a funeral service in Moscow on Friday. (Reuters)

A photo from inside the church showed an open casket with Navalny's body covered with red and white flowers, and his mother sitting beside it holding a candle.

Hours before the funeral started, hundreds waited to enter under the watch of police. Western diplomats were spotted in the long line. Sarah Taylor, Canada's ambassador to Russia, had been expected to attend, CBC News learned.

Presidential hopefuls Boris Nadezhdin and Yekaterina Duntsova were also seen. Both wanted to run against Russian President Vladimir Putin in the presidential elections later this month, each opposing the war in Ukraine. Both were declared ineligible to run.

Burial was taking place in the nearby Borisovskoye Cemetery, where police also showed up in force. Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, spent eight days trying to get authorities to release the body following his Feb. 16 death at Penal Colony No. 3 in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,900 kilometres northeast of Moscow.

She was seen entering the church on Friday, beside Anatoly Navalny, the politician's father.

Several people are shown lined up and wearing winter clothing. Some hold flowers.
People gather near the Mother of God Soothe My Sorrows church as they wait for a funeral service and a farewell ceremony for Navalny in Moscow on Friday, two weeks after his death while imprisoned. (Reuters)

His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, is outside the country. Just two days ago, she addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

Navalny's daughter, Dasha, is a student at the Stanford University in California, and the whereabouts of his teen son, Zakhar, are unknown.

Colleague calls for global rallies

At least one funeral director said he had been "forbidden" to work with Navalny's supporters ahead of the service, the spokesperson for Navalny's team, Kira Yarmysh, said on social media. There were also delays in finding a hearse.

Yarmysh urged Navalny's supporters around the world to lay flowers in his honour Friday.

WATCH l Moscow crowd gathers peacefully, some chanting Navalny's name:

'Navalny!': Crowds chant Russian opposition leader's name ahead of funeral

38 minutes ago

Duration 0:35

People gathered in Moscow on Friday to honour Alexei Navalny — a leading critic of President Vladimir Putin — who died in a Russian prison last month.

"Everyone who knew Alexei says what a cheerful, courageous and honest person he was," Yarmysh said Thursday. "But the greater truth is that even if you never met Alexei, you knew what he was like, too. You shared his investigations, you went to rallies with him, you read his posts from prison. His example showed many people what to do when even when things were scary and difficult." 

Russian authorities still haven't announced the cause of death for Navalny, 47, who crusaded against official corruption and organized big protests as Putin's fiercest political foe. Many Western leaders blamed the death on the Russian leader, as Navalny — who had survived a 2020 poisoning attempt — was being imprisoned on a host of terrorism and corruption charges that supporters and Western leaders characterized as politically motivated.

The Kremlin angrily rejected the accusations.

A grassy area is cordoned off near plaques bearing the images of people.
A view of a grave where Navalny is due to be buried at the Borisovskoye Cemetery, in Moscow is shown on Friday. (The Associated Press)

Navalny-Nemtsov memorial not allowed

It was not immediately clear who among Navalny's family or allies would attend the funeral, with many of his associates in exile abroad due to fear of prosecution in Russia. Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation and his regional offices were designated as "extremist organizations" by the Russian government in 2021.

The politician's team said the funeral would be streamed live on Navalny's YouTube channel.

WATCH l Hear Navalny urge supporters to carry on Putin opposition in Oscar-winning film: 

What Navalny wanted supporters to do if he died: ‘Get back to work’

13 days ago

Duration 7:51

In Daniel Roher’s documentary, Alexei Navalny told his supporters his death would be a sign of the opposition’s strength. The Canadian director told The National’s Ian Hanomansing Navalny would want his supporters not to mourn his death, but fight Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Moscow authorities refused permission for a separate memorial event for Navalny and slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on Friday, citing COVID-19 restrictions, politician Yekaterina Duntsova said Thursday. Nemtsov, a 55-year-old former deputy prime minister, was shot to death as he walked on a bridge adjacent to the Kremlin on the night of Feb. 27, 2015.

"Just a reminder that we have a law that must be followed. Any unauthorized gatherings will be in violation of the law, and those who participate in them will be held accountable — again, in line with the current law," Kremlin spokeperson Dmitry Peskov said in a call to reporters.

Peskov declined to give any assessment of Navalny as a political figure and said he had nothing to say to Navalny's family.