Roman Ratushnyi (24) was among a group of protesters that kicked off Ukraine’s pro-EU revolution in 2014. He died outside the strategic town of Izyum which has been under heavy Russian shelling.
“Roman was the best of us, the brave one who was always at the forefront in any battle and never showed any fear,” the Let’s Defend Protasiv Yar group, the NGO he founded, said on Tuesday.
“He was on a reconnaissance mission on his last fight and died on duty.”
Four soldiers carried Mr Ratushnyi’s coffin as it was greeted by the crowd, people were photographed kneeling and holding flares.
Just last week, Mr Ratushnyi posted selfies from the front line in eastern Ukraine.
He is remembered as a Ukrainian patriot and fearless anti-corruption activist whose life was punctuated by milestones in Ukrainian history that drastically changed millions of lives.
At the age of 17, the first-year law student joined a protest on Kyiv’s Independence Square, better known as the Maidan, against then President Viktor Yanukovych’s surprise decision to reject a deal with the European Union.
The teenager was among the students who camped out after the protest at night before riot police descended on the square, beating them up.
The attack by the riot police sparked larger protests which ended in February 2014 with Mr Yanukovych fleeing, Russia annexing Crimea and a group of Russian veterans seizing administrative buildings across eastern Ukraine.
Mr Ratushnyi said he could see “a lot of changes in this country that happened only thanks to the Maidan (protests)”.
“I can truly feel a free person now in my own country,” he told Hromadske TV.
Mr Ratushnyi later graduated from a law school and worked as a freelance journalist.
In 2019, he mounted a campaign to protect a small forest in Kyiv from property developers, accusing local politicians of taking bribes from tycoons to destroy the historical wilderness.
Before he deployed to eastern Ukraine as a reconnaissance officer in March he tweeted: “The more Russians we kill right now, the fewer Russia will be left for our children to kill.”
The death of Mr Ratushnyi, who took part in the defence of Kyiv in the first week of the Russian invasion and fought elsewhere in Ukraine later on, triggered an outpouring of grief in Kyiv.
Bacho Korchilava, a Ukrainian journalist, said he could not believe his friend was dead.
“Roman, we have talked about your future a lot, and you have always made the right decision,” he said on Facebook.
“You had such a bright future ahead of you if it weren’t for this wretched war. You were a brave person and you died like a hero.”