A day after waking up to explosions, the village of Starychi buries a soldier
Residents of village close to bombed military base hold funeral for soldier killed in Kyiv
In the small village next to a military facility where bombs hit Sunday there is both fear, and grief.
After being woken the previous morning by explosions, on Monday, the people of Starychi, Ukraine, were burying a beloved physical education teacher and soldier.
Sergey Kulik, a 55-year-old grandfather and father of two, died in Kyiv of a bullet wound on March 3.
Russia and Ukraine kept a fragile diplomatic path open with a new round of talks Monday even as Moscow's forces pounded away at Kyiv and other cities across the country in a punishing bombardment the Red Cross said has created "nothing short of a nightmare" for civilians.
Starychi is just 20 kilometres from the Polish border and at the gate of the military base where the first bombs fell in western Ukraine, killing at least 35, according to a local official.
About 3,000 live in the village. Hundreds came to Kulik's funeral.
His son-in-law Andriy Karvatsky said Kulik was among the first called to go to fight in the country's capital because of his experience with the military in Ukraine's "anti-terrorist operation" in the Donbas region in 2014.
"Everything was good but now death has caught him," he said.
"He died as a real warrior. He was cheerful. We will miss him."
Karvatsky pushed a two-month-old baby in a stroller, the grandson his father-in-law will not be around to see grow up. His wife, he says, is stressed by the wartime death of her father.
On the street in Shklo, a neighbouring village, people kneeled at the side of the road as Kulik's coffin was driven past, placing candles on the edge of the curb in front of them. It is standard for the village from which dozens have died in Ukraine's many conflicts dating back before the First World War.
Paying their respects
None of those approached by a CBC News crew in Shklo knew him personally but said they had come to pay their respects, calling Kulik their defender. However, fear grips the region, and many did not want to provide their last names.
"We are begging the Western countries to help us. Our military, our mothers, our children who are serving are asking you to help," said Luba.
"Our soldiers are very brave and have courage, they defend our Ukraine. But we still need your help."
She described the scene she woke up to the day earlier.
"Horrible explosions. We were crying, we were screaming," she said through a translator, describing the explosions that shook houses and caused enormous fireballs.
"Our children were screaming. It was very, very scary," she said.
"The fire was so great that we thought our village was burning."
Luba didn't want to show the warnings she got about the bombing that had been sent to her phone. She said she felt afraid and didn't know what information she should put out publicly.
Hyacinths and yellow tulips
When the funeral procession made it to the tiny church at the top of a hill in Starychi, the building was at capacity. The back doors stayed open so people could pay their respects outdoors when no one else could fit inside. Then hundreds walked to the cemetery about a kilometre away.
Nadia Zavystovska, who had been a student of the teacher-turned-soldier, brought her mother and daughter to say goodbye.
"He was a good teacher, good person, good neighbour," she said.
"He always supported the people because he was a very kind person, very very kind. He is a family man."
Mourners threw hyacinths and yellow tulips into his grave, a tribute to the colours of the flag of the country he died fighting for.