Thousands of people attend Navalny’s funeral in Moscow

Thousands of people crowded a neighborhood on the outskirts of Moscow on Friday, some carrying flowers and chanting: “No to war!” – as they tried to catch a glimpse of Aleksei A. Navalny’s funeral. The outburst turned the opposition leader’s last rites into a stunning display of dissent in Russia at a time of deep repression.

The ceremony took place under close monitoring by Russian authorities, who arrested hundreds of mourners at memorial sites following Mr. Navalny’s death. There was a heavy police presence around the church where the funeral began shortly after 2pm local time, but there were no reports of widespread arrests in the early afternoon.

After a procession to the cemetery, Mr Navalny’s coffin was placed next to his freshly dug grave. Video live-streamed from the site showed his family and then other mourners kissing him goodbye for the last time. Then his face was covered with a white cloth and the coffin was lowered to the rhythm of Frank Sinatra’s song “My Way” and then the final song of “Terminator 2,” which Mr. Navalny considered “the best movie on Earth.”

People had chanted Mr. Navalny’s surname before his coffin was carried into the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Soothe My Sorrows, a Russian Orthodox church in southern Moscow. Images on social media showed attendees lining up, but also security cameras that local media reported had recently been installed, and signs prohibiting mourners from taking photos or videos in the church.

A photograph taken inside the church and posted on Mr Navalny’s YouTube channel showed him in an open coffin, lying in repose with red and white flowers on his body. His parents held lit candles. His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, who promised to continue his political activity, and her children, Daria and Zakhar, who no longer live in Russia, did not appear to be present.

As the funeral drew to a close, Mrs Navalnaya shared a post on social media platform X dedicated to her husband.

“Lyosha, thank you for 26 years of absolute happiness,” she wrote, using her husband’s nickname. “Yes, even in the last three years of happiness,” she said, referring to the time Mr Navalny was in prison. “I don’t know how to live without you, but I will try to make you up there happy for me and proud of me.”

Outside the church, people chanted “No to war” and “Love is stronger than fear,” according to videos from the scene. As they walked toward the cemetery, mourners shouted, “Russia will be free!” One observer, Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina, said in a Post on Facebook who believed “tens of thousands” of people had gathered. There was no way to verify that figure.

At around 3.15pm, videos showed crowds throwing flowers onto the street as the funeral procession left the church and headed to the cemetery.

Nearly 270,000 people were watching live broadcast of the event organized by Navalny’s allies, in front of around 150,000 spectators coverage on YouTube from independent TV Rain, according to data provided by the streaming platform.

Navalny’s team accused authorities of trying to stop people from sharing photos and videos from the scene. Mikhail Klimaryov, director of a Russian Internet freedom group, the Internet Protection Society, said his group’s data shows that mobile phone service in the area has been reduced to the lower-bandwidth 3G standard and he described it as a “moving block”.

According to videos of the event, opposition politicians were present including Boris Nadezhdin, who sought to run against President Vladimir V. Putin in this month’s elections with an anti-war platform, and Evgeny Roizman of Yekaterinburg. The US ambassador to Russia, Lynne M. Tracy, was also seen in the site’s videos outside the church.

Some people came from far away to attend the funeral. Anastasia, 19, had flown in from Novosibirsk, 1,800 miles from Moscow, to be there.

“I came here because this is a historic event,” she said in a voice message from the neighborhood where the church service was held. “I think he is a freer man than all of us,” he said of Navalny. “He lived as a free man and died as a free man.”

In Russia, giving living people an even number of flowers in a bouquet is bad luck: they are reserved for funerals. But Anastasia said many mourners carried even-numbered bouquets of flowers, “because for them Navalny lives on.”

When asked Friday if he could comment on Navalny’s political legacy, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov said: “I can’t.” He suggested that the Kremlin would crack down on anyone who tried to protest at the funeral. “Any unauthorized meeting will constitute a violation of the law,” Peskov told reporters on a daily phone call.

The funeral was not mentioned in the top stories in state news agencies RIA Novosti and TASS.

Navalny’s funeral took place during a period of intense repression, and less than three weeks before Putin seeks another six-year term in elections due in mid-March.

According to OVD-Info, at least 400 people have been arrested since Navalny’s death, including some for simply placing flowers at makeshift memorials in his honor. A priest who tried to hold a funeral prayer for Mr Navalny in St Petersburg was arrested as he left his home.

Hours before the scheduled mourning rites, Mr. Navalny’s family had not received his body from the Moscow morgue, a defense said. But the body was finally delivered around 12.30pm local time, she said.

Over the past two weeks, members of Mr. Navalny’s team have repeatedly complained about the difficulty of negotiating with Russian authorities to return Mr. Navalny’s body to his family, which took days, and of agreeing on a place to keep the funeral services.

Members of his team described the difficulty in persuading a church, a cemetery and even a hearse to take part in the burial, saying authorities wanted to prevent Navalny’s funeral from becoming a flashpoint of dissent.

On Thursday, allies of Mr Navalny, who was 47, described systematic pressure on all workers they heard, saying many of those who had agreed to carry Mr Navalny’s body from the church to the cemetery had backed out at the last minute , citing threats. His team and his wife blamed the Kremlin and Moscow elder Sergei Sobyanin. Their claims could not be independently verified.

“The people in the Kremlin killed him, then they mocked Alexei’s body, then they mocked his mother, and now they mock his memory,” Ms. Navalnaya he wrote Wednesday.

While Navalny opposed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the church where he will be buried has shown public support for it. Photos posted Monday on the VK social media page show priests outside the church with a Lada car purchased for soldiers taking part in what Russia calls a “special military operation.”

According to Mr. Navalny’s request, the official medical report concluded that the cause of death was “natural causes,” which his family, supporters and Controversy among human rights observers. Over the past year and a half, Mr Navalny has been ordered to spend 296 days in a punitive isolation cell, known in Russian as “SHIZO”. It is considered the most severe form of legal punishment for inmates in Russian prisons.

“They tortured him with hunger, they tortured him with cold,” his aide Leonid Volkov said during a live stream of the funeral on Mr Navalny’s YouTube channel. For six months he tried to get access to a dentist, which he was eventually denied.

The Kremlin has rejected the family’s allegations of its involvement, and Putin has not commented publicly on Navalny’s death. But the Russian leader authorized an order to promote the deputy director of the country’s Federal Penitentiary Service, Valery Boyarinev, just three days after Mr Navalny’s death.

And Putin appeared defiant Thursday in an annual speech, threatening the West with nuclear escalation and praising the Russian political system as “one of the foundations of the country’s sovereignty.”

There was fear that anyone who came to the funeral could be added to a database and possibly penalized later, a human rights lawyer, Evgeny Smirnov, told TV Rain. Mr Navalny’s organization has shared information offering legal advice to people planning to mourn him.

Anton TroianovskiTatiana Firsova and Oleg Matsnev contributed a report from Berlin, e Alina Lobzina from London.