Russia buries first Egypt plane crash victims
Most of the 224 people killed when the A-321 plane came down in Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula at the weekend were from Saint Petersburg and the surrounding region.
Both London and Washington have said the flight from the tourist resort of Sharm el-Sheikh may have been downed by a bomb, a claim dismissed by Russia and Egypt.
But at the funeral service for one victim, Nina Lushchenko, in Veliky Novgorod, around 200 kilometres (120 miles) south of Saint Petersburg, relatives and friends said they wanted to grieve, not apportion blame.
“What do Putin’s policies have to do with this?” mourner Semyon Gerasimenko told AFP.
“Is it now necessary to consult every terrorist so that they do not plant a bomb and to do what they say?”
Lushchenko, a 60-year-old school dinner lady, was one of 15 people from the Novgorod region who died in the crash — including a one-year-old baby and an 8-year-old boy.
“I don’t know who is guilty, what can I say? They say it’s a bomb,” Gerasimenko said.
Luschenko was laid to rest in a small village outside Novgorod, the ceremony bathed in autumn sunlight. Beforehand, relatives and friends, many clutching flowers and some crying, gathered at an ornate church for a religious ceremony led by a priest.
Islamic State jihadists have claimed they brought down the plane carrying tourists home from Sharm al-Sheikh to Saint Petersburg, an apparent act of revenge for Moscow’s decision to launch a bombing campaign against jihadists in Syria in September.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman dismissed such claims as “speculation” and Egypt has said it had no evidence pointing to a terror attack.
– ‘No need for politics’ –
Another mourner, Alexander Afanasyev, 50, said he did not want to talk politics.
“There’s no need to speak about politics right now. What does it have to do with this?” he told AFP.
“We are grieving and politics has nothing to do with this,” he said at a separate service held at the school where Lushchenko worked.
Another friend, Tamara Timofeyeva, 65, added: “I still cannot believe what happened. It’s scary to think what she went through.”
Elsewhere another victim, Alexei Alekseyev, 31, was laid to rest in Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second city on Thursday.
Relatives and friends also bade farewell to another casualty in the Pskov region of northwestern Russia, a spokeswoman for local authorities said.
On September 30, Russia launched a bombing campaign in Syria, saying it needed to target Islamic State jihadists, but the West has accused Moscow of seeking to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad and hitting moderate rebels.
When asked by reporters, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday declined to discuss any possible links between Moscow’s bombing campaign in Syria and the plane crash.