Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Thousands Tearfully Say Goodbye to Yeltsin

MTAn honor guard standing by the open casket of Boris Yeltsin in Christ the Savior Cathedral on Tuesday as members of the public pay their last respects.
The coffin sat in the middle of the gold-domed Christ the Savior Cathedral, draped in a Russian tricolor and flanked by presidential guards. A large portrait of Boris Yeltsin stood next to the open casket.

Yeltsin's widow, Naina, and his two daughters, dressed in black, sat in chairs on one side of the casket as a seemingly endless line of mourners filed by, many of them clutching flowers.

"I came to pay tribute to the man who gave me everything: freedom and opportunity to begin a career," said Alexei Khaliullin, 28, a finance manager.

He was echoed by Valentina Lysenko, a 38-year-old company director. "I have deep respect for Boris Nikolayevich as a person," Lysenko said, fighting back tears. "He was a man of great spirit, a true leader, but also a model family man."

The mourners laid their flowers on a long table located outside a fenced security perimeter around the coffin. Some lit candles.

After paying tribute to the late president, who died of heart failure Monday, most walked out of through the towering gates of Moscow's largest cathedral, a replica of tsarist-era original demolished by Bolsheviks and rebuilt during Yeltsin's rule.

But a few stayed to hear Yuvenaly, metropolitan of Krutitsk and Kolomna, and about 30 white-robed priests conduct the requiem. Naina Yeltsin and her daughters, who were accompanied by their husbands, wept quietly as the priests pronounced one prayer after another, swinging censers.

Yeltsin's body will lie in state at the cathedral until 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, after which a private funeral will take place there that will be attended by dozens of statesmen and politicians, including former U.S. Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton. Yeltsin will be buried at the Novodevichye Cemetery in southern Moscow.

The Rossia and NTV television channels will broadcast the funeral live from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Yeltsin, 76, died Monday afternoon at a Kremlin hospital. His health had been fragile for years and apparently took a turn for the worse after he caught a cold following a recent trip to Jordan.

President Vladimir Putin declared Wednesday a national day of mourning.

Putin praised Yeltsin's legacy on state television Monday night. "A new, democratic Russia was born [under Yeltsin] ... a state where the power really belongs to the people," Putin said.

"We will do everything to make sure that ... Boris Yeltsin's noble ideas always serve as a moral and political guideline for us," he said.

Putin postponed his annual state-of-the-nation address to both houses of parliament from Wednesday to Thursday. The Federation Council will cancel all sessions until Friday, while the State Duma will adjourn for a few hours to allow deputies to attend the funeral if they wish.

Hundreds of people were lined up outside Christ the Savior Cathedral by 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, when the doors were opened to mourners carrying red roses and portraits of Yeltsin. Several thousand people were waiting outside the cathedral at 10:30 p.m. Government officials visited from noon to 2 p.m., Interfax reported.

"It may not be enough for everyone to say goodbye to Yeltsin, but according to Orthodox practice, a person has to be buried on the third day after dying," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Yeltsin is to be buried under the Russian protocol for state funerals, which includes an honor guard escort of the body and transportation of the coffin on a gun carriage, Peskov said.

"But as Yeltsin is the first Russian president to be buried, the details of the funeral ceremony are still being worked out," he said Tuesday afternoon. "The procedure is being discussed with Yeltsin's family."

Yeltsin's family has visited the cemetery and chosen a 3-meter-by-6-meter area with no tombs nearby, cemetery officials said, Interfax reported. Also buried in the cemetery are Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, writers Anton Chekhov and Mikhail Bulgakov and composer Sergei Prokofiev.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Yeltsin's family, foreground, mourning while people file past the coffin in Christ the Savior Cathedral on Tuesday.
Under a law on former presidents, Yeltsin's family will receive a monthly pension equal to six minimum pensions -- the equivalent of about $800. They also will have the right to use "work vehicles" and receive medical care for the next five years.

"Everything envisioned by law will be implemented," Peskov said.

Traffic will be slow in some areas of the city from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday in connection with the funeral, police said. The streets affected will include Volkhonka in the center and Saimonovsky Proyezd, Novodevichy Proyezd and Luzhnetsky Proyezd in the west.

Outside the Christ the Savior Cathedral, sisters Dasha Gruzdeva, 11, and Ksyusha Gruzdeva, 15, said they had traveled from the Voronezh regional town of Borisoglebsk. "We stood in line for two hours because we wanted to bid farewell to Yeltsin. We only saw him on TV," Ksyusha said.

Leonid Vokuyev, former ombudsman of the Komi republic, said: "Yeltsin gave us our main human rights."

In the cathedral, two elderly women fell ill and had to be led out to ambulances.

Keman Shamanov, a 30-year-old show business worker, said he would always remember Yeltsin on top of a tank addressing a crowd of supporters during the August 1991 coup staged by Soviet hard-liners to unseat then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. "I will never forget Yeltsin standing on that tank. He came into politics in a beautiful way and exited equally beautifully," he said.

Yeltsin abruptly resigned on Dec. 31, 1999, handing the reins over to Putin.

Not all were sure why they were paying tribute, however. "I don't know why I came here," said Natalya Zakharova, 32, a housewife. "Something made me leave the apartment and come.

"I am not interested in politics, but I think Yeltsin was a fine president," she added.

Staff Writer Anatoly Medetsky contributed to this report.