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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Is Laid to Rest With One Last Kiss

ReutersBoris Yeltsin's widow, Naina, caressing her husband's cheek in Christ the Savior Cathedral on Wednesday. She kissed him a last time in the cemetery.
Boris Yeltsin's grief-stricken widow bent over the coffin after it was opened for a final farewell at the Novodevichye Cemetery.

Naina, Yeltsin's wife of 50 years, stroked his cheeks and forehead for a minute.

Then she kissed his pale lips one last time.

An artillery battery fired three salvos as the coffin was lowered into the ground Wednesday afternoon. The loud booms startled Naina Yeltsin and her two daughters, who jumped.

A band played the Soviet anthem, which Yeltsin had scrapped but President Vladimir Putin brought back.

For the last leg of the journey into the cemetery, the coffin was placed in a gun carriage pulled by an armored vehicle. Soldiers marched behind, carrying Yeltsin's medals and awards. Behind them walked a crowd of mourners, including Putin, former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, former British Prime Minister John Major and former Polish President Lech Walesa. Bush looked exhausted, swaying back and forth as he walked along.

Crowds lined the road up to the cemetery gates. Television channels broadcast the ceremony live. No reporters were allowed into the cemetery.

Before the burial, about 25,000 people filed through the gold-domed Christ the Savior Cathedral over 20 hours to pay their respects, RIA-Novosti reported. Yeltsin, 76, died of heart failure Monday.

After the viewing ended, world leaders stepped in to offer their condolences to Naina Yeltsin. Clinton, who held a red candle during the funeral service, gave her a big hug and gently patted her on the back.

The funeral service brought together friends and foes, including former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who was left without a job when Yeltsin dismantled the Soviet Union, and former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, who attempted to overthrow Yeltsin and was subsequently arrested. Rutskoi brought flowers, a Kremlin spokesman said.

Even opposition leaders appeared to have no trouble getting into the funeral service. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky were among those in attendance. Yavlinsky laid a bunch of purple carnations on a table close to the body and went over to greet Yeltsin's family, kissing Naina Yeltsin's hand.

Some former officials whose best days go back to Yeltsin's eight-year reign looked visibly downcast as they stood by the open casket covered by a Russian tricolor. Yegor Gaidar, who served as prime minister in the early 1990s, stood near the innermost security perimeter, frequently wiping his eyes and sighing. "Oh my God," he said at one point.

"I have never heard anything like this before," Naina Yeltsin said at a Kremlin reception after the funeral service.

"There was so much warmth, and such kind words were spoken about Boris Nikolayevich," she said, in comments carried by Rossia television.

Putin told the reception: "Only a very few people get the chance to become free and lead millions, motivating the motherland for truly historic changes and transforming the world."

Wednesday's ceremony combined elements of a state funeral and Orthodox tradition, with honor guards standing at the coffin while white-robed priests chanted and swung censors.

Entire delegations of Russian officials, including ministers and regional governors, filed by the coffin. Many carried the traditional two carnations in their hands.

Naina Yeltsin sat with her two daughters and other family members on one side of the casket. As time passed and more officials stopped by to express their condolences, more chairs were brought out to seat the guests close to Yeltsin's family. Naina Yeltsin was at one point led away to rest and have her blood pressure checked.

When pop diva Alla Pugachyova, wearing a customary loose gown and a veil, approached the family, Naina Yeltsin stood up and the two women embraced. Pugachyova came together with a solemn-faced Maxim Galkin, the comedian who has often mimicked Yeltsin. Sovremennik theater director Galina Volchek, looking shaken and puffy-eyed, took a seat next to Naina at her invitation.

Inexplicably, police refused to let embattled Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov cut ahead of the long line to the cathedral. Zurabov flashed his ministerial pass, and police officers told him that no exceptions were being made for anybody, Interfax reported. Many politicians and celebrities entered the cathedral through a separate entrance.

Tennis players Anastasia Myskina and Yevgeny Kafelnikov also came to pay their respects to Yeltsin, an avid tennis fan, the Kremlin spokesman said.

So many people laid flowers on two tables near the casket that the bouquets had to be taken away regularly to make room for new ones. Billionaire Mikhail Fridman sent a wreath of white roses, while Putin's administration and former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin sent fir wreaths.

Ordinary people who passed the coffin before the state funeral said they admired Yeltsin for his character and the changes he had brought about, including the dismantling of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Izilia Manakova, 70, said she had come from the village of Emmauss in the Tver region to take a last look at the former president and light a candle for him. "He was an ideal person to me," she said, adding she had campaigned for him in three villages when he ran for re-election in 1996.

"I am here to say goodbye to Yeltsin," said Vladislav Butorin, 67, a retired AvtoVAZ engineer.

"Russia's first president led Russia forward," he said. "We were all Communists and have seen the low that the party sank to."

Journalists praised Yeltsin, too. As cameramen were trying to capture images of the world leaders entering the cathedral from the side entrance off-limits to reporters, police officers started angrily chasing them away. "Only under Yeltsin were we allowed to do our work," a journalist said as he was pushed by a police officer.

St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko, who served as an ambassador and deputy prime minister under Yeltsin, said it was too early to appreciate Yeltsin's legacy. "I think time will pass before we can appreciate the caliber of this figure," she told reporters outside the cathedral.

Staff Writer Kevin O'Flynn contributed to this report.