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Funeral Of Separatist Commander In Donetsk Draws Big Crowd

People attend a memorial service before the funeral of Mikhail Tolstykh, commander of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic known by the nom de guerre "Givi," in Donetsk on February 10.

A large crowd has turned out for the funeral of an assassinated separatist commander in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region.

Mikhail Tolstykh, 36, whose nom de guerre was Givi, died in an explosion in his office in the separatist-held regional capital on February 8.

Tolstykh's body was laid out in the Donetsk opera house on February 10 with the flag of his fighting force, known as the Somali Battalion, covering his closed coffin.

Western media reports said some 2,000 people -- most of them pensioners and separatist fighters -- lined up outside to pay last respects. Many carried flowers and orange-and-black ribbons expressing their support for Russia.

Donetsk separatist leaders have said the killing was a "terrorist" attack organized by the Ukrainian intelligence services. The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) denied responsibility, instead suspecting an internal operation planned by Russia or the separatists.

Tolstykh became known during the brutal battle for Donetsk airport. Video footage from 2015 shows him verbally and physically abusing Ukrainian servicemen captured during the battle.

Another separatist commander -- Arseny Pavlov, known as Motorola -- was killed when a bomb exploded in an elevator in his apartment block in Donetsk in October.

Fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 9,750 people since April 2014.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP