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Russia buries fourteen elite ‘hydronaut’ who sacrificed their live to save burning submarine

Russia has buried the 14 navy officers who were killed in a fire on a nuclear-powered submersible in St Petersburg, on Saturday.

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There was a heavy security presence as military police stood outside Serafimovskoye cemetery gates as navy serviceman and mourners made their way to the memorial service.

Dozens of floral arrangements and tributes were laid on the graves as those grieving said their final goodbyes.

The officers died in the Barents Sea on Monday, but the accident was only made public a day later.

Moscow has said the crew was studying the sea floor and that the details of the tragedy are a “state secret”. 

But Russian media reported that the ship was a top-secret nuclear-powered mini-submarine. 

The defence ministry confirmed the vessel was nuclear-powered for the first time on Friday ahead of the private funeral service, which was closed off to the media.

‘You have to understand that the identities of most of the people who gathered here are secret and their faces cannot be shown,’ a representative of the defence ministry told AFP at the gates of the cemetery.

A young woman at the ceremony, clad in black and holding a wreath that read ‘from friends and classmates’ said: ‘This is a great sorrow’.

Even ordinary St Petersburg residents came to the cemetery’s gates to pay their respects including 60-year old Natalya Stepanova who said: ‘I feel so sorry for them, like they were my own (family)’.

‘They are real heroes,’ she added. 

During the service there was a military salute and the Russian national anthem was heard.

Dmitry Razmyslov, 38, attended the funeral to pay his respects to one of the seamen – Dmitry Solovyev – who he studied alongside at a military academy in the late 1980s. 

The Russian defence ministry said Solovyev acted heroically during the accident, evacuating a civilian and closing the vessel’s hatch to halt spreading flames. 

Reports say Solovyev rescued a ‘civilian expert’ on board the submarine. 

The civilian left the burning section of the vessel and the crew member shut the hatch behind him and stayed in alongside other crew members ‘fighting to save the vessel’, said the defence ministry.

Solovyev leaves behind a pregnant wife and three year old son, say reports.  

Earlier, the day Russian National Guard lined the streets of St Petersburg as the coffins of the elite officers who were killed in a fire on board a nuclear powered submarine made their way through the city. 

A convoy of 14 minibuses carrying the coffins of the officers, known as ‘hydronauts’, made its way to private funerals for close friends, family and their comrades at Serafimovskoye cemetery on Saturday.

The officers, were members of a top secret underwater intelligence service called the deep-sea Spetsnaz, died after a fire broke on board the AS-12 nicknamed Losharik on July 1 in the Barents Sea. 

There was also emotional scenes outside the cemetery as grieving officers comforted each other.  

Nearly all of the victims were highly decorated officers and included seven Captain First Rank officers – the most senior staff officers in the Russian navy.

Experts have said that the presence of many high-ranking officers on board could suggest the submarine was not on an ordinary assignment. 

On Friday, the defence ministry said the fire started in the submersible’s battery compartment and did not impact the vessel’s nuclear reactor. 

Moscow military analyst Colonel Viktor Baranets revealed that the fire broke out after some kind of ‘explosion’ while the vessel was almost 1,000ft underwater. 

Writing for the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, he said the high-ranking sailors battled for an hour and a half to bring the blaze under control. 

The blaze was so hot that crew members ‘had no time to use special breathing devices’.

Despite this the ‘selfless, decisive actions of the crew saved the submarine and ensured it was tugged to Severomorsk military base’.

The nuclear power unit on board was not damaged by the inferno and no leakage occurred, it is reported.

The blaze, which was not reported by the Kremlin until 24 hours later, is a set back for the top secret operations service who relied on the skills of the highly qualified team for deep sea research, according to The Times. 

Losharik is like a submerged laboratory with data gathering equipment for the ocean and advanced systems capable of spying of foreign submarines and underwater communications, the publication reported.

President Vladimir Putin’s plans, as reported by the Pentagon white paper, are to turn the Arctic in an energy and minerals resource for Russia and to control sea routes, giving Moscow power in the region. 

On July 1 the crew of a fishing boat witnessed a stricken Russian submarine make an emergency ascent right in front of them after it caught fire. 

The fishermen were sailing towards Kildin Island, in the Barents Sea, when they claimed to have seen the submarine surface around 9.30pm on Monday.

One crew member, who spoke anonymously because they were fishing illegally, described how men were running around on deck before a warship and two tugboats quickly pulled up alongside the submarine.

Speaking to SeverPost, the man said: ‘We were moving towards Kildin in the evening, and here, around 9.30pm, a submarine pops up.

‘It came up completely. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. On the deck, people were running, scurrying around.’ 

Pulling into an isolated bay, the crew of the fishing boat watched the rescue operation for around an hour and a half until the rescue boats moved away.

The fisherman added that the submarine moved away quickly, apparently under its own power, and they did not see any smoke.

The submarine and its escort sailed into the nearby Kola Bay towards Severomorsk, where it is currently docked.

It was only later that the fishermen heard that bodies had been brought ashore.  

In total 14 submariners died in the fire, which Moscow says started in a battery compartment before quickly spreading. 

Russia has named the men who died in the accident, but otherwise the accident has been cloaked in secrecy. 

President Putin also bestowed top state honours on all of the men – including four who were given the Hero of Russia, the country’s most prestigious honour.

The other ten men will be posthumously awarded the Order of Courage.  

‘All of them will be buried in secret, at the request of their family members,’ reported Fontanko news service.

‘Only close friends, family members and comrades will be at the funerals.’

In previous cases of major Russian national disasters, funerals have often been held in public.

The tragedy has echoes of the sinking of the Kursk submarine in 2000, also in the Barents Sea, that claimed 118 lives and shook the first year of Putin’s presidency.

Russian media reported that the 14 seamen will be buried near a monument to the Kursk victims in the Serafimovskoye Cemetery.

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