Alexei Navalny's funeral lifts spirits as many feared hope died with Russian opposition leader

It is hard to grasp that Alexei Navalny is gone.

Navalny was a colossus of a man, whose energy, irreverence and astonishing determination touched a chord with so many in Russia who opposed Vladimir Putin's rule and who dreamed their country might be different.

His death felt personal to them.

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That is why so many thousands came to honour him in Moscow at the funeral that his mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, fought so hard to have.

They queued along the pavements on both sides of the church in long, orderly lines.

People crowded on to the stairways of neighbouring shops to try and get a glimpse as the coffin went into the church.

They knew they were unlikely to get in themselves, but they wanted to be there for the ceremony before walking the 30 minutes on to the Borisovskoye cemetery in the hope they would also have their chance to say goodbye.

Along the way they chanted: "Alexei" and "Navalny", but also "No to war" and "Russia will be free".

These last were chants of old, from the days - not so long ago but they seem like a lifetime - when there were rallies in Russia.

But not "We will not forgive", "We thank the parents for their son" or "Navalny our hero!".

Those were unique to this moment, to its pain and emotion.

No one wanted this rally to descend into police chaos. They were careful to preserve the solemnity of the occasion and, for their part, the police did the same.

"It is very difficult to stay wise and not be overwhelmed with anger," said 70-year-old Tatyana.

"It is very sad because I think I won't see the end of this tragedy with my country, my beloved country or the tragedy of this war.

"I came here to look at people and not to feel alone."

When Navalny died, many people said to us they felt that hope had died with him.

But this turnout seemed to lift spirits.

"I feel despair and crushing sadness," said Barbara.

"But at the same time, you feel inspired by seeing thousands of people gathering here today, despite everything they might face by doing so - and that gives you hope more than anything else."

May it provide solace, too, to all of his supporters in exile who could not be there.

May it prove some comfort to his wife, Yulia, and their two children, who for their own safety could not attend their own father's funeral.

On social media, Yulia paid tribute to her husband, even as her mother sat with Lyudmila in the cemetery and watched as the mourners passed by.

"I don't know how to live without you", Yulia wrote, "but I will try to make you happy for me up there and proud of me.

"I don't know if I can handle it but I will try."

His daughter, Dasha, also wrote to her father: "You gave your life for me, for Mum, for Zakhar, for Russia. And I promise that I will live my life the way you taught me, so you're proud of me and most importantly, with the same smile on my face."

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Alexei Navalny kept smiling, right until the end.

In his last-ever public appearance, the day before his death, via video-link from the penal colony in Russia's Far North, he was grinning and joking with the judge and prosecutors.

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His humour was so infectious that they were laughing too.

To face the most terrifying hardships with good humour, surely that is the very essence of courage.