Ukrainians bid farewell to fallen ballet dancer

KYIV (Reuters) - Mournful Ukrainians said their final goodbyes on Thursday to a 26-year-old ballet dancer who was killed fighting Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

Vadym Khlupianets, of the Kyiv National Academic Operetta Theater, was killed by a sniper near Bakhmut, a strategically important town in the eastern Donetsk region, the Ukrainian military said.

Fellow performers and staff members carried his coffin into the theatre, where visitors lined up to tearfully bid farewell. As Khlupianets' coffin was carried away, they erupted into one last round of applause.

"Vadym chose the side of light and good against evil," said Bohdan Strutynskii, the theatre's creative director.

He added: "Today's tribute is not what it should have been: applause at the end of a performance, with people asking for an encore."

Khlupianets, a Donetsk native, volunteered to join the military after Moscow's Feb. 24 invasion.

Ukrainian forces have succeeded in expelling Russian troops from large portions of eastern and southern Ukraine in recent weeks. But they are still suffering losses, said Khlupianets' commanding officer, Denys Popov.

"The best sons of Ukraine are losing their lives," he told mourners.

(Reporting by Ivan Lyubysh-Kirdey and Anna Dabrowska; Writing by Dan Peleschuk; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)