Boris Yeltsin, who has been both praised as a champion of democratic reforms and criticized for impoverishing millions, died Monday of heart failure at the age of 76, and will be buried at the Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow Wednesday.
A 500-meter long queue has formed in front of the cathedral, where a memorial service began at 4:30 p.m. Police allowed mourners into the church in groups and said access to the cathedral would be provided all night. Many mourners left the cathedral with tears in their eyes.
The latest reports said the Russian Foreign Ministry has started a book of condolences, where the heads of diplomatic missions and offices of international organizations, as well as diplomats and foreigners would be able to leave messages from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Tuesday and from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Wednesday. A ministry spokesman said similar books would be available at Russian Embassies abroad, where Russian flags will fly at half-mast Wednesday.
The Novodevichy cemetery, which dates back to the 16th century, is a burial ground for many Russian and Soviet writers, composers, scientists and politicians. Among other tombs, there is the grave of Lazar Kaganovich, one of Stalin's closest allies, and Nikita Khrushchev, a Soviet leader. Army General Alexander Lebed was buried there in 2002, and Raisa Gorbachev, the wife of the only Soviet president, was laid to rest there in 1999.