Ukraine celebrates Orthodox Easter despite destruction and bombing | Ukraine and Russia

About fifty people defied the bombs on Sunday in Lyman to receive the traditional Orthodox Easter blessing, which Ukrainians celebrate amid the grief and damage caused by the Russian invasion and two months of war.

At a military post in the eastern town of Lyman, on the front, soldiers exchanged the usual patriotic salute of “Glory to Ukraine!” by “Christ is risen!”.

“It really is resurrected!”, they answer in chorus.

Soldiers guard the road near the village of Lviv — Photo: AFP/Yasuyoshi Chiba

Orthodox Christians in Europe, Africa and the Middle East celebrate Easter later than most in the Western world. This is because they use a different calendar than Catholics and Protestants, for example, to calculate which day Easter should fall.

In Lyman’s small Orthodox church, 50 civilians defied the risk of possible mortar fire to gather and pray from dawn. Ukrainian and Russian artillery fire were heard during the singing of psalms.

Faithful defy the risks of war to celebrate Orthodox Easter in the Ukrainian village of Lyman (Photo: Yasuioshy Chiba/AFP)

“If we make wrong decisions, the darkness will destroy us, as the darkness is destroying us during this war,” the priest said in his sermon.

“We are grateful for the humanitarian aid and the community that cares for the displaced,” he added.

Ten soldiers and uniformed police, some wearing bulletproof vests, also attended the Easter Mass.

Worshipers attend an Easter mass in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine (Photo: Yuriy Dyachyshyn / AFP)

After the Russian invasion, which now completes two months, thousands of people were killed and millions were forced to leave their homes.

In the western city of Lviv, a couple dressed in their best clothes walked into a crowded church, carrying the traditional Easter breakfast basket, covered with embroidered canvas, for the priest to bless.

A woman prays at a church in the Ukrainian city of Slovyansk on Orthodox Easter Sunday (Photo: Yasuioshy Chiba/AFP)

Yuliya, 27, was listening to the sermon at the entrance to the church with a friend.

“It’s a party that unites the family. Now, we are at war and it is more important than ever to follow our traditions,” she said, dressed in a black overcoat.

A Ukrainian soldier rests in the city of Severodonetsk on Orthodox Easter Sunday (Photo: Yasuioshy Chiba/AFP)

Ukrainian authorities urged on Saturday (23) to continue with online religious services and to respect night curfews.

In a special Easter message this Sunday (24), President Volodymyr Zelensky asked God “don’t forget about Bucha, Irpin, Borodianka” and other locations that Ukraine accuses Russian forces of atrocities.

“Our hearts are filled with burning anger, our souls are filled with burning hatred against the invaders and everything they have done,” Zelensky said. “Don’t let anger destroy us from the inside… Turn it into a beneficial force to undo the forces of evil,” he added.

On the front in the eastern city of Severodonetsk, Ukrainian troops hid their meager reserves under a bridge after being hit by Russian mortar fire at night.

Along with bottles of water and soft drinks, rifles and cereal bars, three large Easter loaves, covered in frosting and sprinkled with sugar of different colors, delivered by their commander, awaited them.

In Sloviansk, in the west, worshipers headed Saturday afternoon to Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral with baskets full of decorated eggs and sweet bread.

Paisiy, a 34-year-old priest, said he had stayed in town to offer solace to the numerous residents who had refused to leave.

“My job is to stay. The people are afraid and when they come here and come to the priest, they feel safe,” he said.

Several residents came to receive a blessing with holy water and soon got back on their bikes and left.

No one stayed longer than necessary in the courtyard of the tiled cathedral, while the boom of artillery resounded in the distance.

Putin holds a candle at Easter Mass at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow (Photo: Reuters/Sputnik/Sergey Guneev/Kremlin)

While in Ukraine citizens took risks to celebrate Easter, in Russia President Vladimir Putin attended a mass by the Russian Orthodox Church, which has strongly supported the Kremlin leader’s “special military operation”.

Dressed in a dark blue suit, white shirt and dark purple tie, Putin appeared at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral holding a lit red candle, as shown in live footage of the midnight service.

The Russian leader crossed himself several times during the ceremony. When Patriarch Kirill announced “Christ is risen”, Putin joined the other members of the congregation with the reply “Truly he is risen”. He didn’t say anything else.

At an open-air service in Moscow on Saturday, Kirill said he hoped the conflict in Ukraine would end quickly but did not condemn the Russian invasion. His statements supporting the intervention caused disunity in the Orthodox Church around the world.

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