International

Ukrainians celebrate Orthodox Easter as war rages

A Ukrainian priest blesses believers as they collect traditional cakes and painted eggs prepared for an Easter celebration in the in Lviv, Ukraine, Saturday, April 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Mykola Tys)

Ukraine celebrated Orthodox Easter on Sunday, two months to the day since Russia began its unprovoked and bloody war on the country.

Easter festivities looked markedly different in Ukrainian churches, where stained glass windows have been boarded and statues wrapped in protective materials since the invasion began Feb. 24. 

“Easter’s eggs in [R]ussia are traditionally coloured in red. This year they are blood-coloured. Ukrainian children’s blood,” the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

The country began its celebration amid a curfew, as Ukraine’s presidential office prohibited residents of all 24 regions from going outside overnight.

Those curfews prevented some traditional midnight Masses from being held, leading many Ukrainians to celebrate one of their most important holidays of the year by watching services on television, according to The New York Times

Some officials in eastern areas like Luhansk and Sumy encouraged the Orthodox faithful to attend services remotely, amid possible Russian “provocations” and with many churches already damaged or destroyed in the war, CNN reported.

In Lyiv in the west, people reportedly gathered at the Greek Catholic Church of the Transfiguration on Saturday, carrying wicker baskets filled with cheese and sausages to be blessed before being eaten after Mass on Sunday.

One soldier outside St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral in Kyiv used his helmet as an Easter basket, according to NPR.

Many Ukrainians, displaced after fleeing their country, celebrated from afar, away from family members who stayed behind to fight or aid the resistance.

From Germany to Poland, priests offered blessings to Ukrainian refugees, however, with over five million Ukrainians having fled the country, some parishes struggled to accommodate the influx of Orthodox worshippers, Axios reported.

“We are enduring dark times. And on this bright day, most of us are not in bright clothes,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday. “But we are fighting for a bright idea. On the bright side. And the truth, people, the Lord and the holy heavenly light are on our side.”

“We have all been praying for the last two months,” he added. “And in the Resurrection of Christ, which symbolizes the great victory of life over death, each of us asks the Lord for one thing. And speaks the same words to heaven. The words of a great and united prayer. Great and Only God! Save our Ukraine!”

Both Ukraine and Russia are home to majority Orthodox populations. Ukraine’s church was granted independence in 2019 after centuries of being subordinate to Moscow.

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