LYMAN, Ukraine: Ukrainians on Sunday marked a sombre Orthodox Easter two months into Russia’s invasion, with many braving bombardment for blessings and others mourning their loved ones. Under the rain at a military position in the eastern town of Lyman, on the frontline, soldiers greeted each other with “Christ has risen!”
Dozens of policemen arrived at the town’s small Orthodox church, some in bulletproof jackets, and one carrying a large cardboard box of traditional Easter cakes to be blessed with holy water by the priest. They joined dozens of civilians who had gathered to pray from dawn, the sound of artillery fire resounding throughout the singing of the psalms.
“If we make the wrong choices then darkness will ruin us, as darkness is destroying us during this war,” the priest said in his sermon. “We are thankful for the humanitarian aid and the community taking care of the displaced,” he added. The war in Ukraine has killed thousands and forced millions to flee their homes since Russia invaded on February 24. In the town of Bucha outside the capital, people mourned their dead after Russia withdrew late last month after weeks of devastating occupation. A row of people with their heads bowed, some crying, paid their respects before the communal grave behind St Andrews Church.
‘We need rays of hope’
“Today is a sunny day-like spring-and we have a hope that everything will end soon and our army will kick the invaders out of our country,” said Lyubov Kravtsova, 59, fighting back tears. But “still this is very hard for me,” she added, noting the terror and deprivation of the Russian occupation.
People stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a row outside the church, carrying wicker baskets of Easter food. St Andrew’s priest Andrii Holovine greeted the faithful and sprinkled them with holy water. “Our people live under bombing and shelling, with tears, grief and sorrow-but we need rays of hope. And this holiday gives us hope,” Holovine told AFP.
But forgiveness for the horrors that happened in Bucha-and are still happening elsewhere in Ukraine-was still a long way off, he said. “It’s very important that evil be judged in The Hague tribunal and all war criminals be named.” In the eastern city of Kharkiv near the Russian border, around 50 people had braved possible bombardment to attend mass at the Gvardiytsiv Shironintsiv Church.
Stanislas, 35, had come to pray with his wife and 18-month-old daughter, carrying a round loaf of sweet bread covered in white icing and sprinkled with multicoloured hundreds and thousands. “I hope for better days, when we can again fire up the barbecue,” said the baker, whose shop was destroyed by a Russian rocket. Nadwya, an elderly lady in a purple and white woolly hat, carried two Easter cakes she had baked. “I just want to be able to sleep properly,” she said, after weeks of relentless bombardment.
‘Feeling of security’
Andrey Golovchenko, a civilian helping out in the church, said more people came to the sanctuary these days than before the war, and not just to receive aid. He said he hoped for Ukraine’s “rapid victory”. On the other side of the country, in the western city of Lviv, a husband and wife in their Sunday best walked towards a packed church, the latter holding a basket covered in an embroidered cloth. Outside the Bernardine Church in the city near the Polish border, 27-year-old Yuliya listened to the service from the courtyard with a friend.
“We have war now, and it is especially important to follow our traditions,” she said. Across the vast country a day earlier, people had made preparations, however modest. In the eastern city of Severodonetsk, on the frontline, Ukrainian troops had hidden three large Easter breads covered in icing under a bridge, among their small stock of water bottles, cereal bars and Kalshnikovs.
In Slovyansk, to the west, residents dropped by the cathedral for a quick blessing, then hopped back on bikes and sped off, as the boom of artillery fire resounded in the distance. Paisiy, a 34-year-old priest, said he had stayed in the city because it was his job. “People are afraid and when they come here and see the priest, it brings them a feeling of security,” he said. – AFP