Russia-Ukraine War, Zelensky and Blinken News: Live Updates

LVIV, Ukraine – On the eve of this year’s most important Christian religious holiday, Ukrainians clung to centuries-old Easter traditions in the shadow of a war that has brought destruction and grief to large parts of the country.

At the Greek Catholic Transfiguration Church in Lviv’s historic city center, a number of churchgoers stood next to wicker baskets they had brought, covered with embroidered clothes and filled with sausages, smoked hams, Easter bread, butter and cheeses to be blessed by the priest.

It was a ritual celebrated throughout Ukraine, in Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches, which follows the Julian calendar and will celebrate Easter this year on Sunday.

The food was destined to be eaten in extensive Easter breakfast after Mass on Sunday.

Other residents carried Easter baskets through cobbled streets on their way to churches of any faith located along the central market district, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When the air raid sirens sounded, the cafes closed their doors and a group of street musicians took a break from the folk music they played on traditional Ukrainian string instruments.

At a nearby intersection, some residents had placed flower bouquets at the feet of a statue of the Virgin Mary next to piles of white sandbags to protect the statue from bomb attacks. Since the beginning of the war, churches have wrapped religious statues in protective wrapping and have shrouded glass mosaic windows.

Russia, which is also predominantly Eastern Orthodox, this week rejected calls from Ukraine and the UN for an Easter ceasefire.

Although most Ukrainians and Russians are Orthodox Christians, the lingering tensions between church leaders in the two nations have deepened in recent years. In 2019, the Church of Ukraine, which had been subordinate to Moscow since 1686, gained its independence.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

This week, Russian airstrikes killed at least seven people in Lviv, but the city has been spared most of the fighting raging in the eastern part of the country in the past two months. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have sought refuge here or have gone through on their way to Poland and other countries.

At Lviv’s central train station, volunteers distributed Easter chocolates to displaced children who arrived from other cities. A family receiving the treats had gone for five days with their four children from the ruined southern port of Mariupol on their way to the relative security of western Ukraine.

Many Ukrainians said they were sticking to their traditions in the face of pervasive grief and fear that the war had brought.

“This year there is not so much happiness in people’s faces and eyes,” said Myroslava Zakharkiv, an English instructor at the university. “A lot of people are grieving, a lot of men have gone to the front.”

Ms. Zakharkiv, 48, said she had made a traditional Easter cleaning of her home in a village near Lviv. She had also baked Easter bread and cooked food to put in a basket to be blessed in church.

“We hope there will be no bombs and no alarms, but no one knows what will happen, so we’re a little scared,” she said.

For many of the displaced, the war has also meant separation from their families.

Anna Mukoida, 22, said this was the first Easter she would spend away from her family, who were staying in Bila Tserkva, a city 50 miles south of the capital Kyiv, while fleeing to the southwestern city of Chernivtsi.

Despite the danger and uncertainty, many Ukrainians were determined to stick to the tradition.

“Easter in the time of war is like the sun on a rainy day,” said Ms. Mukoida. “It is very important now to have such days just to feel alive and remember that there was life before the war.”

Neonila Vodolska, 22, was also displaced. She lived in the western city of Kalush, far from her family in Kiev. To alleviate the pain of separation from her family, she said she bought a white shirt with traditional dark red embroidery to wear on Easter day.

“Now I fully understand the importance of saving such traditions,” said Mrs Vodolska. “Doing something normal, celebrating something that reminds me of the good times, of my childhood, gives me hope.”

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

In most parts of the country, curfews remained in place Saturday night, with many Christians traditionally keeping vigils and celebrating a midnight Mass in memory of those who waited for Holy Saturday at Christ’s tomb. Instead, many people planned to watch the fair on television.

“We must understand that gathering civilians at a predetermined time for all-night service can be a target for missiles, aircraft and artillery,” the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in a statement Saturday morning.

In Lviv, authorities initially announced that the curfew would be lifted, but then reintroduced it after receiving notifications that pro-Russian saboteurs could plan attacks in the city.

Earlier this week, the head of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, Metropolitan Epifaniy, asked priests to give up night-Easter services in areas of the country affected by fighting, for fear of Russian bombing.

“It’s not hard to believe that this will really happen, because the enemy is trying to destroy us completely,” he said in a televised speech.

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