Ukraine marks the Orthodox Easter with prayers for the captives

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – The sun came out as Ukrainians marked the Orthodox Passover in the capital Kyiv on Sunday with prayers for those fighting in the front line and others trapped behind them in places like Mariupol.

St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral in Kiev was surrounded by hundreds of worshipers with baskets to be blessed. Inside, a woman grabbed a soldier’s arm and turned briefly to kiss his elbow. Other soldiers prayed with handfuls of candles and then crossed themselves. An elderly woman slowly made her way through the crowd and the stands of flickering candles. A young woman was holding daffodils.

Outside the cathedral, a soldier who gave only his first name, Mykhailo, used his helmet as an Easter basket. He said he did not have another.

“I hope I only have to use the helmet for this,” he said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at a service elsewhere in Kiev urged Ukrainians not to let anger over the war overwhelm them.

“We all think our sunrise is coming soon,” he said.

The spiritual leader of the world Orthodox Christians called for the opening of humanitarian corridors in Ukraine, saying a “human tragedy” was unfolding in the country.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I spoke on Saturday night in Istanbul during the Midnight Mass. He is considered to be the first among equals among Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, giving him a prominent place but not the power of a Catholic pope.

With the Orthodox Church split by the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, some worshipers hoped that the holy day could inspire peace-making. “The church can help,” said a man who gave only his first name, Serhii, when he came to a church in Kiev under the Moscow Patriarchate.

He and others brought baskets to be blessed by priests for Easter, with the flick of a brush sprinkling holy water over offerings of home-colored eggs, lit candles and even bottles of Jack Daniel’s.

Residents of villages affected by the war approached the holiday with some defiance.

“We will celebrate Easter no matter what, no matter how much horror,” said Kateryna Lazarenko, 68, in the northern village of Ivanivka outside Chernihiv, where ruined Russian tanks were still filled with roads.

“How am I? Very nervous, everyone is nervous,” said another resident, Olena Koptyl, as she made her Easter bread. “The Easter holidays bring no joy. I cry a lot. We can not forget how we lived.” She and 12 others spent a month in the shelter of Russian soldiers in the basement of her home before the soldiers withdrew.

In eastern Ukraine, the scene of Russia’s latest offensive, worshipers expressed unrest along with hopes of negotiations.

“God will make them understand, and they will reach agreement, for this should be stopped,” Aleksandra Papravkina said in Bakhmut. “Otherwise, Ukraine will not exist.”

Ukraine, meanwhile, is preparing for the first high-level US trip to Kiev since the war began on February 24, after Zelenskyy announced he would meet in Kiev on Sunday with Foreign Minister Antony Blinken and Defense Minister Lloyd Austin.

Zelenskyy gave few details at a news conference Saturday night, but said he expected results – “not just gifts or some kind of cake, we expect specific things and specific weapons.”

Pope Francis renewed his call for an Easter truce. Without mentioning the aggressors, Francis urged them to “stop the attack to help the suffering of the exhausted people.”


Oleksandr Stashevsky contributed to this report by Ivanivka.


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