Ukraine marks the Orthodox Easter with prayers for the captives

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KYIV, Ukraine – The sun came out as Ukrainians on Sunday marked the Orthodox Passover in the capital Kyiv 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 a handful of candles and then crossed themselves. An elderly woman slowly bent through the crowd and 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 the Ukrainians not to let the anger over the war overwhelm them.

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

With the Orthodox Church divided by 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 Daniels.

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.

Ukraine was preparing on Sunday for the first high-level US trip to Kiev since the war began on February 24, after Zelenskyy announced he would meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense 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.”

Oleksandr Stashevsky contributed to this report by Ivanivka.

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