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Live updates on the Russo-Ukrainian War: US officials are expected in Kiev

LVIV, Ukraine – On the eve of the most important Christian religious holiday of the year, Ukrainians in the shadow of the war, which brought destruction and sorrow to much of the country, adhered to centuries-old Easter traditions.

In the Greek Catholic Church of the Transfiguration in the historic center of Lviv, a number of churchmen stood by the wicker baskets they had brought, covered with embroidered cloths and stuffed with sausages, smoked ham, Easter bread, butter and cheese to bless them. priest.

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

The food was destined to be eaten in elaborate Easter breakfasts after Sunday Mass.

Other residents carried Easter baskets through the cobbled streets on the way to the churches of all denominations that line the central market district, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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

At a nearby crossroads, some residents placed bouquets of flowers at the feet of the statue of the Virgin Mary, next to piles of white sandbags to protect the statue from bombing. From the beginning of the war, churches encased religious statues in protective envelopes and boarded up stained glass windows.

Russia, which is also predominantly Eastern Orthodox, this week rejected calls by Ukraine and the United Nations for an Easter truce.

Although most Ukrainians and Russians are Orthodox Christians, the long-simmering tensions between church leaders in both countries have deepened in recent years. In 2019, the church in Ukraine, which had been subordinated to Moscow since 1686, gained independence.

Members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces hold Easter sweet bread near their trenches on Saturday in a forest defensive position on the outskirts of the capital Kiev. Credit … David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

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

At the main train station in Lviv, volunteers handed out Easter chocolate to displaced children coming from other cities. One family who received the treats went with their four children from the devastated southern port of Mariupol on their way to the relative safety of western Ukraine for five days.

Many Ukrainians have stated that they are keeping their traditions in the face of the pervasive sadness and fear that the war has brought.

“There’s not much luck in people’s faces and eyes this year,” said Myroslava Zakharkiv, a university English teacher. “Many people are grieving, many men have gone to the front.”

Ms. Zacharkiv, 48, said she carried out a traditional Easter cleaning of her home in a village near Lviv. She also baked Easter bread and prepared the food she put in the basket to be blessed in the church.

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

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

Anna Mukoida (22) said it was the first Easter she would spend outside her family who remained in Bila Tserkva, a city 50 miles south of the capital Kiev, while she fled to the southwestern city of Chernivtsi.

Despite the dangers and uncertainties, many Ukrainians have decided to stick to tradition.

“Easter during the war is like the sun on a rainy day,” Mrs. Mukoida said. “Now it’s very important to have days like that just to make us feel alive and remember 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 had bought a white shirt with traditional dark red embroidery at Easter.

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

Priest Fotiy blessed Easter sweet bread on Saturday before it was to be distributed by volunteers from the Zaporozhye Humanitarian Aid Center in Ukraine. Credit … Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

In most parts of the country, curfew remained despite Saturday night, when many Christians traditionally hold vigils and celebrate midnight masses in memory of those who waited at Christ’s tomb on White Saturday. Instead, many people planned to watch Mass on television.

“We must understand that a gathering of civilians at a pre-determined time of night service can be a target for missiles, planes and artillery,” the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said on Saturday morning.

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

Earlier this week, the head of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphany, asked the clergy to give up Easter night services in areas affected by the fighting, fearing 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.