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Ukrainians celebrate Easter in the shadow of war

In his evening speech on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reflected on the significance of this date. “Today was White Saturday for the Christians of the Eastern Rite. The day between the crucifixion and the resurrection. Russia seems to be stuck on such a day,” he said.

“The day death wins and God is said to be gone. But there will be a Resurrection. Life will defeat death. Truth will defeat any lie. And evil will be punished,” Zelensky added.

With the escalation of fighting in the south and east, many in Ukraine are seeking their consolation in search of solace, while others choose to travel home from neighboring Poland to be among their loved ones to commemorate Easter. “I’ve never been so happy in my life. When I finally saw my husband again that first night, I still felt like it was a dream,” says Anna-Mariia Nykyforchyn (25) of CNN, Lviv, western. The city is largely spared Russian attack. In the nine months of her pregnancy, when the war broke out, Nykyforchyn was one of more than five million who made it difficult to call. She returned with her baby Marharyta two days ago.

“It was extremely important for me to return home before Easter,” he says before sharing his joy at the prospect of the couple’s grandparents meeting a new addition to the family. “I really wanted us to be together. It’s such a ray of hope that everything will be fine.”

Nykyforchyn, sitting on a sofa in her apartment in the center of Lviv, looks at her 27-year-old husband, Nazar, whose attention is fixed on the tiny, baby girl dozing on his lap.

“I had a very difficult experience in Poland, both physically, mentally and mentally. It was more than difficult, unbearable,” he says.

“I moved into insecurity: to strangers, to a stranger’s house, to a city I’ve never been to, to a country with a language I don’t speak fluently. I understood that I would have to give birth in a clinic where no one knows me and where I don’t have to. “I didn’t know what it would be like. But the main idea that kept me afloat was that my baby had to be born in safe conditions,” says Nykyforchyn.

Nazar, aware of his wife’s tax, joins: “She’s not just a woman, she’s a hero … if I was in her shoes, I wouldn’t be able … to collapse. And she didn’t collapse. “

While the proud father is clearly pleased to have reunited with his wife and daughter, this young family has some of the happier ones. Not everyone gets the same opportunity to meet loved ones.

The Ukrainian government has announced new curfew on Easter weekend amid warnings by authorities about the potential for increased Russian military activity during the holiday celebrations. And earlier this week, officials in the Luhansk and Sumy regions called on residents to attend virtual services, citing possible Russian “provocations,” noting that many churches were destroyed in the invasion.

Despite fears, Lviv residents gathered in churches on Saturday for blessings of protection and prayer. In the Church of the Intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, believers ignored calls to stay at home and instead stood in line with decorated baskets of food ready to be blessed with holy water from pastors.

Volodymyr, 53, stands patiently beside his family as they wait for the priest to follow the line.

“People often think that holidays should be happy, bring relief and make it easier – and when they feel good, they don’t resort to real faith … Now we’re going through hard times, people are starting to get closer to God, there are more people than before “And that’s good for us,” he says before showing us in his basket a homemade ribbon (traditional Easter bread), sausage, ham and cheese sandwiched between candles and decorative eggs.

“There was an air raid this morning, but now it’s thankful and we were able to come. It’s very important to us. It’s a church we often visit,” he added.

Nearby, a 30-year-old church volunteer, Andrie, obediently handles collection boxes of Easter food for Ukrainian soldiers. “We try to keep the holiday mood and hope for justice and peace. These holidays give Easter even more hope. We must believe in victory just as we believe in Jesus Christ,” he says.

He pointed to the rapidly filling containers and added: “They will be sent to the military units that protect our country. (They) should have the opportunity to eat their belts and sausage.”

A gust of wind caught the beautifully embroidered fabric covering 35-year-old Maryanna’s basket. After being back in place, she told CNN that her family heeded a warning to stay home.

“It’s scary and there is anxiety in my soul. There was a rocket attack in Odessa today … But we believe in God and we hope it will all end in victory,” she said quietly.

When the priest goes around the corner, her eyes quickly flash back to the basket. “We have been warned by our city officials that people should stay at home, but we can’t,” he continues. “How can we not bless the Easter bread? We missed it during the Covid pandemic – and now people desperately need the holiday.”

Nathan Hodge of CNN and Julia Kesaieva in Lviv also contributed to the report.