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Ukraine marks Orthodox Easter with prayers for those trapped

One soldier used his helmet as an Easter basket: "I hope I’ll only have to use the helmet for this."

KYIV, Ukraine — The sun came out as Ukrainians marked Orthodox Easter in the capital, Kyiv, on Sunday with prayers for those fighting on the front lines and others trapped beyond them in places like Mariupol.

St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral in Kyiv was ringed by hundreds of worshipers with baskets to be blessed. Inside, a woman clutched the arm of a soldier, turning briefly to kiss his elbow. Other soldiers prayed, holding handful of candles, then crossed themselves. An older woman slowly made her way through the crowd and stands of flickering candles. One young woman held daffodils.

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

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

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

“All of us believe our sunrise will come soon,” he said.

Credit: AP
Worshippers light candles at the Saint Volodymyr's Cathedral during Orthodox Eastern celebrations in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

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

RELATED: Pope Francis makes anguished Easter plea

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I spoke Saturday night in Istanbul during midnight Mass. He is considered first among equals among Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, which gives him prominence but not the power of a Catholic pope.

With the Orthodox church split by the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, some worshippers hoped the holy day could inspire gestures of peacemaking. “The church can help,” said one man who gave only his first name, Serhii, as he came to a church in Kyiv under the Moscow Patriarchate.

Credit: AP
Ukrainian serviceman, left, and a woman carry a basket with Easter's food for blessing at the Saint Pantaleon church during the Easter celebration in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Sunday, April 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Andriy Andriyenko)

He and others brought baskets to be blessed by priests for Easter, with flicks of a brush sprinkling holy water over offerings of home-dyed eggs, lighted candles and even bottles of Jack Daniels.

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

“We’ll celebrate Easter no matter what, no matter much horror,” said Kateryna Lazarenko, 68, in the northern village of Ivanivka outside Chernihiv, where ruined Russian tanks still littered the roads.

Credit: AP
An orthodox Ukrainian priest blesses believers as they collect traditional cakes and painted eggs prepared for an Easter celebration during a religious service at a church in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Sunday, April 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

“How do I feel? Very nervous, everyone is nervous,” said another resident, Olena Koptyl, as she prepared her Easter bread. “The Easter holiday doesn’t bring any joy. I’m crying a lot. We cannot forget how we lived.” She and 12 others spent a month sheltering from Russian soldiers in the basement of her home before the soldiers withdrew.

Most Catholics and Protestants celebrated Easter last Sunday, but Eastern Orthodox are celebrating this Sunday. They usually do so later than Western churches because they use a different method of calculating the date for the holy day.

Ukraine on Sunday prepared for the first high-level U.S. trip to Kyiv since before the war began on Feb. 24 after Zelenskyy announced he would meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

MORE: Ukrainian steel plant bombed; Zelenskyy to meet US officials

Zelenskyy in a news conference Saturday night gave few details but said he expected results — “not just presents or some kind of cakes, we are expecting specific things and specific weapons.”

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