KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — 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 worshippers with baskets to be blessed. Inside, a woman clutched the arm of a soldier, turning briefly to kiss his elbow. Other soldiers prayed, holding handfuls 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.
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.
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.
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 Daniel’s.
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.
“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.
In eastern Ukraine, the scene of Russia’s latest offensive, worshippers expressed unease along with hope for negotiations.
“God will make them understand and they will reach an agreement, because this should be stopped,” said Aleksandra Papravkina in Bakhmut. “Otherwise, Ukraine will not exist.”
Ukraine, meanwhile, 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 in Kyiv on Sunday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
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.”
Pope Francis renewed his call for an Easter truce. Without naming the aggressors, Francis urged them to “stop the attack to help the suffering of the exhausted people.”
Oleksandr Stashevsky contributed to this report from Ivanivka.