The saddest Easter in Ukraine | International

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Larisa Borisova (63), got up this Sunday, collected the hard-boiled eggs that she boiled and painted the day before, put them in a basket along with the candles, a cake and a bottle of liquor, tied a scarf on her head and walked Shuffling to the Church of Our Lady of Pochaev in Bucha to celebrate Easter, the most important celebration in the Orthodox calendar after Christmas.

Before the war this was a city of about 35,000 inhabitants, attached to the capital, kyiv, but since the beginning of the month it is much more than that. It is a name linked to one of the most savage massacres since the war in the former Yugoslavia. During the four weeks that the Russian occupation of the municipality lasted, hundreds of people were killed and for days bodies appeared lying in the streets without anyone daring to bury them for fear of being finished off. Since then, sadness has settled in its streets and women like Larisa are like water after a drought. The first smiles seen after two months of terror.

The way from his house to the church is a walk through the tunnel of horrors: destroyed houses, facades pierced by shells, charred vehicles, collapsed roofs, abandoned tanks and rubble scattered as witnesses of a battle that ended in massacre, but where every meter was defended as if the invasion of Ukraine was decided on that block. The cafeteria that used to offer cappuccinos and espressos for 20 hryvnias (about 63 euro cents) is today a place reduced to glass and rubble.

The monk receives the parishioners one by one like someone receiving a family member in the living room. In fact, this little church was home to all of them for several days, when missiles flew overhead as their neighborhood fell apart. The priest, in a red cassock with gold embroidery, hugs them, asks about their health, about their family, comforts them and encourages them “because today Christ is risen and today life is risen,” he explains.

One of the most devout is Volodymyr Kutzenko, a 20-year-old who prays like never before. He whispers before an image of the Virgin, extends the palms of his hands, looks up at the sky and whispers again. “We have had a very bad time, for days we endured shots and more shots from the ‘orcs’, as we call the Russian soldiers. We saw neighbors die who stayed there, there or there… ”, he says, extending his arm to point out parts of the garden where, before the invasion, neighbors walked and children played. That life returns to the place is shown by the black humor that it distills, what profession do I have? “Electrician. The way everything has turned out, I’m going to have more work than ever”, he replies ironically.

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The monk distributes water with a feather duster that looks like a barber’s brush. He wets the offering baskets and the heads of the parishioners with the same enthusiasm until a couple of soldiers enter the temple and towards them he directs all attention. “What do you need? Are you okay? Do you want to talk?” he asks them. The first arrives with his helmet in his hand full of colored eggs and the second heads towards a painting of the Virgin before which he remains for a long time mumbling. Before finishing he kisses her image and makes the sign of the cross several times on her chest. “Thank God and our troops who protect us and help us so that today we are alive and can celebrate Easter. Thanks to those who defend the country, today we can pray for those who are and for those who are not”, says the priest.

Svitlana Kurchenko, 62, devotes herself devoutly to an image of the Virgin before heading home. What does she pray to? “So that hate doesn’t stay inside me and allows me to move forward without revenge or grudges towards those who have done us so much damage,” she says with the generosity of someone who firmly believes in the image she has in front of her. “For those of us who have suffered so much and have nothing, religion has been the only protection we had until quiet came,” says Kurchenko, one of the 1,800 people, out of 35,000 in Bucha, who stayed for the Russian occupation. A few meters from here, next to the church of San Andrés where he used to pray, is the grave with 50 executed bodies, which has become one of the main pieces of evidence used by international justice to incriminate the Putin regime for crimes against humanity. The place, visited in recent weeks by authorities, forensic scientists and politicians from all over Europe in search of evidence, is a cold and silent wasteland in which only the plastic from the black bags left over from the exhumation remains.

But silence and tranquility is something relative that in Ukraine goes through neighborhoods. Or by region. Only on Saturday, when the Easter celebrations began, seven missiles fell on the city of Odessa, in the south of the country, leaving eight dead and dozens injured. “Bastards, bastards and bastards”, President Volodímir Zelensky got tired of calling them, when this weekend he commented on the news to journalists.

The Ukrainians celebrated this Sunday the passion, death and resurrection of Christ a week after the Catholics, due to the adjustments of Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, which corrected the delay of 10 accumulated days in the calendar of Julius Caesar from 46 BC Although the Pope Francis has proposed to unify the celebrations, the Orthodox Church has preferred to keep the traditional calendar. “It is a party that unites the family. Now we are at war and it is more important than ever to continue with our traditions, ”Kurchenko defends without the scarf with which he covers his head moving one iota. “So now I’m going to spend the rest of the holiday with my husband and children,” she says, saying goodbye with a huge smile. The biggest smile of the saddest Easter.

Blessing under the bombs in Dnipro

A parish priest blesses parishioners and their food in Dnipro on Sunday.
A parish priest blesses parishioners and their food in Dnipro on Sunday.ALBERT GARCIA

MARIA R. SAHUQUILLO

In Dnipro, where a shelling of railway tracks killed a man on Saturday, dozens of people have gathered at Orthodox churches to receive food blessings and attend Easter services. The city, in the center-east of the country, an important key communications hub for supplies for the Ukrainian troops, has become a transit point for thousands of displaced people from the eastern and southern fronts.

Like Larissa, from the Donetsk region, extremely punished in this second phase of the war, who fled her home with her young daughter last week. The woman, her hair covered, prays in front of a small church of the Ukrainian Patriarchate in the city center. One of the three built recently, after the split of the Moscow patriarchate, which the Ukrainian government considers the religious arm of the Kremlin. “I don’t know where to go, I would like to go back to my house, but my neighbors say that the situation there is horrible”, she laments.

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