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How Ukrainian soldiers and refugees celebrated Orthodox Easter?

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Ukrainians across Europe gathered for Orthodox Easter amid ongoing war with Russia
Ukrainians across Europe gathered for Orthodox Easter amid ongoing war with Russia   -   Copyright  Efrem Lukatsky/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
By Theo Farrant  & AP

Ukrainians displaced by the war in their country gathered at churches across eastern Europe on Sunday to celebrate the Orthodox Easter holiday.

Hundreds of people crowded into the Church of Saint Michael in Hungary's capital Budapest, to take part in a liturgy delivered by a Ukrainian priest.

A sermon that focused on the cohesion of the Ukrainian people and prayer for those left behind.

Orthodox Easter during a time of war

Andreea Alexandru/AP
Orthodox worshipers hold candles during the Easterservice at the Brancusi Parish Church in BucharestAndreea Alexandru/AP

"As Ukraine celebrates this holiday, for us Ukrainian Christians it is also a celebration that gives us hope that with the resurrection will also come victory in Ukraine, and that good will prevail over evil," said Father Damien Habory.

The Easter holiday, observed by Orthodox followers according to the Julian calendar, comes as nearly 5.2 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee the violence unleashed on their country by Russia's invasion.

Following the service in Budapest, worshippers lined the street in front of the church with their Easter baskets packed with offerings of hand-dyed eggs, candles and pasca - a traditional Easter sweet bread.

Habory greeted the worshippers, blessing their Easter baskets with holy water flicked from an aspergillum, a liturgical brush used for blessings.

Yaroslava Hortyanyi, chairwoman of the Hungarian Ukrainian Cultural Association, said that bringing Ukrainians together for the Easter holiday was an opportunity for them to pray for themselves and for those they left behind in Ukraine.

Kate Gladka, who came to Hungary from Ukraine's capital Kyiv a month ago, said she had struggled to hold back her tears during the Easter service, which for her is usually a time for celebration.

"Ukraine will be resurrected"

AP Photo
Military chaplain Gennadiy Rohmaniko, delivering a liturgy to Ukrainian servicemen in KharkivAP Photo

Many Ukrainian refugees have entered countries on Ukraine's western border.

Nearly 490,000 Ukrainians have crossed into Hungary since the war began two months ago, while some 775,000 have fled to neighbouring Romania.

In Bucharest, dozens of Ukrainian refugees as well as Romanian worshippers gathered at the Brancusi Parish Church for the Easter liturgy, and to hear a choir sing religious songs in Ukrainian.

At the end of the liturgy priests offered the holy light to those gathered as part of the traditional Orthodox Easter celebration.

Despite the Russia-Ukraine war entering its third month, Ukrainian servicemen across the frontlines took time out from the fighting to celebrate the occasion.

In Kharkiv, a military chaplain blessed Ukrainian servicemen in church for the Easter celebrations.

"Easter during the war on the one hand is unlike anything. But it allowed us to walk with Christ all the way to the cross. Pain, betrayal, suffering, bleeding, and enemies around us," explained Gennadiy Rohmaniko, the military chaplain.

"Thank God it's finally Holy Resurrection day. As they say here: God rises, Ukraine will be resurrected," he concluded.

Video editor • Theo Farrant