Photos: Orthodox Easter celebrations as war divides Ukraine and Russia

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Christians in Ukraine celebrated Easter this weekend, as Russia’s invasion entered its third month.

Ukrainians started the holiday under curfew, after the country’s presidential office banned residents in all 24 regions from venturing outdoors at night as Russia intensified its attacks.

The contrast was stark between Orthodox Christians in war-torn Ukraine and those in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin attended a midnight Orthodox Easter Mass.

In Ukraine, the religious weekend offered a brief but welcome respite from the conflict for many, with displaced families, soldiers and others taking part in traditions across Ukraine. Children painted eggs and priests offered blessings, while aid agencies baked and provided kulich — a type of sweet, dense Easter bread.

Orthodox Christianity, which is the dominant religion in Ukraine and Russia, observes Easter on Sunday, April 24, this year.

Many Christians also celebrated with midnight Mass and other events on Friday and Saturday, but the conflict has further added to a growing divide between Orthodox Christians in Russia and those in Ukraine.

In Moscow, Putin attended an Easter service led Patriarch Kirill, the top Russian Orthodox bishop and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kirill has been a vocal supporter of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Putin, dressed in a blue suit and holding a glowing red candle at a midnight service in Moscow, joined other congregants in proclaiming, “Truly [Christ] is risen,” according to Reuters.

Conducting the Mass in Moscow, Kirill hailed “young soldiers who take the oath, who embark on the path of defending the fatherland.”

Before the holiday, Pope Francis and UN Secretary General António Guterres called for an Easter truce. Guterres said last week that the time was apt for “reflection on the meaning of suffering, sacrifice, death — and rebirth. It is meant to be a moment of unity.”

But Russia rejected the truce, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who said in a video message posted on Telegram last week that the refusal “shows very well how the leaders of this state [Russia] actually treat the Christian faith.”

“But we keep our hope,” Zelensky said. “Hope for peace, hope that life will overcome death.”

Ukrainians outside the country also celebrated. According to the UN refugee agency, more than 5 million Ukrainians have fled the country since the war began on Feb. 24.

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