BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Far from home and unsure when or even if they will ever get back, Ukrainians displaced by war gathered at churches across Eastern Europe on Sunday to celebrate the Orthodox Easter holiday in safety and to pray for an end to the fighting with Russia.
Hundreds of believers crowded into the Church of Saint Michael in Hungary’s capital of 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.
“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 priest Damien Habory after the one-hour service.
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.
Most have entered countries on Ukraine’s western border: nearly 2.9 million Ukrainians have fled to Poland, while 775,000 others have fled to Romania and 490,000 have crossed into Hungary since the war began two months ago.
In Bucharest, the Romanian capital, dozens of Ukrainian refugees as well as Romanian faithful came to the Brancusi Parish Church for the Easter liturgy, and to hear a choir sing religious songs in Ukrainian. A priest chanted “Christ is Risen!” to the worshippers, to which they responded, “Indeed he is risen!”
Following the service in Budapest, worshippers lined the street in front of the church with Easter baskets packed with offerings of hand-dyed eggs, candles and pasca — a traditional Easter sweet bread. Habory greeted the worshippers and blessing their Easter baskets with holy water flicked from 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.
“We are all happy for the resurrection of Christ, but we don’t have happiness in our hearts because at the same moment Ukrainian children, Ukrainian soldiers and Ukrainian people are dying,” Hortyanyi said. “People who believe in God believe that this is a way for God to test them … They believe that their prayers will help their husbands and parents that they left at home.”
Kate Gladka, 31, who came to Hungary from Ukraine’s capital of 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.
“We have new meaning this year because we may be the most alive nation in the world now, and we understand what it means to arise all the time,” she said.