Photos: Orthodox Easter celebrations as war divides Ukraine and Russia

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Christians in Ukraine celebrated Easter this weekend, as the Russian invasion entered its third month.

Ukrainians began the holidays under curfew, after the country’s presidential office banned residents of all 24 regions from going outdoors at night as Russia stepped up 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, celebrates 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 added to a growing divide between Orthodox Christians in Russia and those in Ukraine.

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

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

Leading the mass in Moscow, Kirill praised the “young soldiers who take the oath, who embark on the path of defense of the homeland.”

Before the holidays, Pope Francis and UN Secretary General António Guterres called for an Easter truce. Guterres said last week that the time was right to “reflect 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] really deal with the Christian faith.”

“But we remain hopeful,” 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 February 24.

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