Fastest News Updates around the World

Ukraine celebrates Orthodox Easter with the release of dozens of prisoners of war


- Advertisement -

A senior official confirmed that more than 100 Ukrainians were freed in a major prisoner-of-war exchange with Russia Sunday, as Orthodox Ukrainians celebrated Easter.

While celebrations have subsided due to security risks, with a curfew preventing the faithful from their usual all-night services, Ukrainian authorities and ordinary people have shared messages of hope, linking the story of Christ’s resurrection to their longing for peace.

They also prayed for Ukraine’s victory over Moscow, which unleashed its full-scale invasion last February.

Dozens of families had their own reasons for joy, as presidential adviser Andrei Yermak announced that 130 soldiers, sailors, border guards and others captured by Moscow were on their way home after a “major exchange of prisoners at Easter”.

Yermak said in a post on Telegram on Sunday that among those released were soldiers who fought near the city of Bakhmut, an eastern mining town that has been the focus of a grinding Russian offensive for months.

“The lives of our people are the highest value for us,” Yermak said, adding that Kyiv’s goal is to return all remaining prisoners of war.

There was no immediate information on how many Russian prisoners had been freed, but the press service of the founder of the Wagner Group, a Kremlin paramilitary force whose fighters are prominent in eastern Ukraine, also released a video on Sunday showing Ukrainian prisoners of war being ready for an exchange.

The video, posted on messaging service Telegram, shows Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin ordering a soldier to prepare Ukrainian prisoners to leave Russian-controlled territory “by lunchtime” Sunday. Then the prisoners of war are shown getting onto the trucks and walking along the road.

In his Easter speech on Sunday morning, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the holiday as “the victory of good, the victory of truth, the victory of life,” and stressed what he described as Ukrainian unity in the face of Russian aggression.

“Faith in victory always unites us, and especially today. On Easter, which from time immemorial has been a family holiday for Ukrainians, a day of warmth, hope and great unity. We are one big family – Ukrainians. We have one big homeland – Ukraine. We have one big goal – victory for all Zelensky said.

Similarly, Ukraine’s top soldier, General Valery Zaluzhny, drew parallels between the Christian message of resurrection and renewal and Ukraine’s hopes for victory.

“Easter is a day of great hope. May it bring us peace. I believe that together, united, we shall overcome the enemy,” he wrote in a Facebook post. He also thanked all the front-line soldiers who he said would “maintain defense in the trenches, stay in dugouts, (…) carry out combat missions” as the rest of the country celebrates.

Silent celebrations

In central Kiev, people gathered in the courtyard of the famous golden-domed St. Michael’s Monastery on Sunday morning for a priest to bless Easter eggs and baskets of food. The curfew prevented most from attending the traditional all-night service there hours earlier, with many tuning into a live broadcast instead.

Ukrainian churches are usually crowded on Orthodox Easter Sunday. But this year, the vast courtyard was barely half full, and the line of people waiting for the priest to sprinkle holy water on their decorated baskets moved briskly.

For the second year in a row, Moscow’s brutal war has disrupted holiday routines. Ukraine’s main security service this week issued a statement urging residents not to stay in churches on Sundays, to avoid crowds and reduce security risks.

Alla Voronina, one of the people who came to St. Michael’s with baskets containing Easter cakes and multicolored eggs, said the restrictions were “very hard” on the morale of residents.

“She keeps remembering what things were like before the war,” she told the Associated Press. She said she and her family would nonetheless follow security recommendations and go straight home after receiving the blessing.

Others in the line echoed Zaluzhny’s words about Easter in wartime as a symbol of hope.

“As never before, Easter in a time of war inspires us with hope and faith in the future, the victory of Ukraine, and God’s protection of our Motherland,” said Ina Holevets.

One of the worshipers, Tatyana Voloshina, said she was praying for the Ukrainian forces “who defend us and enable us to spend this holiday”. She added that she had come to the monastery with “her personal pains and her personal requests to God for victory, peace and life.”

Despite the common Orthodox holiday, Russian bombing and missile attacks continue to sow destruction in Ukraine, according to statements on social media from Ukrainian regional officials.

Officials in the south and east of the country said churches were not spared. The governor of the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region, Serhiy Lysak, claimed in a telegram update that Russian forces stationed at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine bombed a church in a nearby town, injuring two civilians.

“The Russians have confirmed once again that they have nothing sacred,” Lesk said in his post. He did not immediately provide evidence of the strike or its consequences.

Ukrainian officials reported Sunday morning that at least four civilians were killed and eight others wounded on Saturday night.

Across the front line, in Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine’s industrial east, the Kremlin-appointed head of the Donetsk region claimed a Ukrainian strike killed a civilian and wounded six others in the region’s capital of the same name.

Denis Pushlin wrote in one of his Telegram messages that the bombing hit the city center, near the Holy Transfiguration Cathedral.

Neither Pushlin’s claim nor that of the Ukrainian authorities regarding the number of civilian deaths has been independently verified.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. AcceptRead More