By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
KYIV/BUDAPEST (Worthy News) - After Pope Francis called for an Easter truce in Ukraine, many Christians in this war-torn land still faced Russian shelling as they prepared for Easter worship, including damaged churches.
Ukrainian authorities said Russian attacks had hit at least 59 religious sites such as churches, mosques, and synagogues. Moscow has denied shelling civilian cities, but there is evidence of widespread damage to churches.
Yet despite hardships, Ukrainian Christians made clear they want to celebrate that Christ rose from death, giving eternal life to those who believe in Him whatever the circumstances. Ukraine will see Easter celebrations several times, with the Orthodox Easter scheduled on April 24.
Among those praying were Christians in Bucha, the town near Kyiv, where bodies were left in the streets. About two dozen of the faithful gathered for a service while the exhumation of bodies continued from a mass grave in the church’s yard, reporters witnessed.
In Makariv, a handful of members visited a badly damaged riverside church, at times, moved to tears. Small golden crosses for rosaries lay scattered on the floor with the shattered glass.
Alona Parkhomenko was among those praying in Makariv. “Each person from any place — Makariv, Bucha, Hostomel — or from Andriivka, the neighboring village which was destroyed to the ground; each one, even those who did not know the Lord’s Prayer, was speaking to God in their own words,” Parkhomenko noted.
The church exterior was dotted with bullet holes, and the priest warned of falling glass, an Associated Press news agency reporter said.
And in Borodyanka, where Russian attacks reportedly ripped a blackened hole in a high-rise apartment building, volunteers and donations filled an almost untouched church nearby. Residents lined up at the door for food and other assistance. Many were elderly people who stayed behind while others fled.
The Russian retreat from Kyiv's region enabled some of the millions of Ukrainians who fled over the border or to other parts of the country to return home. But devoted Christians now find many of their places of worship damaged or destroyed. Yet even in bomb shelters or damaged buildings, Christians have been seen praying and singing this Easter season.
And in recent weeks, Christians and Jews joined in reciting Psalm 31 while sheltering during air raids at other locations. The psalm includes the sentence: “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.”