For some Orthodox Ukrainians, war has put a 'damper' on Easter celebrations

·3 min read
People gather inside the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Ottawa Saturday for the blessing of the Easter baskets. Some say this year's Easter celebrations have been marred by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  (CBC - image credit)
People gather inside the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Ottawa Saturday for the blessing of the Easter baskets. Some say this year's Easter celebrations have been marred by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (CBC - image credit)

For Vera Hutzuliak, Easter used to be a "very, very special time."

"It was the best time of the year to be Ukrainian," said Hutzuliak, the financial secretary for the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Ottawa.

But as her parish celebrates Orthodox Easter this weekend, she doesn't feel quite as joyful as in years past. That's because she can't take her mind off the war in Ukraine.

The war, she said, has put a "damper" on their first major holiday without provincial COVID-19 restrictions.

"I'm worried," Hutzuliak told CBC News on Saturday, adding that her husband's family is in Ukraine, fighting against the Russian troops.

"His son is in the territorial defence. His grandson is in the national guard," she said. "And his son, 43 years old, wrote an email yesterday saying that he had volunteered to go to the east to fight."

Rachelle Elsiufi/CBC
Rachelle Elsiufi/CBC

Russia has sent more troops into Ukraine as it concentrates its efforts in the eastern part of the country.

The eastern cities of Kharkiv and Kramatorsk came under deadly attack last week. Russia has also said it struck areas around Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro, west of the Donbas region, with missiles.

Finding refuge in Ottawa

Tetiana Sannikova was one of the dozens who celebrated at the Byron Avenue cathedral this weekend — and it was her first Orthodox Easter on Canadian soil.

Sannikova arrived from Ukraine with her two children on April 17.

When the war broke out, she was living in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia. Within days, she'd packed up what she could and had headed west towards Lviv, which has been shaken by missile attacks but has largely spared the worst of the Russian invasion.

She had to sleep in her vehicle on the side of the road for four days, she said, because there were so many people fleeing from the east.

Eventually Sannikova made it to Poland before arriving in Canada.

Through a translator, she told CBC on Saturday she was "very grateful" for the community's support and she is "feeling safe."

Rachelle Elsiufi/CBC
Rachelle Elsiufi/CBC

New priest also from Ukraine

Sannikova isn't the only new arrival, however.

Last June, the parish's priest suddenly passed away, and they hadn't found a replacement until now.

On Sunday, the full Orthodox Easter service will be led by Father Taras Kinash, who touched down in Ottawa Friday after leaving Ukraine with his family.

For Hutzuliak, it's something to look forward to.

"It means very much for me personally that we were lucky enough to have a priest and that he was lucky to get out," she said.

Men between the ages of 18 to 60 are barred from leaving Ukraine and instead must take up arms and fight in the war. Hutzuliak said embassy officials in Canada helped the priest to obtain his visa here.

"[They] emphasized to the government of Ukraine that the priest will probably be doing more for Ukraine and for the Ukrainian cause here in Canada than he could possibly do in Ukraine," she said.

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