Quickly bless the eggs, cheese and wine before the Russians arrive in Kramatorsk

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“I’m not running because God tells me to stay here.” Churchgoer Oleg, an engineer at the Kramatorsk Municipal Service, crosses himself as he pronounces the words. “What are you talking about now, man?” responds priest Sergiy Kapitonenko. “We as a church absolutely do not give people the message that they have to stay. Half the city has fled and the residents have that right, we respect anyone who chooses their safety and leaves for other places.” Sergiy looks at Oleg, shaking his head, and sends him to colleague Ioan, who is handing out blessings to the people and their Easter baskets in front of the entrance to the church.

It is Sunday morning, Ukraine celebrates its Orthodox Easter today. We are standing in front of the sun-drenched Trinity Cathedral in Kramatorsk, the city’s most famous church, hidden in the greenery of Yuvileyni Park. Despite the war, Kramatorsk is in full bloom. The sweet scents of the chestnut and acacia blossoms waft towards us everywhere, the masses of white flowers on the trees give the city in Donbas a festive look. That, in combination with the churchgoers dressed in their Easter best, almost makes you forget that a fierce battle is going on fifty kilometers to the southeast, if it weren’t for the pounding of the Ukrainian artillery in the outskirts of Kramatorsk that brought us down to earth again. sets.

Collection before May 9

There has been heavy fighting in the strategically important town of Chasiv Yar for weeks. There are currently 25,000 active Russian soldiers, Ukrainian military spokesman Nazar Voloshyn announced on Sunday morning. The Russians want to take control of the town before May 9, the date on which Russia celebrates the victory over Nazi Germany. But they won’t succeed, according to the spokesperson.

The Russians are still in the eastern suburbs, the road to the center is still long. At the same time, Ukrainian military intelligence does not rule out that the fall of Chasiv Yar is a matter of time. If the Russians take the town, they will undoubtedly move on to Kostjantynivka, Druzhkivka, Kramatorsk and Slovyansk.

Priest Iona.Image Vincent Haiges

The capture of Kramatorsk and Slovyansk would be catastrophic, as it would mean the end of the backbone of the Ukrainian defense in the Donbas. It is therefore vital that Russian troops do not gain control of Chasiv Yar, the spokesperson emphasizes. We don’t hear a word about the new arms shipments from the US.

Curfew

In Kramatorsk, residents are very concerned. “We realize that the Russians could soon be on our doorstep,” says Father Sergiy. “But I choose to remain hopeful and I have faith in our military. We prayed all night for the freedom of our country and for the safety of the soldiers.”

Because there is a curfew in Kramatorsk and the Easter mass starts at night, about a hundred people spent last night in church. Sergiy is going to rest for an hour and then be fresh again for the four o’clock mass this afternoon.

In the meantime, people come by in small groups for the Easter blessing. A couple first has their baby sprinkled with holy water, followed by the Easter basket. The woman opens jars of water – if they remain closed the blessing will not work – and rearranges the cheese, salami sausage and bottle of wine so that the holy water brush cannot miss anything. After the blessing, they go home to celebrate Easter with their family, traditionally with food and, if possible, a bottle of drink, although alcohol is prohibited in the Donbas while the war is going on.

Cynical deminer

Many soldiers also show up at the church. Anatolii (42) has been in the army since 2002, he says. “It is the first time in ten years that I have had the opportunity to go to church. All this time I was somewhere at the front.” Anatolii – he prefers not to mention his surname – has been active as a deminer throughout his career. He has now risen to captain of the mine clearance service.

With his thin, tense face and his shabby plastic bag containing a pack of waffles, a bottle of water and a few eggs that he wants to have blessed, the man appears tired and also somewhat sad. He and his team are currently active in Chasiv Yar. “We lay mines and we fight. It’s hell in there. But the Russians are not making any progress at the moment.”

Image Vincent Haiges

Anatolii has the day off, but can be called up at any moment and then he has to return to the front. When we ask how he assesses the situation in Chasiv Yar in the near future, he looks at us cynically. “What do you think?” He holds his arm straight out in front of him. His hand is shaking. After which he touches his head. “Several concussions.”

But he is still there and he still has all his limbs, he adds, still cynically. “What makes me angry is that so many young men are dying in Ukraine while others refuse to serve. And the West? Thanks for the weapons, but they come much too late.”

Anatolii offers us a waffle. He then realizes that a more upbeat tone might not hurt. “The Russians can chase us, but they cannot break us. Maybe we’ll die. But we don’t give up. It is and will remain our country.” After which he sprinkles himself and his crumpled Easter messages with holy water and walks away into the spring sun.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Quickly bless eggs cheese wine Russians arrive Kramatorsk

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