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Celebrating Easter as an Orthodox Ukrainian two years after the invasion

With the war still raging in Ukraine, refugees who fled to the UK are still finding ways to keep their culture and traditions alive by celebrating Orthodox Easter.

This year, many Ukrainians around the world remembered the resurrection of Jesus on May 5.

Known as Paska in Ukrainian, Easter is an important way for Ukrainians to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus through food, community and prayer. Paska is different to Western Easter because the date is on May 5 and is determined and celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar. 

Eastern Orthodox Easter includes baking traditional Easter bread made from egg, colouring egg shells with art designs, participating in religious vigil services in church and culminating in the consecration of the Paska candle – a yellow beeswax candle stick.

To the thousands of Ukrainians who have moved to Manchester, this religious holiday is even more important now as it provides a chance for them to bond with their stories, history and longing of going back to Ukraine. Paska has allowed Ukrainians to be vulnerable about  their fears and worries, as well as find comfort through taking part in traditional celebrations.

Galina Korobchenko, 68, a Kherson native who emigrated to England during the war and is now a pensioner said: “Paska is one of my favourite times of the year. It has always been a special day to me, but it is even more important now because it brings the Ukrainian community together.”

Galina has now been celebrating Paska for the second time in a row in England and wants people to “understand about Ukrainian culture more because of the creative differences”, when participating in Orthodox Easter.

Darina Franko, 21, an online student, who has now settled in Manchester after leaving Donetsk back in February 2022, also believes that Paska is also a religious and cultural holiday that she’d love to share more information about to the world. 

She said: “There’s an Orthodox Ukrainian church in North Manchester where most of us go to experience a service and it makes me so emotional because we are able to keep our culture alive despite being hundreds of miles away from home.

“Despite the fact that there is suffering back home in Ukraine, it is so lovely for people like myself to be able to integrate into a community that is a ‘home away from home’ in Manchester.

“I’m happy that there are Ukrainian churches that I can go to in Manchester because I know that there are not a lot of us in the country and our religion is not very popular, so I was scared that I wasn’t going to find my religious community.”

Paska has played an integral role in bringing the Ukrainian community together in Manchester, even including people who have settled in the city before the full-blown invasion a few years back. The festival is shared with other cultures around the world who also follow Orthodoxy, which is a branch of the Christian religion. 

To Ukrainians, Paska is widely recognised as an expression of the country’s history and community.

Some of the Paska Easter treats. Picture: Galina Korobchenko

The United Kingdom was ranked as one of the top 10 countries in Europe that has the most Ukrainian refugees recorded.

Despite Eastern Orthodoxy being one of the main religions in Ukraine, the country with the most number of Orthodox Christian followers is Russia with over 113 million at the moment. England makes only a small percentage and is not a popular country with a lot of Eastern Orthodox followers. Below is a map of where to find some Orthodox churches in the streets of Manchester.

Both Galina and Darina are among one of the many people who turned to participating in church services after fleeing from their war-stricken country due to Russia’s full-blown invasion in February of 2022. Despite a small number of Orthodox churches in England being Ukrainian, other churches exist and are also Russian, Greek and are even Coptic – another body of Orthodox Christianity that was founded in Egypt.

During this year’s celebration of Paska, hundreds of people attended the evening mass the day before the resurrection day, on May 4 in Manchester. Footage is disallowed in the building but Darina describes the service as a “cleansing and holy” experience. 

She said: “I can speak for many Ukrainians that this year’s Easter service was another way to remind us all that we still have strength and hope for the future. I know that we will all be able to return to our homelands in due time.

“Until then, I will be putting all of my energy into prayer and religion for hope.”

Galina added: “Paska is so special to me, especially during the war, because I can see how strong we are. Even with all the sadness, we still get up and go to pray. We sit together and eat a meal to remember Jesus resurrecting from his death, even when it’s hard. 

“I love it when we are all together, painting eggs and baking the Paska bread. 

“There’s comfort in that.”

Since moving to Manchester from her hometown next to Odessa, Galina – just like many other Ukrainians – has been able to meet other migrants and refugees from all walks of life. 

Manchester City Council has worked hard with Ukrainian refugees to help them adjust to a new life in the city, and has since aided them with housing, education, funding and social care.

Darina celebrated Paska with her new friends she met in a college that she was able to study at recently, and introduced them to her culture.

Despite the full-blown invasion that is currently happening with Putin and his Russian soldiers, many Ukrainians back in their homelands have been able to experience the joy of Ukrainian culture and being alive. 

When asked about what Paska means to her, Darina said: “It means resistance. Celebrating Paska is celebrating a culture and a life that people want to erase. And despite the war and aggression, we are simply not giving up.

“I believe my strength and gratitude increases during religious holidays like Easter and it’s a beautiful feeling. Paska brings love and light and a promise to new beginnings. It makes perfect sense for it to be during Spring.” 

Galina also added: “We have come a long way and who knows what will happen tomorrow. When the sun will rise over our country, it will light justice, and we will be able to celebrate our holidays back at home with peace around us.”

To help Ukrainians in England, you can donate at the Come Back Alive charity at https://savelife.in.ua/en/ or find more information with other ways to support the refugees and become a foreign legion at https://war.ukraine.ua/support-ukraine/

Main photo by Marta Savelyeva on Unsplash

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