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Hopes for a weekend truce in Ukraine to celebrate the Orthodox Easter faded with talks between Moscow and Kyiv stalled and Russia intensifying attacks in the east of the country on Saturday.

The war in Ukraine enters its third month on Sunday – the day that Orthodox Christians, the largest religious group in Russia and Ukraine, celebrate Easter.

Sunday marks two months since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade his neighbouring country.

As the invasion this week entered what a senior Russian military officer described as “the second phase of the special operation”, Ukrainian authorities pledged to continue fighting and drive Russian troops from their land, but they had also sought a truce for Easter.

“Unfortunately, Russia rejected the proposal to establish an Easter truce,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday.

“This shows very well how the leaders of this state actually treat the Christian faith, one of the most joyful and important holidays. But we keep our hope. Hope for peace, hope that life will overcome death.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also called for a four-day truce during Orthodox Holy Week to allow civilian evacuations and the delivery of humanitarian aid in hard-hit areas of Ukraine.

“I am calling for an Orthodox Holy Week humanitarian pause to the war in Ukraine. I urge all parties – and all champions of peace around the world – to join my Easter appeal,” Guterres said in a tweet.

The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose backing for Moscow’s “special military operation” in Ukraine has dismayed many fellow Christians, said on Saturday he hoped it would end quickly but again did not condemn it.

Bells of the church in Lukashivka, in northern Ukraine, lying in a heap of rubble from one of the church's domes
Bells of the church in Lukashivka, in northern Ukraine, on April 22, 2022. Residents say Russian soldiers used the church to store ammunition, and Ukrainian forces shelled the building to make the Russians leave [Petros Giannakouris/AP]

At a church in Lukashivka, a small village in northern Ukraine, there will be no Orthodox Easter service on Sunday.

One of the church’s golden domes was blown off. Its gilded cross is propped up against an exterior wall.

“It’s a great pity,” 70-year-old resident Valentina Ivanivna said as men nearby dismantled abandoned Russian military vehicles.

This church, near the city of Chernihiv, survived World War II and the most austere years of the Soviet Union, a time when authorities stripped it of its religious icons, residents said.

They added it will take years for the church to recover its past beauty. But the villagers have pledged to rebuild, whatever it takes.

They have already started on their own homes, even as they wait for basic services to resume.

This weekend they will not have gas to bake Easter bread.

The Patriarch and Putin

On Saturday the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose backing for Putin’s war in Ukraine has dismayed many fellow Christians, said he hoped the conflict would end quickly but he did not condemn Moscow’s invasion.

At an outdoor service at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral on the eve of Orthodox Easter, Patriarch Kirill spoke of the need for reconciliation, but he did not question or criticise Russia’s military campaign.

Patriarch Kirill, an ally of President Putin, has previously made statements backing Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, a position that has splintered the worldwide Orthodox Church.

“God grant that this Easter gift helps those who are involved in this difficult conflict to calm their hearts, minds, souls, so that internecine strife ends as soon as possible and the long-awaited peace reigns, and with it the piety of people and faith may be strengthened,” he said.

“May the Lord first of all reconcile our people in Ukraine, in Donbas, where blood is still being shed,” said Kirill, who like Putin believes Russians and Ukrainians are essentially one people.

“May the Lord heal the wounds inflicted on people, on the families that have lost their breadwinners, on the parents who have lost their children and on the children who have lost their parents.”

The patriarch’s support for Russia’s military campaign, in which thousands of soldiers and Ukrainian civilians have been killed, has angered some within the Russian Orthodox Church as well as in churches abroad linked to the Moscow Patriarchate.

Source: Al Jazeera

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