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Claire Hardwick, USA TODAY
The Eastern Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar, so this year Eastern Slavs: Ukrainians, Russians and Belorussians celebrate Easter on April 24. Since the end of the Soviet Union, these festivities include preparing meals and gifts and attending Mass.
In Ukraine, food is a big part of these celebrations and many households would usually have to consider: How many loaves of Paska (Easter bread) do we need? Can we make or buy enough Pysanky (Ukrainian Easter eggs) in time?
These eggs are intricately decorated with colorful dyes. The Paska and Pysanky are carried to church in a basket for Easter Mass and blessed by the priest. Some will be given to family, friends and neighbors as tokens of love and kindness.
I remember my first spring in Kyiv, in 1997. My husband, Michael, had just started a project that had us living in Ukraine for the next four years. He worked for a large construction company, on a U.S. government project to dismantle and destroy a series of Soviet missile silos that had held Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). Ukraine had decided to eliminate its nuclear arsenal, and in the 1990s several projects were dedicated to achieving this goal.
That first spring, on a crisp day, the snow had finally melted and the sun was shining. Eager to explore the city, I found my way to the beginning of a cobblestoned street called Andriyivskyy Spusk (Andrew’s Descent).
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One of the oldest streets in the city, steep and curving, it was bordered by pastel-colored 18th and 19th-century homes and apartments. Minutes after walking downhill, I rounded a corner and looked up at a magnificent church — St. Andrew’s. Reminding me of an elaborately frosted wedding cake, pale aqua with white trim, it had a central green onion dome with beaded gold trim. It was designed in the mid-1700s by Italian Bartolomeo Rastrelli, an architect known for his opulent and romantic style.
Continuing downhill, I passed a man who had set up a small table on the sidewalk and was selling hand-carved cutting boards. Just beyond him, an artist stood by a large easel displaying etchings of nature scenes. A few more sellers were scattered down the hill.
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That first year, as spring turned to summer on Andriyivskyy Spusk, more painters and all manner of artisans sold their works along the street. Cafes set up sidewalk seating and we spent several Sundays enjoying lunch and absorbing this budding art scene. In the years since we left, this area became more popular and crowded every summer.
But, what will happen this year?
In 1997, Ukraine was in its sixth year of independence from the former Soviet Union. What a long way they have come. In 2004, they had the Orange Revolution, a months-long winter protest over a fraudulent presidential election — eventually, it was nullified and a new, closely monitored election yielded a European-leaning candidate.
In 2014, there were the deadly protests of the Euromaidan Uprising and the loss of Crimea to Russian aggression. This was followed by years of conflict in the eastern Donbas region, where a small minority wanted to be Russian again.
Now, they face an existential threat because of Russia’s unprovoked invasion. How could anyone possibly think Ukraine wants to be ruled by Russia?
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Many Ukrainians helped us adjust to living in Kyiv and we’ve been checking on their well-being through this invasion. We’re in contact with a few who have stayed and continued to live, in downtown Kyiv. They sheltered underground in metro stations during the nightly bombing raids just weeks ago. Another friend has fled with her two young children to Europe. And another escaped Kyiv to live in a small village in western Ukraine—ready to cross the border in an emergency.
Trees are just starting to bud in Kyiv and normally, city gardeners would begin planting flowers in parks and the formal gardens around Mariinsky Palace — another creation by the architect Rastrelli. But, wartime priorities will slow or prevent spring planting this year— a bitter thought for a nation that ships grain around the world.
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At the very time of year when Eastern Slavs should be celebrating a season of warmth and renewal, their Easter will be overshadowed by brutality, devastation and confusion.
I cannot fathom what it’s like to be in Ukraine right now. But some spring day in the future, we hope to reunite with our friends at a cafe and admire the green and gold domes of St. Andrew’s church once again.
Kathleen Murphy lives with her husband, Michael, on Cape Cod and writes about their experience of living as expatriates in Ukraine, Russia and Azerbaijan.