Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Short Hiatus In War Gives Ukrainians In Donetsk A Chance To Celebrate Easter


This year, Catholic and Protestant Easter coincided with the Orthodox one. That's a rare event since the branches of Christianity use different calendars to determine when the holiday falls. In the war-weary city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine, there was another rare occurrence this Easter, the lifting of a strictly enforced curfew that lands violators in jail. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Donetsk. She says the orthodox residents used the unexpected break to observe Easter the traditional way for the first time since war broke out three years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGREGATION: (Singing in foreign language).

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Worshippers flocked to the Holy Transfiguration Cathedral last night after hearing the leader of the self-proclaimed republican Eastern Ukraine's third-largest city had decided to lift their curfew for one night.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGREGATION: (Chanting in foreign language).

NELSON: They came with baskets of Easter bread and eggs to get the blessing from the patriarch who led services inside and outside the cathedral from 11 p.m. until dawn as per Russian Orthodox tradition.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGREGATION: (Singing in foreign language).

NELSON: That was impossible last year or the year before that because of the curfew that runs during those hours. Among those who came to the cathedral last night was 75-year-old Maria Rogoza. She was smiling as she left an hour later, walking slowly toward the street with the help of a cane and her son's arm. I asked her if she had prayed for an end to the fighting between Russian-backed separatists, who claimed Donetsk as an independent state, and the Ukrainian military, which views the former as occupiers and terrorists?

MARIA ROGOZA: (Speaking in Russian).

NELSON: "Yes, yes, yes," she says, "it's the main reason I'm here because we want to move around freely again." The suspended curfew was also welcomed by churchgoer Ruslan Areatov.

RUSLAN AREATOV: It's like a piece of freedom today.

NELSON: But like everyone I've talked to here in recent days, the 26-year-old university student holds out little hope for a quick end to the war in his homeland, which Kiev blames on the separatists and their Russian allies, and they, in turn, blame on Kiev and the West.

AREATOV: This is the conflict between the people in Ukraine from the East and people from the West. And all the people from the East like to work with eastern countries and people in the West like to work in the western countries. It is a problem because, like...

NELSON: People are stuck in the middle.


NELSON: Stuck in the middle is the best way to describe Raya Shaporova, too. There was no way for the 70-year-old widow to get to church last night because unlike the curfew, there was no respite from the shelling near the frontline village on the outskirts of Donetsk where she lives.

RAYA SHAPOROVA: (Speaking Russian).

NELSON: But the former farmworker says she didn't mind because she prefers to read her Bible at home. She sees it as a metaphor for her life.

SHAPOROVA: (Speaking Russian).

NELSON: Shaporova says, "he who suffers will be saved in the end. Maybe that's my fate, to suffer. Maybe it's because I'm a woman." She tears up when I ask her why she doesn't leave and says this is my home.

SHAPOROVA: (Speaking Russian).

NELSON: But Shaporova adds the last three years of fighting outside her home have been a nightmare. She says it's so horrible, all of this killing, and for what? Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.