Easter in Ukraine will make history this year as the newly formed Orthodox Church of Ukraine will celebrate Christianity’s central holiday for the first time ever. It will follow the centuries-old traditions of Ukrainians and their ancestors who have been commemorating the resurrection of Jesus since 988.
Orthodox and Greek Catholic Christians, who are the majority in Ukraine, will celebrate Easter on Sunday, April 28 this year, a full week after the Roman Catholics and Protestants celebrate on April 21. The Orthodox Easter holiday will extend into Labour Day on May 1 resulting in a five-day weekend.
This is a perfect opportunity to explore the Orthodox Easter traditions in Kyiv, partake in the celebrations or even travel to Lviv for the Greek Catholic perspective. The more so since the Ukrainian Railway has added two fast trains on route to this western Ukrainian city for the holidays.
Just like Roman Catholics, Eastern Rite Christians spend the week before Easter in preparation for the holiday, self-reflecting and attending church services. By Maundy Thursday, known in Orthodoxy as “Clean Thursday,” Ukrainians clean up their homes and prepare traditional foods.
The best known of these are the Easter eggs, the symbol of new life and rebirth. In Ukraine, there is a long tradition of painting eggs for Easter and several techniques to do so. Collectively all painted Easter eggs in Ukraine are called pysankas. They are boiled before or after being painted.
For many Ukrainians painting pysankas before Easter is a family tradition. Some arts and crafts studios offer workshops on making pysankas in Kyiv. Lihtaryk Art-Studio has an hour and a half workshops for both young and old ahead of Easter for Hr 200 (5A Bastionna St. +38095 661 3381).
The Easter bread symbolizing the body of Christ is called paska in Ukraine. There are different versions of paska, sweet and unsweetened, some decorated with braided crust or glazed and sprinkled with dried fruits and nuts. They can be easily found in most stores and bakeries before Easter.
Ukrainians put pysankas, paskas, some wine symbolizing the blood of Christ and other foods into the Easter basket. After the Easter Vigil on Sunday morning the priests sprinkle the baskets and the food of those gathered around the church with holy water. The people then go home to share a meal of blessed food.
It is common to exchange pysankas on Easter Sunday. Ukraine doesn’t have a tradition of egg hunting, and the image of Easter Bunny only starts to enter the culture. However, Ukrainians have another game to play on Easter: two people hit the boiled Easter egg of one another, the one whose egg remains intact wins.
For a week after Easter Sunday, Ukrainian Christians greet each other with the words “Khrystos Voskres” (“Christ is risen”), to which the other person should reply “Voistynu Voskres” (“Truly, he is risen”).
Parishioners hold Easter prayers at the Church of the Holy Mother on April 9, 2018, at the Pyrohovo outdoor folk museum outside Kyiv. (Oleg Petrasiuk)
Where to go
People in Kyiv can witness history at the first ever Easter Mass of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine at the St. Sophia Cathedral this year. The 11th-century building is the oldest Christian temple in the lands of the East Slavs. St. Sophia is now a permanent museum, but the newly created Orthodox
Church of Ukraine was allowed to use it for the biggest Christian holidays, like Easter and Christmas (24 Volodymyrska St.)
The members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate will celebrate Easter at their main church in the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, an active church complex built around the 11th-century cave monastery. Like the St. Sophia Cathedral, the Lavra is a UNESCO World Heritage site (15 Lavrska St.)
The Orthodox Easter weekend is forecasted to have sunny weather, so it would be a waste not to spend some of it outside. Kyiv’s Pyrohovo open-air folk museum will hold festivities with folk music, dancing, food and Easter-themed workshops (Akademika Tronka Street).
For those who decide to travel to Lviv, St. Nicholas’s Church would be the place to go for the first ever Easter celebration of members of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. It’s one of the two oldest existing churches in the city, dating back to the 13th century (28A Bohdana Khmelnytskoho St.)
The largest Easter Mass of Ukrainian Greek Catholics will take place at St. George’s Cathedral in Lviv, their mother church. The 18th-century Rococo-styled cathedral was built on the spot of a wooden church from the 13th century and stands on one of the highest hills in the city (5 Svyatoho Yura Square).
Lviv also holds an Easter Fair in the city center and a Pysanka Festival. An Easter celebration will also take place in Lviv’s Shevchenkivskyi Hai open-air folk museum, where there will be traditional singing, dancing and games (1 Chernecha Hora St.)