Ukrainians mark Orthodox Christmas in Europe with a prayer to return home


© Reuters. Polish and Ukrainian faithful attend Christmas service at St. Mary Magdalene in Warsaw, Poland January 6, 2023. REUTERS/Kuba Stezycki


By Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska and Riham Alkousaa

WARSAW/BERLIN (Reuters) – Victoria, a Ukrainian refugee, is celebrating an Orthodox Christmas in Poland with a simple prayer – that next year she will be able to return home.

The 40-year-old is one of millions of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion of their homeland and is marking the holiday with mixed emotions – relieved that they are safe, but Sad to be away from family.

“The important thing is that this is still a family holiday… We hope to spend Christmas with our family back home,” Victoria said.

During Christmas Eve Mass lighting candles under the great dome of the Cathedral of Saint Mary Magdalene in Warsaw, priest Doroteusz Sawicki greeted the newcomers to celebrate the Nativity.

“Two or three years ago we might have wondered if someone was knocking on our door, now we know that someone is already there,” he told Reuters.

“Many of our brothers who have found themselves in Poland because of the war cannot return to their homeland. They will celebrate with us.”

Many Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7, but the Russian Orthodox Church’s support of Moscow’s war in Ukraine angered many Ukrainian Orthodox and divided the Orthodox Church across the country. Around the world.

This year, some Ukrainians have chosen to celebrate Christmas with Catholics on December 25 to protest the Russian aggression. But many have stuck with the Orthodox tradition.

For Victoria, who fled her home city of Irpin with her son last March, it was her first Christmas away from home.

“We lived in the basement for almost two weeks, then we left when the bombings started, and parts of the city became rubble,” said Victoria, who did not want to give her full name. I said.

In Poland, she found shelter in a refugee dormitory about two hours from Warsaw. Soon after, she found a job as a waitress not far from her new home.

Although she is safe with her son, Christmas is not like that. In the shared residence, she does not have a kitchen and cannot cook traditional festive meals like she did in Ukraine.

“What’s important is the atmosphere and the mood. It would be nice to have a kitchen, but that’s secondary,” she said.


At the Nathanael Orthodox church in southwestern Berlin, dozens of refugees attended the service as usual, Father Oleg Polianko told Reuters.

“Of course we are sad because of the war but it is Christmas and a happy occasion. God is our protector and is helping us,” Polianko said.

Marta Akopian, 25, from Donetsk, attended Mass for reflection and prayer. “I prayed for strength and courage for our troops and of course for myself and my family,” she said.

For Helena, a 60-year-old grandmother from Lviv, spending Christmas in the German capital away from her family is difficult, she said. At this time last year, before the Russian invasion on February 24, she was still hoping to avert the war.

Back in Warsaw, Irina Dolganych, 34, from Ukraine, said Christmas this year was different and unpleasant, even though she has lived in Poland for five years.

“We try because we have kids and we don’t want them to feel this (stress), you can’t explain it to them, for them it’s a holiday. It’s like childhood. I, I was looking forward to Christmas, I think it should be for them,” Irina said.

Irina plans to cook traditional dishes, which her mother in the Cherkasy region of central Ukraine could not enjoy.

“My mom doesn’t celebrate at all. I spoke to her half an hour ago. She didn’t even have a Christmas tree this year.”

Victoria also tried to talk to some of her family members using cell phone waves.

“We can only pray for peace and we finally have a chance to return home,” she said.

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