08 May 2024, The Tablet

No Easter ceasefire or prisoner exchange in Ukraine

In his Easter sermon, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk called Ukraine “an instrument of good news for Europe and the world”.

No Easter ceasefire or prisoner exchange in Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers and a chaplain at the blessing of an improvised “Easter basked” on the vigil of Orthodox Easter Sunday.
ZUMA Press Inc / Alamy

There was no ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia over Orthodox Easter last weekend. 

A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church claimed that Ukraine had ignored its previous appeals with a “lack of reverence”. Drone and missile strikes hit Ukraine overnight and during the day on 5 May. 

In an Easter message, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said there was “a chevron with the Ukrainian flag on the shoulder of God”.

The president, who has in the past described his upbringing in an “ordinary Soviet Jewish family”, cited Scripture in the video address delivered from outside Kyiv’s St Sophia Cathedral.

“The Bible teaches us to love our neighbour. And the present has shown us the true meaning of this word,” he said. “When we support and help each other even hundreds of kilometres away from one another. We protect each other. We pray for each other.”

He compared Ukraine’s cause to “the liberation of the human soul from the slavery of evil and darkness” brought about by the Resurrection. “We pray for our warriors of light, who restrain demons in all directions,” he said.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin attended an Easter liturgy at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour led by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, who prayed for “God’s blessing over Russia” and the protection of its “sacred borders”. In his own Easter message, Putin thanked Kirill for his “fruitful cooperation in the current difficult period”.

There were hopes for a prisoner exchange over the Easter season as there was last year, when 130 Ukrainians were returned for an unknown number of Russian prisoners.

The Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said in April that there had been “movement in this direction” following the Pope’s appeal for an “all-for-all” exchange in his Urbi et Orbi address on the 31 March. 

Major Archbishop Sviatoslv Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, suggested this appeal “deeply resonated in the hearts of both Ukrainians and Russians”.

He called on Christians to “stand on both sides of the front line, holding the hand of Christ, who will lead our brothers and sisters, women, doctors, and clergy out of the hell of captivity”. Around 8,000 Ukrainian soldiers and 1,600 civilians are held by Russia.

On 30 April Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, the Archbishop of Bologna and the Pope’s peace envoy, discussed the prospects of an exchange with the senior Ukraine presidential adviser Andriy Yermak. However, no further progress had been reported by the end of the week.

In his own Easter sermon on 5 May, Archbishop Shevchuk called Ukraine “an instrument of good news for Europe and the world”.

“We believe in the victory of Ukraine because it will be the triumph of Christ over the sowers of fear and death in the third millennium,” he said. “We must realise that this is a holiday from which we draw strength to win. We draw strength to heal our wounds and nurture our optimism.”

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