Calgary Ukrainians celebrate Orthodox Easter with newly arrived refugees

A large group spill out onto the lawn of St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, just northeast of downtown Calgary, to have their baskets filled with pysanky (traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs), paskas (bread Easter eggs), sausages, horseradish and more blessed by the parish priest.

The morning blessing of the Ukrainian Orthodox Easter baskets, which according to the Julian calendar falls on April 24 this year, has a festive aspect, but the stress and anxiety of the war raging in Ukraine looms large. ‘background.

Between the greetings of “Khrystos voskres!” (“Christ is risen!”) and smiles, there are also conversations about the latest reports from the Ukrainian military that Russian forces continued to push their attacks east on Easter Sunday.

“It’s heartbreaking,” parishioner Shauna May said.

Parishioners of St. Valdimir Orthodox Church gather outside to have their Easter baskets blessed. (Helen Pike/CBC)

May is part of a committee that collects goods at the church to support newly arrived Ukrainians in Calgary.

“They know they can’t go home, which is terrible. So we have to be able to provide them with a safe haven.”

The church on this Orthodox Easter Sunday welcomes more people than in previous years, including a number of Ukrainian refugees.

“Everyone came together,” parishioner Jessica Irwin said.

“The church has really become a lot busier, because of the conflict in Ukraine…people are showing their support.”

First Canadian Easter

This is the first time that Olena Shovkun celebrates Easter in Canada. She arrived here three weeks ago with her two children, after being forced to flee her home in kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, because of the war raging there.

“Everyone is very friendly here. We are safe and grateful to everyone who helps us, who supports us. We are really grateful to our Canadian friends and relatives,” said Shovkun, who lives with his family in Calgary.

Celebrating the religious holiday is bittersweet, however, as her husband, mother and other relatives are still in Ukraine.

This is the first time that Olena Shovkun and her daughter Mariia have celebrated Easter in Canada. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Under martial law, Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 cannot leave the country in case they are called to fight.

“The only thing I want is for the war to end,” she said.

It’s a sentiment that many others shared on Sunday.

“We are all family”

Father Patrick Yamniuk, who led the Easter service at the church, said the Easter theme of light overcoming darkness “resonates deeply with everyone”, during this time in Ukraine.

The priest said he tried to make everyone smile, especially the newly arrived Ukrainians, by joking while blessing the baskets with holy water.

Father Patrick Yamniuk blesses those standing outside during the Blessing of the Basket on Orthodox Easter Sunday. (Helen Pike/CBC)

“That’s what I wanted…it’s the smile.”

The UN says more than five million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24.

A committee of volunteers from St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church helps Ukrainian families arriving in Calgary by collecting household items, creating care kits and connecting them with support organizations.

“[It’s so] they feel a lot more like they’re not alone going into a foreign country, speaking a strange language, you know, that they feel welcome,” Yamniuk said.

“That they are not forgotten, that we are all one family. We are all one church family.”