Lyman (Ukraine) (AFP) -
Ukrainians on Sunday marked a sombre Orthodox Easter two months into Russia's invasion, with some braving bombardment for blessings and many of the displaced clinging on to cherished traditions.
Under the rain at a military position in the eastern town of Lyman, on the frontline, soldiers traded the usual patriotic salutation of 'Glory to Ukraine!' for the ritual 'Christ has risen!'
'Truly risen!' came the reply.
In the town's small Orthodox church, around 50 civilians had braved possible mortar fire to gather to pray from dawn.
Ukrainian and Russian artillery fire could be heard throughout the singing of the psalms.
'If we make the wrong choices then darkness will ruin us, as darkness is destroying us during this war,' the priest said in his sermon.
'We are thankful for the humanitarian aid and the community taking care of the displaced,' he added.
Ten soldiers and policemen in uniform, some in bulletproof vests, also attended the service in the pale blue church, their hands full of Easter baskets, making the sign of the cross before entering.
- Multicoloured sugar beads -
The war in Ukraine has killed thousands and forced millions to flee their homes since Russia invaded on February 24.
In the relative safety of the western city of Lviv, a husband and wife in their Sunday best stepped up into a packed church, the latter holding the traditional breakfast basket covered in an embroidered cloth for the priest's blessing.
Outside the Bernardine Church, 27-year-old Yuliya listened to the service from the courtyard with a friend.
'It's a holiday that unites family. We have war now, and it is especially important to follow our traditions,' she said, dressed in a long black coat.
Ukrainian authorities on Saturday urged those celebrating to follow religious services online and to respect night-time curfews.
Across the vast country, people made preparations, however modest.
On another part of the frontline, in the eastern city of Severodonetsk, Ukrainian troops had hidden their small stock of supplies under a bridge after they were hit by Russian mortar rounds in the night.
Along with water and Coke bottles, Kalashnikovs and cereal bars, three large Easter breads covered in icing and sprinkled with multicoloured sugar beads awaited them, after a delivery from their commander.
In Slovyansk, to the west, worshippers on Saturday afternoon hastily made their way to the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral with baskets filled with decorated eggs and sweet bread.
Paisiy, a 34-year-old priest, said he had stayed in the city to bring comfort to the many residents who had refused to leave.
'This is my job to stay. People are afraid and when they come here and see the priest, it brings them a feeling of security,' he said.
Around him, people dropped in for a blessing with holy water, then hopped back on bikes and sped off.
No one stayed any longer than absolutely necessary in the courtyard of the brick cathedral, as the boom of artillery fire resounded in the distance.
- 'Wish for victory' -
In Lviv on Saturday afternoon, 51-year-old Yuliya had come for an Easter blessing, just a week after she and her parents fled Russian bombardment on her eastern home city of Kharkiv.
'I was fed up with shivering when the missiles were flying over my house,' she said, without giving her second name.
She carried two iced cakes she had baked the day before covered in a cloth in a basket.
'They are not as beautiful as they used to be,' she said, as she had not yet grown accustomed to the oven in her new home.
She said Easter this year was different -- even in Lviv, where she had spent the holiday several times before the conflict.
'I can see fewer people, and not so smiley faces. People are more concerned,' she said.
Nearby, Iryna Gapanovych, 38, said she and her friend had spent more than two hours in a bomb shelter on their way to church, after the air raid siren rang out.
'My wish for Easter is victory for Ukraine,' she said, clutching a basket of sweet bread, painted eggs and cured meat.