Christmas has come earlier than usual for some Ukrainians as the war with Russia continues to rage.
At least some Orthodox Ukrainians woke up on Christmas Sunday – along with many other Christians around the world – instead of January 7, when the holy day is usually commemorated.
However, due to the ongoing war with Russia, parts of Ukraine wanted to break away from sharing a celebration with the nation led by Vladimir Putin.
The leadership of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine gave its blessing to the faithful to celebrate Christmas on December 25 from this year. For some, the date change represents a move away from Russian culture and religion. A village on the outskirts of Kyiv even voted recently to bring forward its Christmas holidays.
“What started on February 24, the full-scale invasion, is a wake-up call and a realization that we can no longer be part of the Russian world,” said Olena Paliy, 33, from Bobrytsia.
Christmas Day saw further fighting as three missiles hit an industrial area in the town of Kramatorsk in the partially occupied Donetsk region, local officials said.
The Ukrainian governor of Donetsk, Pavlo Kyrylenko, reported that the town of Avdiivka was also attacked and a woman was injured.
Elsewhere in the country, locals tried to celebrate the holy day.
In the Kyiv region, residents of Bobrytsia gathered for their first Christmas service on Sunday despite the sound of sirens. No attack was ultimately reported in the area.
“No enemy can take away the party because the party is born in the soul,” Reverend Rostyslav Korchak said in his homily. He used the words “war”, “soldiers” and “evil” more than “Jesus Christ”.
The Russian Orthodox Church, which claims the power of Orthodoxy in the neighboring country, uses the old Julian calendar; most churches and secular groups followed the Gregorian calendar.
The Synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine gave rectors of local churches and their communities the green light in December to choose when to celebrate Christmas. The decision comes after years of discussion, but was also prompted by the Russian invasion.
A vote held in Bobrytsia last week resulted in almost unanimous adoption of December 25 as the new day to celebrate Christmas. Some members of the faith have promoted change within the local church which recently switched to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has no ties to Russia.
Roman Ivanenko, a local official who lobbied for the change, called the switch “severing that connection” with the Russians.
“It’s a big step because never in our history have we had the same Christmas celebration dates in Ukraine with the whole Christian world,” he said. “All the time we were apart.”
A woman who has attended church in Bobrytsia every Christmas since 2000 – although usually on January 7 – found no difference in enjoying Christmas on the earliest date.
“The most important thing is that God is born in the heart,” said 65-year-old Anna Nezenko.
In 2019, the spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, endorsed the full independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. But the Russian Orthodox Church and its leader, Patriarch Kirill, opposed the move and argued that Ukraine was not under Bartholomew’s jurisdiction.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church – the country’s other Orthodox branch – was loyal to Moscow before the war. It declared independence in May and traditionally celebrated Christmas on January 7.
With post wires