This is the second war-time Easter in Ukraine. The country’s “crucifixion” continues — it’s hard to imagine anything resembling Easter joy in a nation fighting for its life.
Sister Viktoriia Estera Kozun is a member of the Order of Saint Basil the Great, a monastic community in East Ukraine. She teaches in her community’s school in Perechyn. In an essay published in the National Catholic Reporter [February 23, 2023], Sister Viktoriia writes that since the war began, “I considered each new day the last of my life. Falling asleep, I thanked God for the life I have lived, because I did not know if I would wake up.”
But as the war enters its second year, Sister Viktoriia has come to see three “rays” of light this Easter. The first was the dedication “the fathers and sisters who did not leave their places for the sake of the faithful” and “the employees of the Ukrainian Railways. Amid the general panic and fear, they were the angels who took people out of overcrowded stations on crowded trains, despite the danger of being killed or injured.
“The second ray of light was of Lviv, the city in the west of Ukraine which became a refugee hub in the first month of the war. The people of Lviv gave their homes, earnings, time and hands to receive everyone who suffered from the aggressor.
And the “third ray,” Sister Viktoriia says, was “the whole world [coming] to help. Humanitarian aid arrived daily. Calls with offers of help or shelter in other countries did not stop. Every conscious person wanted to help in some way. Then I realized that God did not leave us but, on the contrary, came to our land in his great power.”
“I think the war changed us all,” Sister Viktoriia writes. “Most people were forced to give up their plans and surrender to God’s providence. We began to see our neighbour in need more clearly, and to realize that a person cannot do anything without God’s help . . . It is difficult to accept that salvation must happen through the cross. But in these difficult days, our people are on the way to the Resurrection. Because in God’s design, the Resurrection itself, and not the cross, becomes the last point in history.”
The people of Ukraine are living the Easter mystery: in bearing the cross of war and violence, in their suffering and sacrifice, they are creating a more compassionate and just society that respects the dignity of all, a nation responsive to the needs of every Ukrainian. They have become, as Sister Viktoriia writes, a new people. We all live this Easter mystery: When we follow Christ in taking up our own crosses in his spirit of humility and servanthood, we “rise” from the ashes of greed and selfishness, we “rise” from the tombs of fear and cynicism that we dig for ourselves, we “rise” from the death of hopelessness to the possibilities for re-creation.