Ukrainians celebrate Palm Sunday in Kyiv church at heart of dispute

Orthodox Church of Ukraine officials, many clothed in green, celebrate Palm Sunday.
Metropolitan Epiphanius, head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, center left, celebrates the Palm Sunday service at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastic complex, Ukraine’s most revered Orthodox site.
(Adam Pemble / Associated Press)

Willow branches in hand, Ukrainians marked Palm Sunday on the Orthodox calendar at the country’s most revered Orthodox site, which has been at the heart of a religious dispute playing out in parallel with the war initiated by Russia last year.

Dozens of worshipers filled the grand Refectory Church of Sts. Anthony and Theodosius inside the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastic complex. Many more waited outside in the sprawling courtyard and observed the service there.

The occasion marks the first significant religious service to be held in the complex since the March 29 eviction order issued by the Ukrainian government against Orthodox monks residing in the monastery over their alleged links to Russia. The monks had refused to leave the premises before the eviction deadline.


Sunday’s service was peaceful, with some police presence by the entrances of the complex.

Easter Sunday services are underway in much of Southern California, marked by sunrise Masses and free meals for homeless individuals.

April 9, 2023

The site, which is known in English as the Monastery of the Caves, contains a church as well as monastic and museum buildings. Its oldest parts date back a millennium.

It is owned by the Ukrainian government, and the state agency overseeing the property notified the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in March that it was terminating its lease. The move comes amid a wider crackdown on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church over its historical ties to the Russian Orthodox Church, whose leader, Patriarch Kirill, has supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

After the service, Metropolitan Epiphanius, head of the pro-Kyiv Orthodox Church of Ukraine, blessed worshipers outside the church doors with holy water.

Worshipers welcomed the eviction order.

“I am very glad that this is finally happening, that the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra is cleared of Moscow roots and it is renewed and comes to life,” said Yulia Sencuk, speaking outside the church. “By these very events, we are more likely to bring our victory closer.”

Palm Sunday marks the Sunday before Easter and signals the start of a holy week of prayer and reflection for Christians. The day celebrates Jesus Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, where it is believed he was welcomed with palm fronds on the road. Orthodox churches use different reference dates to calculate when Easter occurs, which can be up to four weeks later than the holiday marked by other branches of Christianity. This year, Orthodox holy week is one week later than on the Roman Catholic calendar.

Instead of holding the symbolic palms, many held willow branches on Sunday in keeping with the tradition in Ukraine.


Personnel from Ukraine’s armed forces were present along with civilians to mark the occasion in the church.

“It’s a very important holiday for me because it’s our tradition, and it’s about our peace, our independence, our belief in God, in peace, in our ... victory,” said Irina, a servicewoman in attendance. She spoke on condition her last name not be disclosed, in keeping with army protocols.

Meanwhile, weekend shelling by Russian forces killed at least seven civilians, Ukrainian officials reported Sunday.

While Russia continued to concentrate on seizing all of Ukraine’s industrial east, two other provinces — Kharkiv in the northeast and Zaporizhzhia in the southeast — came under missile, rocket and artillery fire, the Ukrainian military reported. The governor of the Kherson region, Oleksandr Prokudin, said two communities there were hit by bombs from warplanes late Sunday, but he did not immediately report any casualties.

Kharkiv Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said two men died Sunday in shelling in Kupiansk, a city that Russia held before Ukrainian forces regained control of almost all of the province.

The city remained under attack later Sunday as Russian forces targeted residential areas with rocket launchers, Syniehubov said. Elsewhere in the province, a 30-year-old man was hospitalized in serious condition after Russian shelling of the city of Chuhuiv, the governor said on Telegram.


Shelling also killed two people overnight, one of them a 10- or 11-year-old child, in the city of Zaporizhzhia, the capital of that province, City Council Secretary Anatoliy Kurtev said.

The Zaporizhzhia region’s governor, Yurii Malashko, said 18 communities were shelled. Three people were killed and five were wounded on Saturday, Malashko said.

Zaporizhzhia is home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant and is one of four Ukrainian provinces that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed in September. Since then, Russia’s military has sought to oust Ukraine’s troops from those areas, especially Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, which make up the industrial region known as the Donbas.

Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk, has seen the 13-month war’s longest battle. Western analysts have said Russian forces recently made it into the center of the city. Seizing Bakhmut after more than eight months would give the Kremlin a badly wanted victory and a path to push on toward bigger Ukrainian-held cities.