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Ukraine's Zelenskyy calls God an "ally" against Russia in Orthodox Easter message

An Ukrainian serviceman of the 72nd Separate Mechanized Brigade, lights candles during a Christian Orthodox Easter religious service, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, May 4, 2024.
Francisco Seco
/
AP
An Ukrainian serviceman of the 72nd Separate Mechanized Brigade, lights candles during a Christian Orthodox Easter religious service, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, May 4, 2024.

KYIV, Ukraine — As Ukraine marked its third Easter at war, Russia launched a barrage of drones concentrated in Ukraine's east and claimed its troops took control of a village they had been targeting.

Ukraine's air force said Sunday that Russia had launched 24 Shahed drones, of which 23 had been shot down by air defenses.

Six people, including a child, were wounded in a drone strike in the eastern Kharkiv region, regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said.

Fires broke out when debris from drones that were shot down fell on buildings in the neighboring Dnipropetrovsk region. No casualties were reported.

The Russian Ministry of Defense announced Sunday that its troops had taken control of the village of Ocheretyne, which has been in the crosshairs of Russian forces in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. Drone footage obtained by The Associated press showed the village battered by fighting. Not a single person is seen in the footage obtained late Friday, and no building in Ocheretyne appears to have been left untouched by the fighting.

Officials in Kyiv urged residents to follow Orthodox Easter services online due to safety concerns. Serhiy Popko, head of the Kyiv city administration, warned that "even on such bright days of celebration, we can expect evil deeds from the aggressor."

In his Easter address, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Ukrainians to be "united in one common prayer."

In a video filmed in front of Kyiv's Saint Sophia Cathedral, wearing a traditional Vyshyvanka embroidered shirt, Zelenskyy said that God "has a chevron with the Ukrainian flag on his shoulder." With "such an ally," Zelenskyy said, "life will definitely win over death."

A majority of Ukrainians identify as Orthodox Christians, though the church is divided. Many belong to the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The rival Ukrainian Orthodox Church was loyal to the patriarch in Moscow until splitting from Russia after the 2022 invasion and is viewed with suspicion by many Ukrainians.

In Moscow, worshippers including President Vladimir Putin packed Moscow's landmark Christ the Savior Cathedral late Saturday for a nighttime Easter service led by Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church and an outspoken supporter of the Kremlin.

Eastern Orthodox Christians usually celebrate Easter later than Catholic and Protestant churches, because they use a different method of calculating the date for the holy day that marks Christ's resurrection

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