KYIV – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed on Sunday in an Orthodox Easter message that no “wickedness” will destroy the country and prayed that God returns happiness to children and brings solace to grieving mothers.
In a video address from one of the country’s best-known landmarks, the 1,000-year-old Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, Zelensky said Ukraine will overcome the darkness that Russia’s invasion had brought upon it.
“Today, we still believe in the new victory of Ukraine and we are all convinced that we will not be destroyed by any horde or wickedness,” said Zelenskiy, wearing his trademark dark khaki outfit.
“We are overcoming dark times and on this day I – and most of us – are not in bright clothes, but we are fighting for a luminous idea.”
Subdued Easter celebrations took place across the country on Sunday, two months since the beginning of the Russian invasion that Russian President Vladimir Putin has called a “special military operation.”
Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the eastern Luhansk region, said on Sunday that seven churches there have been destroyed in the war.
While churches used to be full for overnight and morning Easter services, this year churches have been asked not to gather many people, with concerns they could be targets for missiles.
Zelensky said on Thursday Russia had rejected a proposal for a truce over the Easter period.
Senior Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said on Sunday Russian forces were shelling the Avozstal steelworks in the besieged southern city of Mariupol, where Ukrainian defenders are holed up.
In a Twitter message, he called for “a real Easter truce in Mariupol,” along with an immediate humanitarian corridor for civilians and a special talks to facilitate the exchange of military and civilians.
In his message, Zelenskiy also said Mariupol and its “heroic defenders” should not be forgotten.
“It is possible to destroy the walls, but it is not possible to destroy the foundation on which the spirit of our warriors, the spirit of the whole country, rests,” he said.
Ukrainian officials said at least 213 children have been killed in the war, including a 3-month-old infant in strikes on Saturday in the southern city of Odesa.
Pavlo Krylenko, the governor of Donetsk region, said on Telegram that two girls aged 5 and 14 were killed on Sunday when the building where they lived was destroyed by Russian shelling.
Russia has denied targeting civilians.
“Give every boy and every girl a happy childhood, youth, and old age, which will allow at least a bit to shed the memories of their terrible childhood during the war,” Zelensky said.
“Take care of our mothers, give endurance to those who are waiting for a son or daughter to return from the war,” he added. “Give endurance to those who, unfortunately, would not see the return of their child from the front.”