KIEV, Ukraine — According to Mykola Symchych, the design on a Ukrainian Easter egg is a mystery, created while applying alternating layers of wax and dye. Only when the wax is melted off is the egg’s richly colored pattern revealed.
“It’s a very interesting process, because nobody sees what it will be in the end,” said Symchych, a philosophy instructor at the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences in Kiev, Ukraine, in an April 15 interview.
Like the design of a new Ukrainian Easter egg, his country’s future is unknown. Now mired in violence, ethnic tension, foreign threats and economic instability, Ukrainian Catholics such as the Symchych family hope and pray that a more peaceful, democratic Ukraine will emerge, as they unite with Christ’s suffering and resurrection in the Easter Triduum.
“I want to say in such problematic situations it’s very important for our faith,” said Symchych, who, with his wife, Tania, and daughter Olenka, belongs to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the largest Eastern-rite Church in full communion with the Holy See.
“Actually, we have nothing but faith. There is nothing which is for sure for us. Nothing is secure, and, therefore, faith is very important. For example, for our family and a lot of people who are around us, we always pray in the evening. It gives us hope. Faith gives us hope.”
As they prepared to visit Mykola’s family in the western Ukrainian city of Kolomyya for the Easter holidays, the Symchychs spoke of their life in Kiev, their prayers, fears and the hope brought by Easter worship and customs.
Uncertainty and fear of a Russian military advance in the country cast a shadow over the family’s Easter holidays.
“We are traveling to my parents, and we don’t know what to take with us, because — who knows? — maybe Russian tanks, Russian troops will come to Kiev, and we can’t return to our home,” Mykola said. “Whether to take money with us or not; what to do with our files on our computers — and so on. There are a lot of questions of how to do it in the best way.”
The events and protests in Kiev’s Maidan Square this winter were a part of life for Mykola, who prayed with protesters and brought them food and medicine. He doesn’t feel the same level of involvement now, partly because he’s less familiar with Crimea and the eastern Ukrainian regions where there has been recent unrest.
But it’s impossible not to think of what has happened, he said.
“Every time I go to my job, I have to go through Maidan,” he said. “I always see people in Maidan. I see the stage [where protests took place]. I see the flowers, which are on places where people were killed. Even if I don’t think about this, when I go through Maidan, I have to remember: I have to look back on the events which were then.”
The worsening economic situation also worries the Symchychs and other Kiev residents. Costs for necessities, including medicine and transportation, are up significantly, while the Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia, continues to fall, he said.
Kiev residents accept what they hope is a temporary situation. “If we see that it’s a temporary problem, we just have to wait, and it will get better; [becoming part of the] European market, we can tolerate it,” Symchych said.
He also hopes a new president and government dedicated to democracy will be elected in next month’s scheduled elections, but he is keeping his expectations down because past elected officials haven’t lived up to that ideal.
In a time of some hope for change, more friends and colleagues are praying and reading Scripture, he said. In his parish and many others, he believes, regular prayers for the country are offered after liturgies.
During Lent, he prayed and fasted, as Christ called for in Mark 9:29, for his country.
“God is the omniscient and omnipotent Being, and he knows much better than all of us what is good for us — so all depends on God, not on all of us.”
“There is nothing to believe but God,” Tania added. “There have been a lot of cases when God helped us. We have to believe in God because he helps us.”
Ukraine’s Easter Traditions
The Easter Triduum is a special time of faith for the Symchychs, and they look forward to introducing the holy days and customs to 3-year-old Olenka.
Their Easter traditions include making special sweet bread and dyeing eggs in preparation for the Sunday meals, when nothing is heated or cooked and only cold foods such as sausage and cheese dishes are served.
“We put the bread and eggs and sausages and different foods in a basket and bring all this to the church,” Mykola said. “The priest blesses it with holy water, and all the people with baskets are in a long line, and it is a very fascinating experience for all the family.”
Before that, on Good Friday, Ukrainians venerate an image of the crucified Christ painted on a large piece of fabric, Mykola said.
The image is carried in procession around the church three times, and then the Lord’s wounds painted on the fabric are venerated, comparable to the Western tradition of venerating a cross.
This veneration is like the kiss Ukrainians give to a loved one when they pass away, he said.
“In this case, it’s much more optimistic than in the case of every one of us [dying] — because we know that in three days he’ll be resurrected. We kiss him because we know that we have hope.”
Susan Klemond writes from St. Paul, Minnesota.