For some Orthodox Ukrainians, Christmas in a bomb shelter

© Dimitar Dilkoff, AFP

As artillery boomed outside and fighter jets flew overhead, Orthodox Christians in a battered eastern Ukrainian town held a Christmas service in a basement shelter on Saturday, vowing not to let war ruin the holiday.

Nearly all the congregants and all but one choir singer had already fled Chasiv Yar for safer territory, leaving just nine people to attend the service in a residential building that partially collapsed from shelling in November.

"Christ was born in a cave. You and I are also in a cave," Priest Oleg Kruchinin told the group, gesturing to the basement lined with exposed wires and pipes and lit with an exposed bulb.

"This probably has a special meaning: Do not lose heart, do not give up... Because the Lord was born in a cave, and we also celebrate Christmas in cramped conditions."

Chasiv Yar is situated 10 kilometres (six miles) south of Bakhmut, the hottest point on the front line, and has lived under the constant threat of bombardment for many weeks.

For the first nine months of the war, the town's Orthodox Christians worshipped in a white-brick church with golden domes, even though the building had no underground shelter.

But two weeks ago, a missile landed in the churchyard and shattered its windows, forcing them to relocate.

"One of our parishioners lives in this house, and now, since her apartment is partially destroyed, she lives in the basement, and she called us here," explained Olga Kruchinina, the priest's wife.


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