Ukrainians in the North East celebrate first Orthodox Christmas while war continues

  • Report by Jonny Blair

Ukrainian refugees in the North East have been celebrating Orthodox Christmas day at church services across the region, thousands of miles from home and loved ones.

Ukrainians, like Russians and Orthodox Christians in some other countries, conventionally observe Christmas on 7 January.

Svitlana Yanyk is living with a host family in Consett and attended a Christmas service at St Oswald's Church in Durham.

She said: "On the one hand, unfortunately, I have to celebrate Christmas far away from Ukraine. I'm very happy that my daughter is with me but my two sons are in Ukraine. Half of my heart is here but half of my heart is in Ukraine.

"I won't think about me today, I will think about our brave soldiers who are fighting. My cousin and my nephew are at war and they want to be happy too. Who knows, maybe tomorrow they will die but today they are celebrating."

Father Andrew Louth led the service. He said: "It's a great privilege to us to be able to do something which, in some way, touches their lives and gives them some sense that, despite everything, they're still embraced by God's love."

Russia's invasion of Ukraine started almost a year ago, in Febraury 2022. Refugees began to arrive n the UK in March, many under the Government's Homes for Ukraine scheme.

Mike Farrell is hosting Svitlana along with her daughter, youngest son and mother. He said: "They're displaced from their country. I want to give back. My house is just a house, obviously it's my home but I want to try and make it their home as well."

A day before, the Russian Orthodox Church called for a 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine, which President Vladimir Putin agreed.

However, Ukrainian officials reported Russian shelling attacks in the Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhia regions on Saturday.

Russia’s Defence Ministry insisted that its forces along the 1,100-kilometre front line were observing the Kremlin-ordered truce, but returned fire when attacked.

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