LUKASHIVKA, Ukraine (AP) – A single metal cross remains inside the broken brick and blackened stone church. Russian soldiers used the shrine to store ammunition, residents said, and Ukrainian forces shelled the building to scare off the Russians.
There will be no Orthodox Easter service here on Sunday in this small village in northern Ukraine.
One of the church’s golden domes has been torn off. His golden cross is leaning against an exterior wall.
“It’s really a shame,” said resident Valentina Ivanivna, 70, standing with her bicycle on Orthodox Good Friday as men dismantled nearby abandoned Russian military vehicles.
The church in Lukashivka, a village near the town of Chernihiv, survived World War II and the most austere years of the Soviet Union, a time when authorities stripped it of its religious icons, said inhabitants.
This time, locals believe it will take years for the church to regain its former beauty.
Its bells fell on unstable ground littered with ammunition casings and Russian tin cans. There remains a candle holder, as well as a dented teapot and a pasta strainer.
Outside, the finned part of a rocket is stuck in the mud.
The villagers have sworn to rebuild, no matter what. They have already started building their own house, even as they wait for basic services to resume.
There is no gas available to bake Easter bread. At a bend in the road, a military chaplain, Volodymyr Vyshyvkin, and volunteers distributed food and worms.
Remember, Jesus is risen, the chaplain told them. Ukraine will do the same. He called on villagers to pray for those on the front lines in places like Mariupola southern town that the Russians are determined to take and continued to shell Friday.
The resistance never died during the local occupation of Lukashivka, said 64-year-old Valentyna Golyak.
“I said to the Russians: ‘You will stay in this country as fertilizer. If you want to kill me, kill me. They looked ashamed,” she said. “I think they don’t believe in God.”
Golyak said she also told Russian soldiers that she had lived her whole life without a war and had expected to die the same way. Instead, the soldiers damaged or destroyed almost every house in the village. And the church was beautiful, she said.
But it also celebrates a new life. Her daughter gave birth in a basement in the village during the Russian occupation. On Saturday, the little girl will be 1 month old.
Her name was Victoria.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine