Celebrating Easter in Ukraine

It was a few days before Easter when I arrived in Ukraine in 2014 to stay with my grandmother, Valentina. Taking advantage of being together for the first time in years for this holiday, we prepared a large feast, colored eggs with onion peels and baked paska, a brioche-like Easter bread.  I became obsessed with photographing every part of our preparations, making my grandmother laugh. She didn’t understand what was interesting about recording everything. I didn’t understand it myself at the time, but I felt that I had to capture as many of my impressions as possible. Ukraine was going through a painful period as Russia had annexed Crimea and was also supporting various separatist movements in the eastern part of the country. We lived with the sounds of gunfire from the military training grounds nearby and with bitter news from the front.

Yet, as we celebrated Easter with its powerful message of renewal and rebirth, we felt hopeful. We planted vegetables and flowers in the garden. We whitewashed our cherry trees. We waited for the blossoms to burst.

As I look through the photos of that Easter, I feel such a surge of emotions that it’s even difficult to put it into words. This pre-2022 period feels luminous despite the dark events that were unfolding then. When I was writing my book, The Rooster House, I looked through the images of my grandmother making bread or planting flowers. I recalled how we spent our days in vivid detail. Our time together wasn’t all tenderness and sunshine and we sometimes fought and disagreed, but it too was part of our life. Our altercations made us understand each other better–and realize how similar we were in our stubbornness and determination.

I remember the Easter of 2014 as a time when I fell in love with Ukraine anew. I rediscovered it after a long absence and it was a warm homecoming. Every day brought a new discovery and a new wonder.

I often dream of Valentina and when I do, she appears full of new projects and plans. “Why don’t we plant more cherry trees this year?” she suggested after our Easter dinner. The news that day were particularly dire and it seemed like a strange idea to think of expanding the orchard, but we agreed that it was the only right thing to do. No matter what was happening, we had to keep living and creating. And so we planted more cherry trees that spring.

My Easter celebrations this year were bittersweet away from my family. Spread out across the world, we cooked our Easter roasts and baked paska, remembering Valentina and commemorating her each in our own way. I chose to do what she would have done–I went into the little garden I share with my neighbors and planted flowers. I selected blooms that represent Ukraine for me such as tagettes, cornflowers and yarrow. It started to rain just as I finished planting and I stood for a long time watching the droplets dance on the ground. At that moment, I felt hopeful again.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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15 Comments

  • Tara C: Such a beautiful post. When my oven gets replaced, I want to bake a paska. April 21, 2023 at 9:24am Reply

  • Perfumelover67: What a touching and hopeful post, Victoria! Sending warm hugs and thoughts! April 21, 2023 at 9:52am Reply

  • Hamamelis: Thank you for the beautiful writing. It brought tears to my eyes, hopeful tears. For hope. April 21, 2023 at 10:01am Reply

  • Cyndi: My ex-husband was of Ukrainian descent, and we were married in a beautiful ceremony in a Ukrainian Catholic Church. I remember the Ukrainian Easter eggs which were no less than a work of art. Always lots of food at Easter, and a wonderful celebration with his father’s family. Thanks for your post. April 21, 2023 at 12:27pm Reply

  • Wara: Dearest Victoria❤️❤️❤️❤️your grandmother must be honored by your devotion to continue the traditions of hope and beauty which she planted in your heart. BELLAS PALABRAS, love your writing….I cried como un guagua, but they are full of beauty and tenderness to wipe out the ugliness of the war!!!! VIVA UKRANIA💙💛 April 21, 2023 at 1:02pm Reply

  • Caitlenn: May your spirit lead the way home – to peace for all! Thx for such a heartfelt share. April 21, 2023 at 2:03pm Reply

  • Aurora: What lovely memories of that special time with your grandmother and your photos are beautiful, I wonder if it is a special wine in the glass topped with the paska. April 21, 2023 at 3:14pm Reply

  • N: All of my older relatives are gone, but I have lots of good memories of large family Easter celebrations. (We would be standing in church the night before past midnight for Easter services too.) I fondly remember my grandmother’s paska and the traditional onion skin dyed eggs. Are tagettes the same as marigolds? Thank you for sharing your memories. Even though I’m far away my thoughts and prayers are always with Ukraine the homeland of my ancestors. April 21, 2023 at 6:52pm Reply

  • Albi: I loved reading this post. Thank you for the beautiful writing April 21, 2023 at 8:33pm Reply

  • Noemi: 💛💙 April 21, 2023 at 8:46pm Reply

  • Kathy: Thank you for sharing these memories, and it touched me that you mentioned arguing a bit with your beloved Grandmother – even as you worked side by side toward the same goal. I look forward to reading The Rooster House. April 22, 2023 at 9:11am Reply

  • Nancy Chan: Dear Victoria, Thank you for sharing your memories and photographs. I really love that photo of your grandmother, seated behind the beautifully decorated paska with the sugar decorations. April 22, 2023 at 12:28pm Reply

  • OperaFan: Happy Easter, Victoria. I’m looking forward to reading your book and am very glad you were able to make such strong connections with your grandmother and family. The memories of these traditions and stories will last a lifetime and beyond. Thank you again for sharing. April 22, 2023 at 8:20pm Reply

  • Becky: I loved reading Rooster House! My heart breaks for the people of Ukraine. Your book helped me understand more of the history. Thrilled to find your website. I began making the rolls my grandmother made for thanksgiving and Christmas. I love the smell of the yeast bread and the thoughts of my family it brings. I will ebe anxious to hear how Pani Olga and Nadia are surviving the war. And I worr about the cities mentioned in your ok. You and your grandmothers Bereh. Thank you for the beautiful story you wrote! And the people you brought into my life. July 23, 2023 at 11:46am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Becky! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed my book and that it resonated with you. July 24, 2023 at 3:55am Reply

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