Every year, Ukrainian families spend time in cemeteries on the first Sunday after Orthodox Easter. They tidy up graves and leave flowers and food for their dead loved ones.
This spring, even in villages that the war has destroyed, residents came back to clean and tend their graves. It was a ritual of remembrance and hope.
Provody is a Day of Remembrance
Provody, a Ukrainian spring ritual referred to as “Radunitsa” (Russian: Radunica), is a day of remembrance for deceased people. It follows Easter and puts the spirits of the dead at ease so they can continue to rest in peace.
During this time, families gather at graves and leave flowers and food for their departed loved ones. Often a bowl of water and a towel are placed at the gravesite.
These offerings are a way to show respect to the deceased and also help them wash away their tears. The Ukrainians believe the dead drink the water and use the towel to help them heal from their grief.
In many villages in eastern Ukraine, people are cleaning their graves to remember their ancestors who were killed in the war. Even in villages that were destroyed by the conflict, families still visit the graves to tend them.
It’s a Time to Remember
As we near Easter, a time of renewal and new life, it’s a time to remember. The 40 days of Lent are devoted to prayer and penitence in preparation for the Great Feast of Christ’s Resurrection, celebrated on Easter Sunday.
During this time, parishioners visit the “Plaschenytsia” on their knees to kiss all five wounds of Christ depicted on the Holy Shroud. They also take part in a devotional service at the graves of their loved ones.
Traditionally, Ukraine’s pysanky, or Easter eggs, were deeply rooted in folklore and were a powerful symbol of the rebirth of spring, as well as the resurrection of Jesus. Pysanky were also believed to protect homes from evil spirits, lightning and fires.
It’s a Time to Plan
A spring ritual hints at the renewal of lives, and that of a people’s identity. On Provody, a week after Easter, families visit the graves of their loved ones to bring food and flowers.
For Ukrainians, it is a day to remember and to plan. Despite the war’s devastating consequences, this is a time of hope.
The reclaimed city of Izium, recently liberated from Russian control, was once home to a large Jewish cemetery. But after the Russians departed, many of those buried there were never reburied.
In a forest outside the town, investigators found hundreds of graves in what Kyiv calls the largest mass grave of the war. Most were unmarked, but a few had wooden crosses.
One of the crosses said it contained the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers. But Russian officials denied responsibility for the burials, saying that they were civilians.
It’s a Time to Reflect
Despite the ravages of war and Russian air raids, villages in eastern Ukraine continue to rebound, even in those that have been decimated by fighting. Survivors return to their ancestral homes and clean up the graves of loved ones.
Families milled about in the Staryi Saltiv cemetery, greeting one another and exchanging news. Or they sat at picnic tables laid with candy and Easter eggs, celebrating their village’s rebirth in an improbable place: the cemetery.
A traditional day of remembrance, Provody was a chance for families to tidy up graves and leave food and flowers for their dead relatives. Signs of the war scarred the cemetery, artillery knocking over gravestones and leaving deep craters in some plots.
Among them was Liubov Oleksiivna, 73, who was born and lived her whole life in the village of Staryi Saltiv until she had to flee last year. She plans to return if she can repair her home. She says she is stitched to this land.