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World News

Ukrainians mark Orthodox Christmas in Poland with a prayer to return home

by Reuters Journalist

Victoria, a Ukrainian refugee, is celebrating Orthodox Christmas in Poland with a simple prayer - that next year she will be back at home.

The 40-year-old is one of the millions of Ukrainians who have fled the Russian invasion of their homeland and are marking the holiday with mixed emotions - relief that they are safe, but sadness to be away from their families.

"We can only pray for peace and calm and that we finally have the opportunity to return home," Victoria said.

At a candle-lit Christmas Eve Mass under the domes of the Cathedral of St. Mary Magdalene in Warsaw, priest Doroteusz Sawicki welcomes the new arrivals who have come to celebrate the birth of Christ.

"Two or three years ago we could wonder if anyone would knock on our door, now we know that someone is already standing in the vestibule of our house," he told Reuters.

"Many of our brothers who have found themselves in Poland because of the war cannot return to their homeland. They will celebrate with us."

Many Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, but the Russian Orthodox Church's backing for Moscow's war in Ukraine has angered many Ukrainian Orthodox believers and splintered the worldwide Orthodox Church.

This year, some Ukrainians chose to celebrate Christmas with Catholics on Dec. 25 in protest at Russian aggression. But many have stuck to the Orthodox tradition.

For Victoria, who fled her home city of Irpin with her son in March last year, this is her first Christmas away from home.

"We lived in the basement for almost two weeks, then we left when the bombings started, and our city turned into ruins," said Victoria, who did not want to give her full name.

In Poland she found shelter in a dormitory for refugees about two hours from Warsaw. Soon after, she found a job as a waitress not far from her new home.

Irina Dolganych, 34, has lived in Poland for the past five years, but for her this Christmas feels different and uneasy.

"My mother is not celebrating at all. I was talking to her half an hour ago. She doesn't even have a Christmas tree this year," Irina said.

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