IN 2022 Volodymyr Zelenskyy proposed to give religious holidays such as Ramadan, Kurban Bayram, Pesach, Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah and others the status of public ones in Ukraine.
It was a big step in bringing up the multinational and multireligious population and their traditions to a state level. Now as the full-scale war continues, these spiritual holidays do not cease to exist, but are celebrated even with the bigger strength. It is faith that keeps Ukrainians going through the war. It is what unites people of different religions in one struggle against the aggressor.
Today the Ukrainian government recognizes Ramadan as an official religious holiday. Employers are known to make accommodations for Muslim employees during this period, such as adjusting work schedules to allow for prayer and breaking the fast. In Ukraine, mosques and Islamic centers organize special activities during the feast, including Tarawih prayers, recitation of the Qur’an, and lectures on Islamic teachings. Many Muslim families also invite friends and relatives for iftar—the evening meal which breaks the fast at sunset.
In recent years some Ukrainian cities have organized public iftar events, where Muslims and non-Muslims come together to break the fast and learn about Ramadan and Islamic traditions. These events help to promote greater understanding and respect for the Muslim community in Ukraine.
In 2023, in the first days of Ramadan, the Muslim community opened a new mosque in Lviv—one of the biggest cities in Ukraine and its “cultural capital.” The opening is particularly significant, as it will provide space for Muslims to observe their religious practices and celebrate the holy month with families and friends.
Elvin Kadyrov, head of the Mejlis Coordination Center for Humanitarian Affairs, commented on the opening of the mosque: “This is a place where Ukrainians can come and learn about Islam first-hand.”
This is very particular of Ukraine, a mostly Christian state, which in recent years celebrates the cultural and ethnic diversity of the country more and more, giving them recognition and space for growth.
Despite the war, the Ukrainian Muslim community adapts to the challenges. Mufti Murat Suleymanov, who is the chair of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine Umma, said: “The month of Ramadan, unfortunately, we met during the full-scale war. This is the second year. But there should always be faith and worship of the Most High, even during war.”
He continued: “On the contrary, it is better for us, because the month of Ramadan is a month of hope. This is the month when the Almighty forgives us, the Almighty helps us. And that is why we, as Muslims, of course, are pleased, first; and grateful to the Almighty that we have lived to this month.”
The League of Muslim Women of Ukraine has planned many events for the month of Ramadan. Activists of the league have decided to hold weekly online lectures on Zoom or Instagram. There are also Sunday lectures for teenage girls.
Head of the League of Muslim Women of Ukraine Niyara Mamutova said that in every Islamic cultural center, women and children gather on weekends, Sunday lessons are held, and Quran reading is held together.
Special attention is paid to children. After all, the events taking place in Ukraine affect everyone, and children also see, know and feel what is happening. They still draw things related to war, weapons, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and victory. Whether we like it or not, children also hear sirens and victims of the war.
The Muslim communities across Ukraine provide psychological support for children of any religion. They are open to everyone, and are ready to help everyone in the need of assistance in anything.
It is the second year that Ukrainian Muslims fight back-to-back with Christians, celebrating Easter and Ramadan in trenches. Despite the difficult circumstances, Ukrainian Muslims and Christians try to maintain their religious traditions. This shows a great deal of resilience and determination in the face of adversity. Religious traditions can provide comfort and strength during difficult times, and it’s inspiring to see people coming together across religious divides to support each other.
Easter in Ukraine
AS for Ukrainian Christians, Easter is celebrated with paska (traditional Easter cake), pysanky (painted eggs), Holy Water, and Easter service. These items necessary for celebrating the spiritual holiday will be provided to the soldiers at the frontlines by volunteers and chaplains.
For Christians of Ukraine, this year is also special for one more reason: The West (Catholic, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) and the East (Orthodox Church of Ukraine) wings of Christianity celebrated Easter together, on one date: the 9th of April. The date of Easter is one of the reasons for discord between the Orthodox and Catholic churches in Ukraine.
Catholics and Orthodox used to have different methods of calculating the date of Easter, one such was that the Orthodox Church used the old Julian calendar to determine the date of Easter, while Catholics use the new Gregorian style.
But 2023 is the year of change, when the Ukrainian Orthodox Church switched to the Gregorian calendar. Now, the two wings of Christianity, present in Ukraine, celebrated Easter on one date, according to the Gregorian calendar: April 9.
It’s always heartening to see people coming together in difficult times, like today of the Russian war against Ukraine. Regardless of their different religions or ethnic backgrounds, Ukrainians are standing together to defend their country and resist the aggression of a common enemy.
This may be on the battlefield and in the trenches fighting, or it may be at home, saving traditions and cultures. But right now, Russians deliberately devastate cultural and religious places of people living in Ukraine.
And they are not stopping even on spiritual holidays. According to the latest report, Russians damaged nearly 500 churches and religious sites. Last year on March 12, the mosque of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife Roxolana (Hurrem Sultan) in Mariupol was shelled. On June 15, Russian troops destroyed the mosque and Muslim center Bismillah in Severodonetsk.
The same was done to mosques in Kostyantynivka, Donetsk region. These and many other holy places burned to the ground under Russian occupation in the past couple of months. It is a serious violation of human rights and international law. The intentional destruction of cultural heritage sites is considered a war crime by the International Criminal Court, and is condemned by the international community as a whole.
Ukraine is home to diverse ethnic and religious groups who live under the same humanistic values. The way Russians destroy this spiritual diversity of Ukraine by demolishing cultural and holy places is a sign of their ethical attitude towards non-Christians. Besides that, many Christian churches were destroyed by Russians over the past. President Zelenskyy has recently posted briefly about it.
Nothing stops the aggressor. Thus, Ukraine expects another heavy shelling this Easter. Despite the hardship, all Ukrainians share common strength. This unity of all Ukrainian people of diverse ethnicities and religions once again demonstrates that their similarities are greater than their differences, and that they are all ultimately united by shared humanity. When people are able to set aside their differences and work together towards a common goal: a free, prosperous Ukraine, incredible things can be done.
The holiest holidays like Ramadan and Easter are another set of reminders that Ukraine is fighting for a democratic, anthropocentric future, where all diversities are celebrated, and are integrated into the state.
(Havryliuk is an independent journalist from Ukraine.)