Christmas carried more than just spiritual significance for many Ukrainians this year, as the country observed it as a public holiday on December 25, diverging from the later date observed in Russia.
This change, mandated by legislation signed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in July, mirrors Ukrainians’ discontent with the 22-month-old Russian invasion and underscores their assertion of a distinct national identity. While Ukraine is predominantly Orthodox Christian, the faith is divided between two churches, one of which has historical ties to the Russian Orthodox Church.
Oksana Poviakel, the director of the Pyrohiv Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine, where Christmas celebrations occurred, emphasized that celebrating on December 25 is “another important factor of self-identification.” She remarked, “We are separating ourselves from the neighbor who is currently trying to destroy our state, who is killing our people, destroying our homes, and burning our land.”
Asia Landarenko, 63, expressed her daily prayers for her son serving in the military. She noted, “The state of war affects everything, including the mood. The real celebration of Christmas will be after the victory, but as the Savior was born, so will be our victory.”
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which gained full recognition in 2019, broke ties with Moscow in 2022 after the start of the Russia-Ukraine war. However, its parishes continue to follow the same liturgical calendar as the Russian church, observing Christmas on January 7.
Despite this, many Ukrainians enthusiastically embraced the shift to celebrating Christmas on December 25, seeing it as a move toward historical justice and an opportunity to affirm their national traditions and move beyond lingering imperial remnants. Yevhen Konyk, a 44-year-old serviceman, remarked, “We need to move forward not only with the world but also with the traditions of our country and overcome the imperial remnants we had.”