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Finding joy on Easter Sunday in Ukraine

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Today is Easter Sunday for millions of Orthodox Christians. The holiday comes at a time of war for the faithful of Ukraine defending their homes against Russia's invasion. But as NPR's Brian Mann reports, some are still finding time for joy and tradition.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: The city of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine is a rough place these days - sandbagged barricades, people evacuating because of the Russian shelling. Men with assault rifles ride past in trucks. But when I glance into a little shop on a street corner, I see row after row of bright colored cakes.

TATIANA KRAVCHENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

MANN: That's Tatiana Kravchenko. She explains through my interpreter and fellow journalist, Iryna Matviyishyn, that these are Easter breads decorated in a special way because of the war.

KRAVCHENKO: "This Easter bread is called Ukrayena (ph), Ukraine. We are decorating it with this yellow cream, and then we put macarons on it, blue macarons."

MANN: Those, of course, are the colors of Ukraine's flag. Tatiana also wears yellow and blue ribbons woven in her hair.

KRAVCHENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

IRYNA MATVIYISHYN: "These are patriotic ribbons. We are trying to show that we are Ukrainians. We are in our own land. All this brought us together even more."

MANN: Tatiana says all these Easter breads were made for Ukrainian soldiers serving on the front lines outside Mykolaiv for delivery Sunday morning. She still has a lot of work to do to make that happen. But Tatiana urges me and Iryna to sit and try a piece of bread. So we unwrap the decorative paper.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAPER RUSTLING)

MANN: Mmm. Little sweet macaron on top.

KRAVCHENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

MANN: Tatiana tells us these Easter breads have special meaning this year.

MATVIYISHYN: "This Easter bread was blessed yesterday by our priest. So we hope we get more blessing this Easter and that our victory is getting closer."

MANN: The people here in Mykolaiv are under incredible strain - attacked nightly by Russia, no running water, electricity failing constantly. But before we know it, Tatiana is insisting we stay for a full meal. She puts big pieces of fried potato bread on the table and bowls of hot soup.

MATVIYISHYN: You can try the borscht that they cooked for the military men. And she wants you to try the green borscht.

MANN: It's delicious. And this hospitality found at the edge of war feels powerful. I asked Tatiana why she hasn't evacuated with so many of the other women of Mykolaiv. She makes a fierce face.

KRAVCHENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

MATVIYISHYN: "We will stay here till our victory."

MANN: So as this Russian assault continues, there is still celebration in Ukraine on this Orthodox Easter Sunday and worship and also defiance. With Iryna Matviyishyn, I'm Brian Mann, NPR News, Mykolaiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.