Skip to main content

As Russia’s invasion continues, Ukrainians observe their second wartime Christmas on Dec. 25, the first such holiday since churches changed the date to set themselves further apart from Moscow

Christmas in wartime is always poignant. In Ukraine this year, tens of thousands will mark the day in muddy trenches, with the sounds of artillery and machine guns taking the place of festive jingles.

Millions of others will celebrate more quietly than usual in Ukrainian cities away from the front lines, with a 10 p.m. nightly curfew and the constant threat of Russian air strikes ensuring that any holiday gatherings are shorter and more anxious than those that took place before the war. Millions more Ukrainians will watch the holidays pass from outside the country, waiting for the moment the war ends and it’s finally safe to return home.

But, for the first time this year, almost all Ukrainian Christians will mark Christmas on Dec. 25 as part of what President Volodymyr Zelensky has called a national effort to “renounce Russian heritage.”

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine – which a 2022 poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found 54 per cent of Ukrainians identify as members of – announced in May that it would adopt the Revised Julian calendar in an effort to further separate itself from the Russian Orthodox Church, which has supported Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which is predominant in some regions of Western Ukraine, made the same change.

The Russian church, like most Eastern churches, celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ on Jan. 7, but the Orthodox Church of Ukraine said in a statement that the old Julian calendar is now “perceived as connected with Russian church culture.”

Last year, the Ukrainian church allowed its followers to celebrate on Dec. 25 if they chose but still held its formal celebration on Jan. 7. In July, Mr. Zelensky signed a decree to formally remove Jan. 7 as a holiday and make Dec. 25 the national celebration of Christmas.

Despite the regular air raid sirens and Russian missile attacks on the city, Kyiv seems to be adapting well to the change. After spending much of last December in darkness as Russian attacks crippled the country’s energy infrastructure, improved air defences have meant that most of the drones and missiles Russia fires at the city are shot down before they reach their targets.

As a result, Kyiv is twinkling this December, despite the war, with stores on the city’s central Khreshchatyk Street emanating music and lights, while an outdoor Christmas market fills the square in front of the famed St. Sophia’s Cathedral.

A volunteer greets soldiers at St. Sophia’s Square near Ukraine’s main Christmas tree; that evening, a couple kiss after the tree is lit for the first time. Christmas festivities moved here after the Euromaidan protests of 2014, when many Ukrainians died at Independence Square, the tree’s old spot.
A transit worker at the Kyiv funicular decorates her kiosk with snowflakes on St. Nicholas Day. Dec. 6 is also the Day of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, hence military personnel get to ride for free.
Visitors enjoy the Winter’s Tale Christmas fair at VDNKh Exhibition Centre on Dec. 9. Organizers could count on a reliable power supply for the fair this year, unlike last December, when Russian attacks hobbled the Ukrainian energy grid.
At his home in a village west of Kyiv, Oleksandr Popyk, a soldier wounded in the conflict, has an ornament that reads ‘everything will be Ukraine.’ Ukrainians often say this to express hope that victory is coming and Russian-held areas will return to Ukrainian control.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe