(Reuters) - The head of Ukraine's Orthodox church asked clergy and the faithful on Wednesday to forgo night Easter services in areas of the country affected by fighting, fearing Russian bombardments will continue during the Orthodox Easter period.
Metropolitan Epifaniy said in a televised address that he had little faith that a pause in shelling by Russian troops, proposed by the Ukrainian association of churches and religious communities for the duration of the Orthodox Christian Easter festivities, would hold.
"It is hard to believe this will really happen, because the enemy is trying to completely destroy us," he said.
Ukrainian church leaders have been at odds with Russia since Ukraine formed a new Orthodox church in 2018, ending centuries of religious ties with Moscow. Both Ukrainians and Russians are predominantly Orthodox Christians.
The Orthodox Easter service starts late on Saturday into Sunday morning when a traditional feast begins.
Ukraine's foreign ministry also said on Wednesday it was "grateful" for a separate initiative by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about a four-day Easter "humanitarian truce" that could begin on Thursday.
The truce was necessary for the safe evacuation of thousands of civilians from the areas of ongoing and possible hostilities, "especially from the long-suffering" city of Mariupol, it said.
Dozens of churches and other religious and cultural sites in Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed since Russia invaded the country on Feb 24. The Kremlin describes Russia's actions as a "special military operation" to disarm Ukraine.
Epifaniy said the Easter service could be held in the morning or afternoon and that priests should try to avoid crowds in churches. The faithful can also watch broadcasts of Easter service on television or the internet, he said.
(This story corrects paragraph 2 to clarify truce was proposed by the Ukrainian association of churches and religious communities)
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)