(Kyiv) More than 100 Ukrainian POWs have been released in a major prisoner swap with Russia on Easter Day for Orthodox Christians, a senior official said on Sunday. Orthodox Ukrainians marked the religious holiday for the second time since Moscow launched its brutal full-scale war on February 24, 2022.

Although the celebrations were subdued due to security risks, with a curfew preventing worshipers from attending regular services throughout the night, Ukrainian authorities and citizens shared messages of hope, linking the story from the resurrection of Jesus to their desire for peace and Ukrainian victory.

Dozens of families had special reason to celebrate, as presidential adviser Andriy Yermak announced that 130 soldiers, sailors, border guards and others captured by Moscow were set to return home after a “great prisoner exchange from Easter”.

Yermak said in a Telegram message on Sunday that those freed include troops who fought near Bakhmout, the eastern mining town that for months has been the focus of a relentless Russian offensive.

“The lives of our people are of the greatest value to us,” Yermak said, noting that Kyiv’s goal is to bring back all remaining POWs.

There was no immediate information on the number of Russian prisoners released, but the press service of the founder of the Wagner Group, the Kremlin-affiliated paramilitary force whose fighters are prominent in eastern Ukraine, also released a video on Sunday showing Ukrainian prisoners of war being prepared for an exchange.

The video, posted on the Telegram messaging service, shows Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin instructing a soldier to prepare Ukrainian prisoners to leave Russian-controlled territory “before lunchtime” on Sunday. POWs are then shown how to board trucks and walk along a road.

In his Easter address released Sunday morning, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the event as marking “the victory of good, the victory of truth, the victory of life.” He emphasized what he called Ukrainian unity in the face of Russian aggression.

“Faith in victory always unites us all, and especially today, on Easter, a family holiday for Ukrainians, a day of warmth, hope and great unity. We are one big family — Ukrainians. We have a big home — Ukraine. We have one big goal — victory for all,” President Zelensky said.

In central Kyiv, people gathered in the courtyard of the famous St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery on Sunday morning to have their Easter eggs and food baskets blessed by a priest. A curfew had prevented most from attending the traditional night service hours earlier, with many turning instead to follow the event.

Ukrainian churches are usually crowded on Orthodox Easter Sunday. This year, the vast courtyard was half empty, and the line of people waiting for the priest to sprinkle their ornate baskets with holy water moved quickly.

For a second year in a row, Moscow’s brutal war has interrupted holiday routines. Ukraine’s main security service issued a statement this week urging residents not to linger in churches on Sundays, to avoid overcrowding and minimize security risks.