Ukrainians and Russians celebrate Christmas, fighting continues

Ukrainians and Russians celebrated Orthodox Christmas on Saturday amid a war, with fighting continuing on several fronts despite Vladimir Putin unilaterally declaring a 36-hour ceasefire, which Kyiv and the West saw as hypocrisy.

As in the previous day, the Russian military condemned the continuation of Ukrainian artillery fire or attacks on its positions, and confirmed its intention to observe the ceasefire until midnight (21:00 GMT) on Saturday.

Ukraine, in turn, questions the sincerity of the Russian ceasefire agreement and claims that it is a ruse to buy time. Washington, Paris, London, Berlin and the EU condemned the initiative.

Mykhailo Podoliak, adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, on Saturday once again rejected the ceasefire agreement of Russia, calling it “fake”.

“Russia has occupied and killed Ukrainians for 11 months, it is angry + So why are you resisting? +. Russia unilaterally declares a false + ceasefire + on the entire front line, but continues to whine + Why does Ukraine not support our false proposal? +”, he , wrote on Twitter in English.

Journalists in Chassiv Yar, eastern Ukraine, actually observed continuous shelling throughout the morning.

In Bachmut, the epicenter of the fighting further north, the AFP had already heard artillery fire on both sides of the front on Friday, hours after a unilateral ceasefire was reached by Russia.

But these shots were less intense than the previous days.

According to the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office, two people died and 13 were injured in Bakhmut, which was largely destroyed as a result of the fighting on Friday, and where both sides suffered heavy losses.

According to the Ukrainian authorities, Russian troops also shelled Kherson region (south) on Friday, killing one rescuer and injuring 7 others.

– Putin is alone in the Kremlin

Russia and Ukraine, two countries that have been at war since February 2022, celebrated Orthodox Christmas on Saturday, which is believed by the majority. January 7 of the civil (Gregorian) calendar corresponds to December 25 of the old Julian calendar, which the Orthodox Church continues to follow.

On the Russian side, Vladimir Putin attended a midnight mass at the Kremlin church alone on Friday, breaking his habit of attending liturgies in public places, in the provinces or on the outskirts of Moscow.

In a message released by the Kremlin on Saturday, he congratulated the Orthodox Christians.

Church organizations “support our soldiers” fighting in Ukraine, the Russian president said.

On the Ukrainian side, hundreds of believers attended a historic liturgy on Saturday at the famous monastery of the Kyiv Caves Lavra, which was previously under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate but became part of the Independent Ukrainian Church in December.

The office was headed by the head of this church, Metropolitan Epiphany, who first severed ties with the Moscow Patriarchate.

“We have waited a long time for this sanctuary to be handed over to us. This is a truly historic event that all Ukrainians have been waiting for,” 19-year-old Veronika Martynyuk, who leads the choir, told AFP.

“Every country has its own church. And we have our own church – it’s very good, it’s the Ukrainian church, it should be like that,” said 47-year-old religious Oksana Sobko.

– Supply of weapons –

In Chassiv Iard, near the front, locals gathered in their basements rather than in the church at the end of the street for fear of being fired upon. Out of the congregation of a hundred people who fled the city, only nine remained faithful.

“Thank God we got together, it’s over,” said 62-year-old Zinaida Artiouxina, the only member of the church choir.

Even if it had been respected, the ceasefire ordered by Vladimir Putin would have provided only 36 hours of respite in the nearly 11-month high-intensity conflict that has seen no progress.

The United States, Kiev’s main patron, pledged $3 billion in new military aid to Ukraine on Friday, including the supply of Bradley armored personnel carriers, personnel carriers and howitzers.

“This year of victory has just begun,” the Ukrainian presidency said, adding that the American “package” includes “Himars” precision missiles and “Sea Sparrow” anti-aircraft missiles.

The announcement follows Germany, which said it would send 40 Marder armored vehicles in the first quarter, following in the footsteps of France, which announced on Wednesday the delivery of AMX-10 RC light battle tanks.

Western arms supplies are crucial to Kyiv, and in particular have enabled it to mount an effective counteroffensive that drove Russian forces out of Kharkiv Oblast in the northeast and Kherson in the south.

With winter, the front is mostly frozen. Ukraine, which promised to take back all its territories from Russia, however, expressed its fear of a new attack by Russia in the near future.


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