Ukraine and Russia celebrate Christmas, hostilities continue
Ukrainians and Russians celebrated Orthodox Christmas on Saturday amid the war, hostilities continuing at several points on the front despite Vladimir Putin’s unilateral announcement of a 36-hour ceasefire, described as hypocrisy by Kyiv and Westerners.
As the day before, the Russian army confirmed its intention to observe a ceasefire until midnight Saturday (21:00 GMT), denouncing any continuation of Ukrainian artillery fire or attacks on its positions forcing it to retaliate. .
Ukraine, for its part, has questioned the sincerity of the Russian truce, claiming it was a ruse to buy time. Washington, Paris, London, Berlin and the EU condemned the initiative.
Ukraine’s presidential adviser, Mykhaïlo Podoliak, again rejected the Russian truce on Saturday, describing it as “fake”.
“Russia invaded and killed Ukrainians for 11 months, outraged + But why are you resisting? +. Russia unilaterally declares a ceasefire + true-false + on the entire front, but continues to whine + Why doesn’t Ukraine support our fake proposal? +” , he wrote in English on Twitter.
Journalists present in Chassiv Iar, in eastern Ukraine, had been observing the continuous bombardment all morning.
In Bakhmout, the epicenter of the fighting further north, AFP heard artillery fire on both sides of the front line on Friday, hours after Russia’s unilateral ceasefire was established. .
However, these shots were of a lower intensity compared to the previous days.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine, two people were killed and 13 injured in Bakhmut on Friday, in a city largely destroyed by fighting and where both sides faced heavy losses.
According to Ukrainian authorities, Russian troops also shelled the Kherson (south) region on Friday, killing a rescue worker and wounding seven others.
– Putin alone in the Kremlin –
The two countries, which have been at war since February 2022, celebrate the Orthodox Christmas holiday on Saturday, the majority religious in Russia and Ukraine. 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 services alone at the Kremlin church at midnight on Friday, forgoing his habit of attending liturgies in public, in the provinces or on the outskirts of Moscow.
In a message released Saturday by the Kremlin, he sent his congratulations to Orthodox Christians.
Church organizations “support our soldiers” fighting in Ukraine, the Russian president said.
On the Ukrainian side, hundreds of parishioners attended a historic liturgy on Saturday at the famous Kyiv Cave Lavra monastery, which was previously under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate but passed in December to the fold of the Ukrainian Independent Church.
The office was headed for the first time by Metropolitan Epiphany, head of the Church which broke with the Moscow Patriarchate.
“We have been waiting a long time for this shrine to be handed over to us. This is a truly historical event, which all Ukrainians have been waiting for,” Veronika Martyniouk, 19, who leads the choir, told AFP.
“Each country has its own Church. And we have our own – very good, Ukrainian Church, that’s how it should be,” said Oksana Sobko, 47, a believer.
– Weapon delivery –
In Chassiv Iar, near the front, locals congregated in their cellars rather than the church down the street, fearing shootings. There were only nine parishioners left of the congregation of one hundred people, who had left the city.
“Thank God we are together, that’s all,” said Zinaïda Artioukhina, 62, the only remaining member of the church choir.
Even if adhered to, the cease-fire set by Vladimir Putin would offer only a 36-hour respite in the high-intensity conflict, which has dragged on for nearly 11 months and whose settlement appears to have made no progress. .
The United States, Kyiv’s main backer, on Friday pledged $3 billion in new military aid to Ukraine, which will include the supply of Bradley armored infantry vehicles, personnel carriers and howitzers.
“This year of victory has just begun,” the Ukrainian presidency said, adding that the American “package” also included Himars precision missiles and Sea Sparrow anti-aircraft missiles.
The announcement follows Germany, which indicated it would deliver 40 “Marder” armored vehicles in the first quarter, following in the footsteps of France, which on Wednesday announced the upcoming delivery of the AMX-10 RC light battle tank.
Western arms supplies are critical to Kyiv and especially have enabled it to mount an effective counteroffensive that has pushed Russian troops from the Kharkiv region to the northeast and from the city of Kherson to the south.
With winter, most of the front freezes. Ukraine, which vowed to take back all of its territory from Russia, however said it was worried about a new Russian offensive in the near future.