Ukrainians and Russians are marking Orthodox Christmas in the shadow of war, with reports of fighting coming in from the eastern region of Donbass even though Russian President Vladimir Putin has unilaterally ordered his forces to stop the attacks.
Ukraine rejected an alleged 36-hour ceasefire from midday Friday in celebration of Orthodox Christmas, with President Volodymyr Zelensky describing it as a ploy by Putin to buy time to reinforce forces that suffered heavy losses this week.
On Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry insisted that its forces abide by the ceasefire until midnight local time (21:00 GMT) 11 pm in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, but added that its army had repulsed attacks by Kyiv forces in eastern Ukraine, killing dozens. of Ukrainian soldiers on Friday.
In a Facebook post, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said that Russian forces bombed dozens of positions and settlements along the front line on Saturday.
President Zelensky said the attacks showed Moscow could not be trusted.
They were saying something about a supposed ceasefire. But the reality is that Russian shells again hit Bakhmut and other Ukrainian sites.
There is no rest from fighting
Humanitarian volunteer Vasyl Lisin questioned the unilateral ceasefire.
“When Putin says there is a ceasefire, in reality it is the opposite: there is no ceasefire,” the 30-year-old Putin told Reuters on Saturday.
They bombed us a lot yesterday. During the night, it was fairly quiet. But that’s usually the way it is: one day there’s bombing, the next day it’s quieter.”
Olha, who declined to give her last name, sneered at the idea of any respite at Christmas after the Russian attack. “I think they are cheating us, it’s very clear to me,” said the 75-year-old.
“What else can I tell you? If someone makes a promise, someone must keep it. Promises are kept. I just don’t understand, what do they need?”
Russia said its forces only responded with artillery fire when fired upon by Ukrainian forces.
Reuters was not able to ascertain the source of the shelling that was heard in Bakhmut.
The head of eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region announced on Saturday that two civilians had been killed the day before in Russian attacks in the hotly contested city of Bakhmut and further north in Krasna Hora.
And in the southern Kherson region, Governor Yaroslav Yanushevich said on Saturday that Russian forces had bombed 39 times on Friday, hitting homes and apartment buildings, as well as a fire station. One person was killed and seven others were injured.
The Ukrainian governor of Luhansk province east of the front line, Serhiy Hayday, said that in the first three hours of the alleged ceasefire, the Russians bombed Ukrainian positions 14 times and stormed a single settlement three times.
The UK Ministry of Defense, a major supplier of military aid to Ukraine, said on Saturday that “fighting continued at a routine level into the Orthodox Christmas period”.
Putin cut a reclusive figure
In Moscow, Putin, 70, cut a reclusive figure as he stood alone at a mass in the Kremlin church, the Annunciation Cathedral, to celebrate Orthodox Christmas.
Putin on Saturday praised the Russian Orthodox Church for supporting Russian forces fighting in Ukraine in a Christmas message aimed at rallying people behind his vision of a modern Russia.
In his message released by the Kremlin, accompanied on the Kremlin website with a photo of him standing in front of religious icons, Putin made clear that he sees the Russian Orthodox Church as an important stabilizing force for society at a time he describes as a historic clash between Russia and the West over Ukraine and other issues.
“It is gratifying for us to note the enormous constructive contribution of the Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian denominations to uniting society, preserving our historical memory, educating young people and strengthening the institution of the family,” Putin said.
Historical service in Kyiv
At the 1,000-year-old Lavra Cathedral in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, Christmas services on Saturday were served in the Ukrainian language – rather than Russian – for the first time in decades, highlighting how Ukraine is seeking to get rid of Moscow’s residual influences on religion. the cultural and economic life of the country.
Security was tight at the ceremony as worshipers’ passports were scanned and they had to pass through metal detectors. Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7th.
In Russia and Ukraine, Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion and was seen as one of the strongest bonds that bind the two peoples.
Ukrainians have now largely turned their backs on the Russian Orthodox Church, whose head, Patriarch Kirill, supported the invasion.
On Thursday, the Ukrainian government took over management of the Lavra complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site, from the Russian Orthodox Church and allowed the Ukrainian church to use it for Christmas services.
Anatole Levin of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Government said the Russian Orthodox Church serves as “a pillar of the Russian state” in keeping with its ancient identity.
“[It is] a central force in Russian nationalism,” he said, adding that the church’s support for the war sparked great anger among Ukrainians.
An adviser to Ukrainian President Mykhailo Podolyak on Saturday called the Moscow ceasefire “imaginary” and accused Russian forces of firing along the entire line of contact.
The United States, which on Friday announced $3.75 billion in defense aid to Ukraine, called the ceasefire a “cynical” sham.
Putin’s order to stop the fighting came after Moscow suffered its worst loss of life yet, with Ukrainian attacks killing at least 89 soldiers in the eastern town of Makievka.
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