Ukrainians and Russians are marking Orthodox Christmas in the shadow of war, as reports of fighting have come from the eastern Donbass region, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin unilaterally ordering his forces to halt offensives.
Ukraine rejected a 36-hour ceasefire from Friday afternoon to mark Orthodox Christmas, which President Volodymyr Zelensky described as a ploy by Putin to bolster troops who have suffered heavy losses this week.
The Russian Defense Ministry insisted on Saturday that the ceasefire in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv would be observed until 11:00 pm local time (21:00 GMT). Ukrainian players on Friday.
In a Facebook post, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said Russian troops shelled dozens of positions and settlements on the front line on Saturday.
President Zelensky said Moscow could not be trusted with the attacks.
“They were saying something about the supposed ceasefire. However, the truth is that Russian bombs again hit Pakmut and other Ukrainian positions,” he said in a video message on Saturday.
No respite from the fight
Humanitarian activist Vasil Leesin questioned the unilateral ceasefire.
“When Putin says there is a ceasefire, it’s actually the other way around: there is no ceasefire,” the 30-year-old told Reuters on Saturday.
They threw a lot of bombs at us yesterday. At night, it was more or less quiet. But that’s usually the case: one day there’s shelling, the next it’s quiet.
Olha, who declined to give her last name, expressed disdain for the Christmas deadline for Russia’s attack. “I think they’re cheating us, it’s very clear to me,” the 75-year-old said.
“What else can be said? If someone makes a promise, it must be fulfilled. Promises will be fulfilled. I don’t understand, what do they need?”
Russia said its troops returned only artillery fire when they opened fire on Ukrainian forces.
Reuters was unable to determine the origin of the shells heard in Bagmut.
The head of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region said on Saturday that two civilians had died in Russian strikes in the fiercely contested city of Pakmut and north of it, Krasna Hora.
In the southern Kherson region, Governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said on Saturday that Russian forces shelled 39 times on Friday, hitting houses and apartment buildings and a fire station. One person was killed and seven others were injured.
In the first three hours of the ceasefire, the Russians shelled Ukrainian positions 14 times and hit a settlement three times, said Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian governor of the frontline eastern Luhansk province.
The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense, which is the lead provider of military aid to Ukraine, said on Saturday that “fighting continued on a regular basis over the Orthodox Christmas period”.
Putin cut a lonely figure
In Moscow, marking Orthodox Christmas, Putin, 70, mutilated a man standing alone during a service at the Kremlin’s Cathedral of the Annunciation.
Putin on Saturday praised the Russian Orthodox Church for supporting Moscow’s forces fighting in Ukraine in a Christmas message designed to rally people behind his vision of a modern Russia.
In a Kremlin statement posted on the Kremlin website, along with a photo of him standing in front of religious icons, Putin made clear that he saw the Russian Orthodox Church as an important stabilizing force in society at a time when it was exposed as a historical conflict. Russia and Western Ukraine and other issues.
“It is with great pleasure to note the enormous constructive contribution of the Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian denominations in uniting society, preserving our historical memory, educating youth and strengthening the family,” Putin said.
Historical Service in Kiev
At the 1,000-year-old Lavra Cathedral in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, a Christmas service on Saturday was offered in Ukrainian – rather than Russian – for the first time in decades, highlighting how Ukraine is trying to shed Moscow’s residual influence on religion. , cultural and economic life in the country.
Security was beefed up at the ceremony as worshipers had to have their passports checked and walk through metal detectors. Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7.
In Russia and Ukraine, Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion and is considered one of the strongest bonds connecting the two countries.
Ukrainians have now largely turned their backs on Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who supported the invasion.
Ukraine’s government on Thursday took over management of the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s venerable Lavra complex from the Russian Orthodox Church and allowed the Ukrainian church to be used for Christmas services.
Anatole Livan of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft said the Russian Orthodox Church, in keeping with its ancient identity, serves as a “pillar of the Russian state.”
“[It is] A central force in Russian nationalism,” he said, adding that the church’s support for the war had created great anger among Ukrainians.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, on Saturday called Moscow’s ceasefire “fake” and accused Russian troops of firing along the entire line of contact.
The United States, which announced $3.75 billion in security aid to Ukraine on Friday, called the ceasefire a “cynical” tactic.
Putin’s order to end the fighting came after Ukrainian attacks killed at least 89 troops in the eastern city of Makhivka, Moscow’s worst casualty.