The peace that was not: the Russian truce for Orthodox Christmas ended without ceasing fighting in Ukraine

Ukrainians celebrated Orthodox Christmas this Saturday under the brunt of warsome in shelters, and the 36-hour Russian unilateral truce ended at midnight from Saturday to Sunday (local time) with no cessation of fighting during the day.

The ceasefire, announced unilaterally by Russia, ended at 9:00 p.m., amid cross criticism from the Ukrainians to the Russians for not having respected it and from Moscow to kyiv for not having allowed it to be applied.

“The world was able to see again how misleading the statements of the high command in Moscow are,” said the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in a video message posted on social media.

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Russia “talked about an alleged ceasefire, but actually bombed in Bakhmut (east of the country) and other Ukrainian positions,” Zelenski criticized.

Following the announcement of the ceasefire by President Vladimir Putin, the first since the start of the Russian offensive in February, Ukrainian authorities questioned the sincerity of the truce and they considered that a tactic was used to gain time.

The United States, France, Germany and the United Kingdom also criticized the initiative.

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AFP journalists present in Chasiv Yar, in eastern Ukraine, confirmed repeated shelling throughout the morning.

In Bakhmut, a hotspot area further north, the AFP heard artillery exchanges on both sides of the front on Friday, hours after the unilateral ceasefire decreed by Russia was established.

However, the shots were of less intensity compared to the previous days.

According to the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office, Two people were killed and 13 injured on Friday in Bakhmut, a city largely devastated by fighting and where both sides are hit with heavy losses.

Russian armed forces also shelled the Kherson (south) region on Friday, killing a rescue worker and wounding seven people, Ukrainian authorities reported.

Putin alone in the Kremlin

The two countries, at war since February 2022, celebrated Orthodox Christmas on Saturday, the religion professed by the majority of its citizens.

On the Russian side, Putin attends mass alone in a Kremlin church midnight on Friday, departing from his habit of attending a public liturgy in a province or on the outskirts of Moscow.

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In a message released this Saturday by the Kremlin, the Russian leader congratulated Orthodox Christians and indicates that this day inspires “good deeds and aspirations.”

Church organizations “support our soldiers who are participating in a special military operation,” the Russian president declared, using the official Kremlin term for the offensive in Ukraine.

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In kyiv, hundreds of faithful attended a historic mass this Saturday at the famous Monastery of the Caves, which previously depended on the Patriarchate of Moscow.

The homily was officiated for the first time by Epifanio, leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church formed in 2018-2019 after a schism with the Moscow Patriarchate.

Zelensky expressed his happiness that so many people attended a mass on the day of an Orthodox Christmas that is “historic for Ukraine, for the religious independence of its people.”

We have waited a long time for this sanctuary to be given to us. It is a truly historic event, which all Ukrainians have been waiting for,” Veronika Martiniuk, 19, who leads the choir, told AFP.

“Each country has its church. And we have our own church, that’s fine, a Ukrainian church, that’s how it should be,” added Oksana Sobko, a 47-year-old believer.

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Even if it had been respected, the ceasefire decreed by Putin would only have offered 36 hours of respite in a highly intense conflict that has lasted almost 11 months and with no solution in sight.

Russia and Ukraine 20221229

The United States, the main supporter of the Ukrainian government, on Friday promised new $3 billion in military aid to Ukraine, which came in the form of Bradley armored infantry vehicles, armored personnel carriers and howitzers.

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“This victorious year is just beginning,” said the Ukrainian presidency, adding that the US “package” also includes Himars precision missiles and Sea Sparrow anti-aircraft missiles.

Germany also received 40 “Marder” armored vehicles in the first quarter of the year and France on Wednesday promised AMX-10 RC light battle tanks.

The British government announced that it will organize a summit of justice ministers in March to discuss possible measures to support the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes in Ukraine.


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