(Kyiv) Ukrainians celebrated Orthodox Christmas on Saturday in the middle of the war, sometimes even in underground shelters, and the 36-hour truce announced without convincing by Vladimir Putin ended without the hostilities having really ceased.
“The world was able to see once again today how untruthful all the words spoken at the highest level in Moscow are,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video message released in the evening.
“They talked about an alleged ceasefire… but the reality is that Russian shells continued to hit Bakhmout (east, editor’s note) and the other Ukrainian positions”, he added, hammering that the only solution was “the expulsion of Russian occupiers from Ukrainian lands”.
The ceasefire, decreed by Moscow from Friday noon, ended at midnight Saturday (4 p.m. Eastern Time), Ukraine accusing the Russian army of not having respected it, and Russia accusing the Ukrainians in return of having prevented its application by forcing it to retaliate.
Kyiv immediately rejected the Kremlin’s announcement, still described as “fake” on Saturday by Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaïlo Podoliak, saying it was a ruse to gain time. Washington, Paris, London, Berlin and the EU have also denounced Moscow’s “hypocrisy”.
Journalists present in Chassiv Iar, in the east of Ukraine, have in fact observed sustained bombardments throughout the morning.
In Bakhmout, the epicenter of the fighting further north, AFP had already heard artillery fire from both sides of the front on Friday, in the hours following the establishment of the unilateral ceasefire by Russia .
These shots were at most of less intensity compared to the previous days.
According to the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office, two people were killed and 13 injured in Bakhmut on Friday, in a city largely destroyed by fighting and where both sides face heavy losses.
According to Ukrainian authorities, Russian troops also shelled the Kherson region (south) on Friday, killing a rescue worker and injuring seven other people.
In the region of Zaporijjia (south-east), according to the local administration, a UN mission distributing humanitarian aid to Orikhiv was “under fire” from the enemy.
Putin alone in the Kremlin
The two countries, at war since February 2022, celebrated the Orthodox Christmas holiday on Saturday, the majority faith in Russia and Ukraine. January 7 of the civil calendar (Gregorian) corresponds to December 25 of the old Julian calendar that the Orthodox Church continues to follow, out of step since the XVIe century with Catholics.
On the Russian side, Vladimir Putin attended a religious service alone in a Kremlin church at midnight on Friday, departing from his habit of attending the liturgy 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 faithful attended a historic liturgy on Saturday in the famous monastery of the Lavra of the Caves of Kyiv, formerly under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, but passed in December into the bosom of the Independent Ukrainian Church.
“We have waited a long time for this sanctuary to be handed over to us. It is a truly historic event, which all Ukrainians have been waiting for,” 19-year-old Veronika Martyniouk, 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,” said Oksana Sobko, 47, a faithful.
New military aid
In Chassiv Iar, near the front, a mass was celebrated in a cellar rather than in the church, for fear of the bombardments. There are only nine faithful of the parish left, the others have fled the city.
“Thank God we got together, that’s it already,” said Zinaïda Artioukhina, 62, the only remaining member of the church choir.
Even if it had been respected, the ceasefire decreed by Vladimir Putin would have offered only 36 hours of respite in a conflict of great intensity, which has lasted for almost 11 months.
The United States, Kyiv’s main backer, on Friday pledged massive $3 billion in new military aid to Ukraine, which will include the supply of Bradley armored infantry vehicles, personnel carriers and howitzers.
This announcement followed that of Germany, which indicated that it would send 40 “Marder” armored vehicles in the first quarter, following in the footsteps of France, which announced on Wednesday an upcoming delivery of AMX-10 RC light combat tanks.
Western arms supplies are crucial for Kyiv and have notably enabled it to carry out an effective counter-offensive which has driven Russian forces from the Kharkiv region in the northeast and from the city of Kherson in the south.
With winter, the front is largely frozen. Ukraine, which promises to take back all its territories from Russia, has however said that it fears a new Russian offensive in the immediate future.
Finally in London, the British government announced that a meeting of Ministers of Justice would be held in March to support the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on the war crimes and crimes against humanity of which the forces are mainly accused. Russians in Ukraine.