Strikes in eastern Ukraine despite Putin’s ceasefire order

Artillery exchanges pounded war-torn cities in eastern Ukraine on Friday even though Russian leader Vladimir Putin unilaterally ordered his forces to halt attacks for 36 hours for Orthodox Christmas.

The short ceasefire announced by Putin earlier this week was supposed to start at 09:00 GMT on Friday and was supposed to be the first full one since the February 2022 invasion of Moscow.

But AFP journalists heard shelling coming and going in the front-line city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine after the time the Russian ceasefire was supposed to start.

Ukraine’s presidential administration said Russian forces also bombed Kramatorsk in the east, as well as the front-line town of Korakhov, where residential buildings and a medical facility were damaged.

Putin’s order to stop the fighting over Orthodox Christmas came after Moscow suffered the worst reported casualties of the war and Ukraine’s allies pledged to send armored vehicles and a second Patriot air defense battery to Kyiv’s aid.

Ceasefire ‘not serious’

Earlier, Kyrilo Tymoshenko said from the Ukrainian president’s office that Russian forces had bombed a fire station in the southern city of Kherson, in an attack that left several dead or wounded.

“They are talking about a ceasefire. We are at war with it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the head of the Ukrainian Luhansk region added that the Russian forces fired 14 times at the Kyiv position in the regions and tried to storm a settlement controlled by the Ukrainian forces.

But the Russian Defense Ministry said it respected the unilateral ceasefire and accused Ukrainian forces of continuing to bomb.

Both countries celebrate Orthodox Christmas. The Russian leader’s order followed calls for a ceasefire from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s spiritual leader Patriarch Kirill, a staunch supporter of Putin.

Ukraine had already rejected the pause – set to last until the end of Saturday (2100 GMT) – as a strategy by Russia to buy time to regroup its forces and shore up its defenses following a series of battlefield setbacks.

The French Foreign Ministry described the so-called ceasefire as a “crude” attempt by Russia to divert attention from its responsibility for the war.

On Friday, the EU’s top diplomat said the ceasefire was “unreliable”.

“The Kremlin completely lacks credibility and the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire is not credible,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said during a visit to Morocco.

Since the invasion began on February 24 last year, Russia has occupied parts of eastern and southern Ukraine, but Kyiv has reclaimed swathes of its territory and this week announced a New Year’s offensive that left dozens of Moscow soldiers dead.

The Kremlin said Thursday that during a phone conversation with Erdogan, Putin told the Turkish leader that Moscow was ready for dialogue if Kyiv recognized “new regional realities”.

He was referring to Russia’s claim to annex four regions of Ukraine, including the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson – although not in full control of them.

In Bakhmut, located in the Donetsk region, dozens of civilians gathered in a building used as a base for the distribution of humanitarian aid, where volunteers organized a Christmas Eve celebration less than an hour after the ceasefire took effect, distributing mandarins and apples. and cookies.

The streets of the bombed-out city were largely empty of vehicles except for military vehicles. The bombing on Friday was less than in recent days.

Pavlo Dyachenko, a police officer in Bakhmut, said he doubted the ceasefire would mean much for civilians in the city even if it was respected.

“What can a church holiday mean to them? They are bombed every day and night and almost every day they kill,” he said.

“So that the Orthodox can attend services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” Kirill, 76, said on the church’s official website on Thursday.

But there was widespread skepticism on the streets of Kyiv towards the gesture.

“You can never trust them…

More weapons for Ukraine

Away from the front line, Moscow resident Tatyana Zakharova said she wasn’t in a festive mood on Orthodox Christmas Eve because her brother was fighting in Ukraine.

“Of course, we will go to church…we will pray above all for my brother’s children,” the 35-year-old told AFP.

News of Putin’s cease-fire order came as Germany and the United States pledged additional military aid to Kyiv, with US President Joe Biden saying the promised equipment comes at a “critical point” in the war.

Washington and Berlin said in a joint statement that they would provide Kyiv with Bradley and Marder infantry fighting vehicles, respectively.

Putin’s cease-fire order came a day after Moscow raised its death toll, the worst single loss from a Ukrainian strike, to 89.

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