Shells fly on Ukrainian frontlines despite Russia claims Christmas ceasefire

  • Putin orders ceasefire to celebrate Orthodox Christmas
  • Ukraine says Russia is trying to buy time to rearm
  • Rockets hit Kramatorsk and Kherson before truce

Kyiv/KRAMATORSK, Ukraine, Jan 6 (Reuters) – Russian and Ukrainian troops exchanged fire on the Ukrainian frontline on Friday, despite Moscow saying it had ordered its troops to stop firing in a unilateral truce, a resolute meeting in Kyiv. reject.

President Vladimir Putin ordered a 36-hour ceasefire from noon Friday to celebrate Orthodox Christmas. Kyiv said it had no intention of stopping the fighting, rejecting the so-called truce as a stunt by Moscow to buy time to reinforce troops that suffered heavy losses this week.

The Russian Ministry of Defense said its troops were respecting the ceasefire “along the entire contact line” of the conflict from noon Moscow time (0900 GMT), but said Ukraine continued to shell populated areas and military positions.

Reuters reporters on Ukraine’s eastern front heard the explosion, which the Ukrainian army said was a Russian rocket. The weather on that part of the front was relatively calm, the Ukrainians said, not because of the ceasefire but because of the snow, which made it impossible for drones to fly and harder to spot artillery targets.

It was not immediately possible to determine whether the intensity of fighting at other locations had decreased.

An eyewitness near the front lines in Donetsk, the Russian-occupied regional capital, also described shells being fired from pro-Russian positions on the city’s outskirts after the ceasefire came into force.

Hours earlier, rockets hit a residential building in the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk near the eastern front, destroying 14 homes but causing no casualties, the mayor said. Residents described several explosions.

“It’s bad, very bad,” Oleksnadr, 36, said outside a supermarket when the attack happened. “We need to put pressure on them to leave, maybe more air defense would help. It happens a lot, not only during the festivals. Every other day.”

Russian troops shelled a fire department in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson ahead of a Friday deadline, killing one rescuer and wounding four others, the region’s governor said. Reuters could not immediately confirm this.

On Thursday, Putin unexpectedly ordered a 36-hour ceasefire in the 10-month war and said it would last until the end of Russian Orthodox Christmas on Saturday.

christmas as cover

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky immediately rejected the ceasefire, seeing it as a ploy by Russia to buy time after suffering heavy losses on the front line.

“They now want to use Christmas as a cover, albeit a short time, to stop the advance of our boys … and bring equipment, ammunition and mobilized troops to our positions,” Zelensky said in a video address on Thursday night. nearby.”

Russia has suffered heavy losses in recent days, including the loss of dozens of soldiers on New Year’s Eve, the war event that Russia admits has killed its troops the most.

Russian state-run TASS news agency said Russia-backed officials accused Ukraine of shelling Donetsk with artillery shortly after the ceasefire was supposed to go into effect.

Pro-Russian officials have said they would keep fighting if Ukraine did so. Russia’s appointed leader in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, said on Thursday that Putin’s order concerned only offensive operations and that his troops would fight back if they were fired upon.

Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-appointed administrator of Ukraine’s Kherson region, described the ceasefire as “a gesture of goodwill” but said it would not change the situation on the front lines.

In Kyiv, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church opened the Orthodox Christmas celebrations with a church service for the Ukrainian Armed Forces at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Kyiv.

Andriy Rekhnyuk, a 43-year-old Ukrainian soldier who attended the church, dismissed the ceasefire as “nonsense”.

“What ceasefire? They probably need a breather,” he said of the Russians. “Forget the ceasefire. But 2023 will be our year of victory.”

Russia invaded Ukraine in February. On the 24th, a war was launched that killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions of Ukrainians. With arms and financial support from the United States and Europe, Ukraine has pushed Russia back from some of its territory, but fighting continues in the east and south.

In a major breakthrough for Kyiv, this week its Western allies finally announced the delivery of a large number of armored combat vehicles that Kyiv has been asking for for months to mechanize battles against Russian tanks on the front lines.

Germany said it would deliver an advanced Patriot air defense missile system and about 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles within three months. Washington will send the Bradley Fighting Vehicle as part of a new $2.8 billion security plan that will be formally unveiled on Friday. France also announced a set of armored vehicles.

Ukraine’s military general staff said its soldiers had repelled multiple Russian attacks over the past day, while Moscow focused on trying to seize the town of Donetsk.

“The enemy is concentrating on trying to establish control over the Donetsk region” without success, the General Staff said in a statement, adding that Ukraine and Russia had carried out multiple airstrikes over the past day.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Putin’s ceasefire proposal was a sign of desperation: “I think he’s trying to find oxygen,” he told reporters at the White House.

The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 1st. 7. The main Orthodox Church in Ukraine has rejected Moscow’s authority, and many Ukrainian believers have changed their calendars to celebrate Christmas on December 12. 25, as in the West.

In his evening speech, Zelensky switched to Russian instead of Ukrainian to address Russians. Ending the war means “end the aggression of your country… the war will end when your soldiers leave or we drive them out.”

By Frank Jack Daniel and Peter Graff on Reuters; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Nick Macfie

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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