- Putin orders ceasefire to celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas
- Ukraine says Russia is trying to buy time for rearmament
- Rockets hit Kramatorsk, Kherson before ceasefire
NEAR KREMINNA, Ukraine, Jan 6 (Reuters) – Russian and Ukrainian forces exchanged artillery fire on the frontline in Ukraine on Friday, even after Moscow said it had ordered its troops to stop firing for a unilateral ceasefire , which was firmly rejected by Kyiv.
President Vladimir Putin ordered the 36-hour ceasefire on Friday noon to celebrate the Russian Orthodox Christmas. Ukraine has said it has no intention of stopping fighting and dismissed the alleged ceasefire as a stunt by Moscow to buy time to reinforce troops that have suffered heavy casualties this week.
“What truce? Can you hear?” said a Ukrainian soldier using the nom de guerre vyshnya as a distant blast sounded on the front line near Kreminna in eastern Ukraine. “What do you want to achieve if you keep shooting? We know we have learned not to trust them.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry said its troops began observing the ceasefire “along the entire line of contact” as of midday Moscow time (0900 GMT), but said Ukraine continued shelling populated areas and military positions.
Reuters heard blasts from Ukrainian troops at the front line, which it described as Russian rocket fire. Ukrainians fired back from tanks.
Ukrainian troops said it was quieter than many other days because the snowy weather made it difficult to fly drones and spot targets. But they saw no sign of a Russian armistice.
“The situation today is exactly the same as yesterday, the day before yesterday, last week and last month,” said one, hiding his face with a scarf. “There’s no point in talking to them, believing in their promises, orders and decrees.”
Whether there was a reduction in combat intensity elsewhere could not be determined immediately.
A witness in the Russian-held regional capital of Donetsk near the front lines also described outgoing artillery being fired from pro-Russian positions on the outskirts of the city after the ceasefire was due to take effect.
Ukrainian governor of the eastern front province of Lugansk, Serhiy Haidai, said that in the first three hours of the alleged ceasefire, the Russians shelled Ukrainian positions 14 times and stormed a settlement three times.
“Orthodox killers wish you a Merry Christmas,” he wrote on the messaging app Telegram.
WE OFFER BRADLEYS
The White House was scheduled to unveil details of its latest $3 billion military aid package for Ukraine on Friday, which includes for the first time Bradley Fighting Vehicles, workhorses of the US Army.
This ends a week in which both Germany and France have announced plans to send armored vehicles, finally fulfilling one of Kiev’s most pressing requests from its allies for armor to defeat Russian tanks in mechanized battles.
The US package also includes Sea Sparrow air defense missiles, and the German includes Patriot missiles, which Washington offered last month.
Just before the ceasefire was due to begin, rockets slammed into an apartment building in Kramatorsk, near the Eastern Front, damaging 14 houses, although many people fled without casualties.
“It’s bad, very bad,” said Oleksnadr, 36, outside a supermarket at the time of the attack. “We have to put pressure on them, get them to leave, maybe more air defense systems would help. This happens often, not just on festive occasions. Every other day.”
One rescue worker was killed and four others wounded when Russian forces shelled a fire department in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson early Friday before the deadline, the regional governor said. Reuters could not immediately verify this.
CHRISTMAS AS A COVER
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy flatly rejected the Russian ceasefire as a ploy for Russia to buy time after suffering crippling losses at the front.
“They now want to use Christmas as a cover, albeit briefly, to halt our boys’ advance… and move equipment, ammunition and mobilized troops closer to our positions,” Zelenskyy said in his video address Thursday night.
Russia has suffered heavy casualties in recent days, including dozens of soldiers killed on New Year’s Eve in the deadliest incident of the war it has acknowledged for its own troops.
Despite the ceasefire, pro-Russian officials had indicated they would continue fighting should Ukraine do so. Denis Pushilin, the Russian-installed leader in Donetsk, said Thursday that Putin’s order covered only offensive operations and his forces would retaliate if fired on.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, starting a war that has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions of Ukrainians. Armed with arms and financial support from the United States and Europe, Ukraine has pushed Russia out of part of its territory, but fighting rages on in the east and south.
Ukraine’s military general staff said its soldiers had repelled repeated Russian attacks over the past day, with Moscow focusing on taking towns in Donetsk.
“The enemy is concentrating its main efforts on attempts to gain control of the Donetsk region,” to no avail, the General Staff said in a statement, adding that both Ukraine and Russia launched multiple airstrikes over the past day.
Russia’s Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7th. The main Orthodox Church in Ukraine has rejected Moscow’s authority, and many Ukrainian believers have shifted their calendar to celebrate Christmas on December 25, as in the West.
Reporting from Reuters bureaus Letter from Peter Graff; Edited by Angus MacSwan, Nick Macfie and Grant McCool
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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