No one, either in Washington or in Kyiv, believes that the 36-hour truce ordered by Russia has anything to do with giving Orthodox faithful fighting in Ukraine the opportunity to attend Christmas Eve and Christmas services, which fall on January 6 and 7, as stated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, echoing an earlier appeal by Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church.
US President Joe Biden suggested that after more than 10 months of fighting and the loss of thousands of lives, the Russian president “is trying to find some oxygen” with the unilateral ceasefire that came into effect on noon this Friday in Ukrainian time (10 o’clock Spanish time) along the entire front line of more than a thousand kilometers.
Ukraine has scored some battlefield successes in recent months, including the New Year’s Eve destruction of a barracks in Donetsk province, though Russia has kept up a barrage of missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian power plants. with the consequent power cuts for millions of people in the dead of winter and has kept the pulse in the bloody fighting in the Donbass, in the east of the country. Russia has denied attacking civilians since its invasion began on February 24, but the attacks, including those on (Christian) Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, targeted civilian infrastructure, according to Kyiv.
Both the spokesman for the US State Department and the Ukrainian presidency agreed in remarking the “cynicism” of Putin’s announcement. “Our concern is that the Russians will seek to use any temporary lull in the fighting to rest, refit, regroup and ultimately strike again,” Ned Price of the US State Department told a news conference on Thursday.
In Kyiv they share the same suspicion. The Ukrainian president, Volodímir Zelensky, flatly rejected the truce order, which in principle has to last until midnight on Saturday. For the Ukrainian leader it is nothing more than a strategy to stop the advance of the Ukrainian forces on the front. “Now they want to use Christmas as a cover, even briefly, to stop our guys’ advances in Donbass and bring equipment, ammunition and mobilized troops closer to our positions,” he said in his video speech last night.
Speaking intentionally in Russian and not Ukrainian, as he usually does, Zelensky said ending the war meant “ending the aggression of your country… And the war will end when your soldiers leave or we kick them out.” As the ceasefire was taken unilaterally and in the face of Kyiv’s rejection, little success can be expected from this truce. If fulfilled, it would be the first great truce of the war.
At the moment there is no information that it has been breached, although the Ukrainian emergency service announced a bombardment of a Kherson fire unit, in the south of the country, with deaths and injuries, this Friday, although it did not specify the time at which the attack occurred.
“The Russians have once again confirmed the fact that they cannot be trusted. Another bombardment by our unit. Dead and wounded,” said the head of the Ukrainian State Emergency Service, Serhii Kruk, who remarked that it was the second fire brigade in two days that it had been attacked by the enemy, “violating all the principles and norms of international law”.
Ukraine’s main Orthodox Church has been recognized as independent by the church hierarchy since 2019 and rejects any notion of loyalty to the patriarch of Moscow. Many Ukrainian believers changed their calendar to celebrate Christmas on December 25 just like in the West.