Artillery exchanges pounded war-ravaged towns in eastern Ukraine on Friday, despite Russian leader Vladimir Putin unilaterally ordering his troops to stop attacking for 36 hours.
The brief ceasefire declared by President Putin earlier this week was due to take effect at 09:00 GMT on Friday and would be the first complete interruption since the invasion of Moscow in February 2022.
But AFP journalists heard both outbound and inbound shelling in eastern Ukraine’s front-line town of Bakhmut after the time the Russian ceasefire is believed to have begun.
Moscow’s troops have also hit Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kramatorsk in the east, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration said.
“The occupiers hit the city twice with rockets,” Kyrylo Tymoshenko said on social media, adding that a residential building was hit but there were no casualties.
Vladimir Putin’s order to stop fighting over Orthodox Christmas came after Moscow suffered its heaviest reported loss of life in the war and as Ukraine’s allies pledged to send armored vehicles and a second Patriot air defense battery to aid Kiev.
Ceasefire ‘not serious’
Tymoshenko previously said Moscow forces attacked the southern city of Kherson in an attack that left several dead or injured.
“They are talking about a ceasefire. This is who we are at war with,” Tymoshenko said.
However, the Russian Defense Ministry said it respected its unilateral ceasefire and accused Ukrainian forces of continued shelling.
Both countries celebrate Orthodox Christmas and the Russian leader’s order came after calls for a ceasefire from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian spiritual leader Patriarch Kirill, a staunch supporter of Putin.
Ukraine had already rejected the halt – which would last until the end of Saturday (21:00 GMT) – as a strategy by Russia to buy time to regroup its troops and strengthen its defenses after a series of battlefield reversals.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said the unilateral ceasefire “cannot and should not be taken seriously”, while a close adviser said Russia “must leave the occupied territories” for a real cessation of hostilities.
US President Joe Biden was equally dismissive, saying President Putin was just “trying to find some oxygen”.
Since the invasion began on Feb. 24 last year, Russia has occupied parts of eastern and southern Ukraine, but Kiev has recaptured parts of its territory, claiming a New Year’s strike this week that killed dozens of Moscow’s troops.
The Kremlin said Thursday that during a phone call with Erdogan, Putin told Turkish leader Moscow he was ready for dialogue if Kiev recognizes “new territorial realities”.
He was referring to Russia’s claim that it has annexed four regions of Ukraine, including Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, although they do not fully control them.
In Bakhmut, located in the Donetsk region, dozens of citizens gathered at a building used as a base for providing humanitarian aid, where volunteers organized a Christmas Eve celebration and mandarins, less than an hour after the ceasefire came into effect. apples and and cookies.
The streets of the largely bombed-out city were mostly empty except for military vehicles. The shelling was lighter on Friday than in recent days.
Pavlo Diachenko, a police officer in Bakhmut, said he doubted the ceasefire would mean much to the city’s citizens, even if it was respected.
“What can a church holiday mean to them? They shoot every day and night and there are deaths almost every day,” he said.
Kirill, 76, called for a ceasefire “so that Orthodox people can attend services on Christmas Eve and on the day of Christ’s birth,” he said on the church’s official website on Thursday.
But there was a lot of skepticism about the gesture on the streets of Kiev.
“You can never trust them, never… Whatever they promise, they don’t deliver,” says Olena Fedorenko, a 46-year-old from the war-torn city of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine.
More weapons for Ukraine
News of President Putin’s ceasefire came as Germany and the United States pledged to provide additional military aid to Kiev, with Biden saying the promised equipment comes at a “critical point” in the war.
Washington and Berlin said in a joint statement that they will provide Kiev with infantry fighting vehicles from Bradley and Marder, respectively.
President Putin’s ceasefire order came a day after Moscow increased its reported toll of the worst reported loss from a Ukrainian attack to 89 dead.
Ukraine’s military strategic communications unit has said nearly 400 Russian soldiers have been killed in the eastern Ukraine town of Makiivka, held by pro-Russian forces. Russian commentators have said the death toll may be much higher than the Kremlin’s figures.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is being published from a syndicated feed.)
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