Hours after the ceasefire was supposed to have taken effect, Kiev residents ventured into light snowdrifts to buy gifts, cakes and groceries for family celebrations on Christmas Eve.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered his troops in Ukraine to observe a unilateral 36-hour ceasefire. Kiev officials rejected the move, but did not clarify whether Ukrainian troops would follow suit.
Moscow also did not say whether its troops would retaliate if Ukraine continued to fight, but Moscow-appointed head of the Donetsk region, Denis Pushilin, said they would.
The ceasefire declared by Russia in the nearly 11-month war began at noon on Friday and was to continue until midnight Saturday Moscow time (09:00 GMT Friday to 21:00 GMT Saturday; 04:00 EST Friday to 16:00 EST Saturday).
About 40 minutes after the Russian ceasefire was due to take effect, air raid sirens sounded in Kiev. The widely used ‘Alerts in Ukraine’ app, which contains information from emergency services, sent sirens wailing across the country.
The Russian defense ministry claimed that Ukrainian troops continued to shell his positions and said his troops returned fire to quell the attacks. But it was not clear from the statement whether the attacks and firing back took place before or after the ceasefire.
Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov reported multiple Ukrainian attacks in the eastern regions of Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia. It was not possible to verify the claims.
Putin’s announcement Thursday that Kremlin troops would stop fighting along the more than 1,000 kilometers of frontline and elsewhere was unexpected. It came after the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, proposed a ceasefire ahead of the Christmas holiday. The Orthodox Church, which uses the Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on January 7.
But Ukrainian and Western officials portrayed the announcement as Putin’s attempt to raise morale as they may have sought to seize the battlefield initiative and rob the Ukrainians of momentum amid their counter-offensive in recent months.
“Now they want to use Christmas as a cover to stop the advance of our guys in the (eastern) Donbas (region) for a while and bring equipment, ammunition and mobilized people closer to our positions,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Thursday. . .
However, he did not say outright that Kiev would ignore Putin’s request.
In a Christmas Eve message to the nation, Zelenskyy called it “a holiday of harmony and family unity. And together we are all one big Ukrainian family.
“Wherever we are now – at home, at work, in a trench, on the road, in Ukraine or abroad – our family is united as never before. … United in the faith of a single victory.”
US President Joe Biden has also voiced his suspicion over the Russian ceasefire, saying it was “interesting” that Putin was poised to bomb hospitals, nurseries and churches over Christmas and New Year in recent weeks.
“I think (Putin) is trying to find some oxygen,” Biden said.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington had “little confidence in the intentions behind this announcement,” adding that Kremlin officials “have given us no reason to take anything they offer at face value.” take”.
The Institute for the Study of War agreed that the armistice could be a ruse that allowed Russia to regroup.
“Such a pause would disproportionately benefit Russian troops and deprive Ukraine of the initiative,” the think tank said late Thursday. “Putin cannot reasonably expect Ukraine to comply with the terms of this suddenly declared ceasefire, and may have called for the ceasefire to view Ukraine as unwelcoming and unwilling to take the necessary steps toward of negotiations.”
And Anna Borshchevskaya, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute, said that whether or not the ceasefire holds, “I’m not taking it for granted.”
“When Russia declares a ceasefire, as Russia goes to war, there are usually ulterior motives,” she said. “Historically, what the Russian government and military usually do when they announce a ceasefire is to use it as a tactical opportunity, to catch their breath or to gain some space.”
Meanwhile, the US reiterated its support for Kiev on Friday by announcing a new $3.75 billion military assistance package for Ukraine and its neighbors on NATO’s eastern flank. The latest tranche of aid includes Bradley armored vehicles for Ukraine for the first time.
The armored carrier is used to transport troops to battle and is known as a “tank killer” because of its anti-tank missile. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the Bradleys will be extremely helpful to Ukraine in the ongoing fighting in largely rural areas of eastern Ukraine.
Germany also plans to send armored cars by the end of March.
On the streets of Kiev on Friday, some citizens said they spoke from bitter experience and doubted Russia’s motives.
“Everyone is preparing (for an attack), because everyone remembers what happened on the New Year when there were about 40 Shahed” Iranian drones, capital Vasyl Kuzmenko said. “But anything is possible.”
At the Vatican, Pope Francis said he sent wishes from his heart “to the Eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, that tomorrow the birth of the Lord will be celebrated.” Speaking to thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the feast day of Epiphany, Francis said, “In a special way I would like my wish to reach the brothers and sisters of martyred Ukraine,” and prayed for peace there.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine