Moscow, Kyiv trade blames for orthodox Christmas truce violation

Russia Orthodox Christmas
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow

Despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration that his forces will observe a 36-hour truce for Orthodox Christmas, Russian and Ukrainian artillery have continued to bombard targets in war-torn eastern Ukraine.

On Friday, after the start of Moscow’s order for its forces to maintain a unilateral ceasefire from midday in observance of the Russian holiday, exchanges of artillery fire were reported along the front lines of the Ukrainian cities of Bakhmut and Kreminna, as well as other locations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Before the truce was to start at noon Moscow time, Russian missiles also rained down on civilian areas in the cities of Kherson and Kramatorsk (09:00 GMT).

“What ceasefire? Can you hear?” a Ukrainian soldier told the Reuters news agency as an explosion rang out in the distance at the front in Kreminna.

“What do they want to achieve if they keep on shooting? We know, we have learned not to trust them,” the soldier said.

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In Kreminna, Ukrainian soldiers retaliated with tank fire.

After the scheduled start of the Russian ceasefire, reporters for Agence France-Presse heard both outgoing and incoming shelling near the frontline city of Bakhmut.

Russia’s defence ministry said its troops began observing the ceasefire from noon Moscow time “along the entire line of contact,” but said Ukraine had kept up shelling populated areas and military positions.

Pavlo Diachenko, a police officer in Bakhmut, said he doubted the ceasefire would mean much to the city’s civilians even if it had been respected by Russian soldiers.

“What can a church holiday mean for them?

Every day and night, they shell, and virtually every day, someone is killed, he said.

A witness in the regional capital of Donetsk, which is under Russian control, also reported seeing pro-Russian forces on the outskirts of the city firing artillery after the truce was supposed to start.

In the first three hours of the ostensible truce, Russian forces blasted Ukrainian positions 14 times and assaulted one settlement three times, according to Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the frontline eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk.

Russian military attacked a fire department in Kherson, a city in southern Ukraine, before the deadline earlier on Friday, killing one rescue worker and injuring four others, according to the regional governor.

The United States State Department said the continued Russian strikes on Friday proved the ceasefire was a “cynical” ploy, while the French foreign ministry described it as a “crude” attempt by Moscow to divert attention from its culpability for the war.

On Friday, the European Union’s most senior diplomat deemed the orthodox Christmas truce “not credible.”

“The Kremlin totally lacks credibility and this declaration of a unilateral ceasefire is not credible,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said during a visit to Morocco.