Artillery exchanges hit war-torn towns in eastern Ukraine on Friday, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin unilaterally ordering his forces to halt attacks for 36 hours in time for Orthodox Christmas.
The brief cease-fire announced by Putin earlier this week would begin at 09:00 GMT on Friday and would have been the first full pause since the February 2022 invasion of Moscow.
But AFP journalists heard outbound and inbound shelling of the main town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine hours after the Russian ceasefire was said to have started.
The Ukrainian presidential administration said Moscow’s forces also attacked the eastern city of Kramatorsk, damaging residential buildings and medical facilities.
Putin’s order to stop fighting during Orthodox Christmas came after Moscow suffered its worst casualties of the war and Ukraine’s allies pledged to send armored vehicles and a second Patriot air defense battery to Kiev.
The truce was not serious
Kyrylo Tymoshenko from the office of the President of Ukraine Earlier, Moscow’s forces attacked a fire station in the southern city of Kherson, killing or injuring several people.
“They are talking about a ceasefire. This is who we are at war with,” he said.
Meanwhile, the head of Ukraine’s Lugansk region said Russian forces fired 14 times on Kyiv’s positions in the regions and attempted to attack a settlement held by Ukrainian forces.
However, Russia’s Defense Ministry said it respected its unilateral ceasefire and accused Ukrainian forces of continuing shelling.
Both countries celebrate Orthodox Christmas and the Russian leader’s order followed calls for a ceasefire by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s spiritual leader Patriarch Kirill.
Ukraine has already dismissed the ceasefire – which lasted until the end of Saturday (21:00 GMT) – as a strategy by Russia to regroup its forces and strengthen its defenses following a series of battlefield shifts.
The French Foreign Ministry described the so-called ceasefire as a “crude” attempt by Russia to divert attention from its war crimes.
A senior EU diplomat said on Friday the ceasefire was “not credible”.
“The Kremlin has absolutely no credibility and this announcement of a unilateral ceasefire is not credible,” EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell said during a visit to Morocco.
Russia has occupied parts of eastern and southern Ukraine since the invasion began on February 24 last year, but Kiev has since regained much of its territory and this week called for a New Year’s strike that killed several of Moscow’s troops.
The Kremlin said that during a phone conversation with Erdogan on Thursday, Putin told Moscow that the Turkish leader was open to talks if Kiev recognized “new regional realities.”
He was referring to Russia’s claim that it has annexed four regions of Ukraine, including the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, although it does not fully control them.
Dozens of civilians gathered at a building used as a base for humanitarian aid in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, where volunteers organized a Christmas Eve celebration within an hour of the ceasefire taking effect, handing out mandarins and apples. and cookies.
The streets of the heavily bombed city were mostly empty except for military vehicles. Shelling on Friday was milder than in previous days.
Pavlo Dyachenko, a police officer in Bagmut, said he doubts the ceasefire will make much sense to the city’s citizens, even if it is honorable.
“What is a church holiday for them? They are shelling day and night and people are being killed almost every day,” he said.
Grill, 76, made his truce request “so that Orthodox people can attend services on Christmas Eve and the day of the Nativity of Christ,” he said on the church’s official website Thursday.
But the gesture was met with widespread skepticism on the streets of Kiev.
“You can never trust them, never… whatever they promise, they don’t deliver,” said Olena Fedorenko, 46, from the war-torn city of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine.
More weapons for Ukraine
Far from the frontline, Moscow resident Tatiana Zakharova said she was not in a festive mood ahead of Orthodox Christmas because her brother was fighting in Ukraine.
“Of course, we will go to church… first of all we will pray for my brother and our boys,” the 35-year-old told AFP.
News of Putin’s cease-fire order came as Germany and the United States pledged more military aid to Kiev, with US President Joe Biden saying the promised equipment was coming at a “critical point” in the war.
Washington and Berlin said in a joint statement that Kyiv is supplying Bradley and Mortar infantry fighting vehicles, respectively.
Putin’s cease-fire order came a day after Moscow raised its reported toll in the worst single casualty of the Ukrainian strike, which was reported to have killed 89 people.