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‘What ceasefire?’: Shells fly on Ukraine front despite Putin truce

‘What ceasefire?’: Shells fly on Ukraine front despite Putin truce

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  • Putin ordered a ceasefire for the celebration of Russian Orthodox Christmas
  • Ukraine claims that Russia is trying to buy time to rearm
  • Rockets hit Kramatorsk, Kherson before the ceasefire

KRAY KREMENNA, Ukraine, Jan 6 (Reuters) – Russian and Ukrainian forces exchanged artillery fire on the front line in Ukraine on Friday, even after Moscow said it had ordered its troops to stop firing for a unilateral ceasefire that was firm rejected by Kyiv.

President Vladimir Putin ordered a 36-hour ceasefire from midday on Friday to mark the Russian Orthodox Christmas. Ukraine has said it has no intention of stopping fighting, dismissing the alleged truce as a ploy by Moscow to buy time to reinforce troops that have suffered heavy casualties this week.

“What ceasefire? Do you hear?” said a Ukrainian soldier using the fighting name Vishnya as an explosion rang out in the distance on the front line near Kremina in eastern Ukraine. “What do they want to achieve if they keep shooting? We know, we’ve learned not to trust them.”

Russia’s defense ministry said its troops began observing the ceasefire from noon Moscow time (0900 GMT) “along the entire contact line”, but said Ukraine continued to shell settlements and military positions.

Reuters heard explosions from what Ukrainian frontline troops described as incoming Russian missile fire. The Ukrainians returned fire from tanks.

Ukrainian troops said it was quieter than many other days as snowy weather made it difficult to fly drones and spot targets. But they saw no sign of a ceasefire from the Russians.

“The situation today is exactly the same as yesterday, the day before, last week and last month,” said one, hiding his face with a scarf. “There is no point in talking to them, believing in their promises, orders and decrees.

It was not immediately possible to determine whether there was any reduction in the intensity of fighting elsewhere.

A witness in the Russian-occupied regional capital of Donetsk, close to the frontline, also described incoming artillery fired from pro-Russian positions on the outskirts of the city after the truce was due to take effect.

The Ukrainian governor of the frontline eastern Luhansk province, Serhiy Haidai, said that in the first three hours of the supposed ceasefire, the Russians shelled Ukrainian positions 14 times and stormed a settlement three times.

“Orthodox killers wish you a Merry Christmas,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

RECOMMENDED BY BRADLEY

The White House was scheduled to unveil details Friday of its latest $3 billion military aid package for Ukraine, including for the first time Bradley fighting vehicles, the workhorses of the U.S. military.

It capped a week in which Germany and France also announced plans to send armored vehicles, finally fulfilling one of Kyiv’s most urgent requests from its allies for armor that could defeat Russian tanks in mechanized combat.

United States package also includes Sea Sparrow air defense missiles, and Germany’s include Patriot missiles, which Washington offered last month.

Shortly before the ceasefire was due to begin, rockets hit a residential building in Kramatorsk, near the eastern frontline, damaging 14 houses but causing no casualties as many people fled.

“It’s bad, very bad,” Oleksnadr, 36, said outside a supermarket at the time of the attack. “We need to pressure them, make them go away, maybe more air defense systems would help. This happens often, not only on festive occasions. Every other day.”

One rescuer was killed and four others were wounded when Russian forces shelled a fire station in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson ahead of a deadline early Friday, the regional governor said. Reuters could not immediately confirm this.

CHRISTMAS AS A COVER

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky immediately dismissed the Russian ceasefire as a ploy by Russia to buy time after suffering crippling losses on the front line.

“Now they want to use Christmas as a cover, even if only for a short time, to stop the advance of our guys … and bring equipment, ammunition and mobilized troops closer to our positions,” Zelensky said in a video address on Thursday evening.

Russia has suffered heavy losses in recent days, including dozens of soldiers killed on New Year’s Eve in the deadliest incident of the war, which it has credited to its own troops.

Despite the truce, pro-Russian officials have indicated they will continue to fight if Ukraine does so. Denis Pushilin, the Russian-appointed leader in Donetsk, said Thursday that Putin’s order covered only offensive operations and that his forces would fight back if they came under fire.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, starting a war that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions of Ukrainians. With arms and financial support from the United States and Europe, Ukraine has pushed Russia out of some of its territory, but fighting rages to the east and south.

Ukraine’s military general staff said its troops had repelled multiple Russian attacks in the past day, as Moscow focused on its efforts to capture towns in Donetsk.

“The enemy is concentrating its main efforts on trying to establish control over the Donetsk region” without success, the General Staff said in a statement, adding that Ukraine and Russia had carried out multiple airstrikes in the past day.

The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7. Ukraine’s main Orthodox Church has rejected Moscow’s authority, and many Ukrainian believers have shifted their calendar to celebrate Christmas on December 25, as in the West.

Reports from Reuters desks Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Angus McSwan, Nick McPhee and Grant McCool

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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