Fighting unabated in Ukraine as Russia’s Orthodox Christmas truce comes into force

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Russia and Ukraine attacked each others positions in eastern Ukraine on Friday with no sign they would observe a 36-hour ceasefire unilaterally ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin at short notice to mark Orthodox Christmas in the region.

On Friday morning - Christmas Eve for Russians and many Ukrainians - Russian shells hit Kramatorsk, a Ukrainian city near the frontline in the industrial Donetsk region that Russia claims as its territory, the city mayor said.

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“Kramatorsk is under fire. Stay in shelters,” mayor Oleksandr Honcharenko posted on social media. He did not give details of damage.

The Kremlin had ordered the truce to begin at 1200, without specifying what time zone they were referring to. In Moscow, that would be 0900 GMT.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, starting a war that has killed tens of thousands of people, displaced millions and reduced cities to rubble. Ukraine has driven Russia back from some of its territory but battles are raging over eastern and southern cities, and Russia has unleashed barrages of airstrikes on civilian infrastructure.

In a surprise, last minute announcement on Thursday, Putin unilaterally ordered his troops to observe a ceasefire from Friday to run through the Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, a move that was rejected as a trick by Ukraine and its allies.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rejected the idea out of hand, saying the goal was to halt the progress of Ukraine’s forces in Donetsk and the wider eastern Donbas region and bring in more of Moscow’s forces.

“They now want to use Christmas as a cover, albeit briefly, to stop the advances of our boys in Donbas and bring equipment, ammunitions and mobilised troops closer to our positions,” Zelenskyy said in his Thursday night video address.

“What will that give them? Only yet another increase in their total losses.”

Ukraine’s military General Staff said its soldiers repelled multiple Russian attacks over the past day, with Moscow focused on trying to take towns in Donetsk, including Bakhmut, which has seen the heaviest battles in recent weeks.

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

Reuters could not independently verify the latest battlefield accounts.

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