Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday instructed Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to order a unilateral ceasefire along the entire line of contact in Ukraine from 12:00 on January 6 to 24:00 on January 7, Russian news agencies said, citing a Kremlin declaration.
“Based on the fact that a large number of citizens professing Orthodoxy live in the combat areas, we call on the Ukrainian side to declare a ceasefire and give them the opportunity to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on Christmas Day,” a Kremlin website said.
Ukraine rejected the declaration, calling it "hypocrisy" and "propaganda". Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Russia "must leave the occupied territories – only then will it have a 'temporary truce'. Keep hypocrisy to yourself," he wrote on Twitter.
In a separate statement, he said: "This is a complete propaganda gesture and nothing more.
"Russia is trying to find any way to lower the intensity of the fighting and the intensity of the strikes on its logistical centres to strengthen and regroup."
The proposed truce came in the wake of a Thursday morning declaration by Patriarch Kirill, head of the Kremlin-loyal Russian Orthodox Church, for a Christmas ceasefire. Both Russia and Ukraine celebrate Christmas as a primarily religious holiday held in accordance with the Julian calendar.
US President Joe Biden said on Thursday that Putin's order for a two-day Orthodox Christmas ceasefire in Ukraine was simply an effort to find breathing room for his war effort.
"He was ready to bomb hospitals and nurseries and churches" on December 25 and on New Year's Day, Biden said, adding: "I think he's trying to find some oxygen."
State Department spokesman Ned Price called Putin's ceasefire "cynical," saying, "We have little faith in the intentions behind this announcement."
He voiced concern that Russia would use the break to "regroup, to rest and ultimately to re-attack" and said that Putin may seek to "fool the world" by making it seem that he wants peace.
"This does not appear to be a change in the tide of the war," he said. "If Russia were truly serious about peaceabout ending this war, it would withdraw its forces from the sovereign territory of Ukraine."
Talks of truce notwithstanding, ground fighting continued unabated on Wednesday. In the eastern city Bakhmut Russian ground forces launched infantry attacks, backed by artillery and air strikes, against Ukrainian fortifications.
According to Ukrainian official sources the assaults failed and a Russian strike jet was shot down and crashed into the adjacent village Vesela Donlina. Ukrainian social media posted video of aircraft remains burning in a rubbled building.
Artillery likewise pounded both sides of the front line on Wednesday, with two civilians reported killed and three injured in Bakhmut alone, the Bakhmut Novyni news platform said.
Russian Federation-affiliated Telegram channels reported Ukrainian artillery strikes in the Donbass sector, including purported strikes hitting a prison in the city Horlivka. Allegedly the prison infirmary was hit.
In the Dnipro River shoreside village Primorske, near the city Beryslav, a Russian shell strike hit an apartment building, killing a couple and their 12-year-old son, and leveling the structure’s upper floor, an UNIAN news agency report said.
In the southern Kherson sector, Russian cannon hit the villages Chernobaivka and Kamyshan, injuring four civilians, a Kherson regional defense command statement said.
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