Zelenskyy rejects Putin's ceasefire declaration for Ukraine starting on January 6

Many Orthodox Christians in Russia and Ukraine celebrate Christmas on January 6-7

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia is using a Orthodox Christmas ceasefire as a cover to halt Ukrainian advances in the Donbas. EPA
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin's order for a temporary ceasefire in Ukraine on the eve of Orthodox Christmas, which followed a request from Russia's spiritual leader Patriarch Kirill.

Mr Zelenskyy called the temporary truce a trick aimed at halting the progress of Ukraine's forces in the eastern Donbas region as Russia brings in more troops.

The 36-hour ceasefire will begin at noon (9am GMT) on January 6, the Kremlin said.

Speaking in Russian to address both the Kremlin and the Russian population, Mr Zelenskyy said Moscow had repeatedly ignored Kyiv's own peace plan. The war would end, he said, when Russian troops were out of Ukraine.

“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,” he said in his nightly video address.

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

The Ukrainian leader said that ending the war meant “ending your country's aggression”.

“This continues every day that your soldiers are on our soil … And the war will end either when your soldiers leave or we throw them out.”

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, called on both sides of the war in Ukraine to observe a Christmas truce. AFP

Many Orthodox Christians, including those living in Russia and Ukraine, celebrate Christmas on January 6-7.

“Taking into account the appeal of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, I instruct the defence minister of the Russian Federation to introduce from 12.00 (0900 GMT) on January 6, 2023, until 24.00 (2100 GMT) on January 7, 2023, a ceasefire along the entire line of contact between the sides in Ukraine,” Mr Putin said.

“Proceeding from the fact that a large number of citizens professing Orthodoxy live in the areas of hostilities, we call on the Ukrainian side to declare a ceasefire and allow them to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on Christmas Day.”

Ukrainian and Russian forces are facing off over 1,500km of front line, with fighting intensity ranging from almost constant — such as the battle of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine — to sporadic and almost quiet in some areas — such as the front line near Kherson in the south.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, called on Thursday for both sides of the war in Ukraine to observe a Christmas truce.

Ukraine described Russia's declaration of a ceasefire over the Orthodox Christmas as “hypocrisy”.

Russia “must leave the occupied territories — only then will it have a 'temporary truce'".

“Keep hypocrisy to yourself,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter in reaction to the Kremlin announcement.

US President Joe Biden told reporters at the White House that Mr Putin was “trying to find some oxygen” by floating a 36-hour ceasefire.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also slammed the ceasefire and said if Mr Putin really wanted peace, “he would bring his soldiers home”.

“A so-called ceasefire brings neither freedom nor security to people living in daily fear under Russian occupation,” Ms Baerbock wrote on Twitter.

Earlier on Thursday, the Kremlin said that Mr Putin had told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a phone call that he was open to dialogue with Ukraine if Kyiv accepted territories occupied by Moscow as Russian.

Mr Putin again confirmed Russia's openness to serious dialogue on the condition that Kyiv authorities recognise the “new territorial realities”, the Kremlin said in a statement.

Mr Erdogan called for peace talks during his conversation with Mr Putin, his office said earlier.

Updated: January 06, 2023, 3:27 AM