KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Ukraine’s president praised the United States for including tank-killing armored vehicles in its latest multi-billion-dollar package of military aid, saying they could be used in the fight against the Russian military. “Exactly what is needed” for the detained Ukrainian soldiers. Even both sides celebrated Orthodox Christmas on Saturday.

The White House on Friday announced $3.75 billion in arms and other aid for Ukraine and its European backers, as Moscow said its troops were observing a short conservative Christmas truce.

Ukrainian officials denounced the 36-hour unilateral pause as a ploy and said it appeared that some of Moscow’s forces did not care to move forward with the offensive nearly 11 months into the war.

Russia’s defense ministry insisted on Saturday that its forces along a 1,100-kilometre (684-mile) front line were abiding by a Kremlin-ordered ceasefire, but retaliated when attacked.

The latest package of US military aid was the largest ever for Ukraine. For the first time, this included 50 Bradley armored vehicles and 500 anti-tank missiles that they could fire. Germany also announced that it would supply about 40 Marder armored personnel carriers and France promised wheeled AMX-10 RC tank destroyers.

Together, this week’s pledges were a powerful signal that Ukraine can count on long-term Western aid against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to disintegrate the country.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky described the US aid package as “very powerful” in his nightly televised address on Friday.

“For the first time, we will get the Bradley armored vehicle – this is exactly what is needed. New guns and rounds, including high-precision ones, new rockets, new drones. It is timely and robust,” he said.

He thanked US President Joe Biden, US lawmakers and “all Americans who cherish freedom, and who know that freedom is worth protecting.”
Celebrated by both Ukrainians and Russians, the Orthodox Christmas holiday also underscored the animosity that Russia’s invasion has been increasingly fueling between them.

At an iconic 1,000-year-old cathedral complex in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, a Christmas service was delivered on Saturday in the Ukrainian language – instead of Russian – for the first time in decades, highlighting how Moscow’s remaining influences on Ukraine religious Trying to undermine cultural and economic life in the country.

Ukraine’s government on Thursday took over administration of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, from the Russian Orthodox Church and allowed the Ukrainian church to use it for Christmas services.

“It’s a wonderful moment,” said Alex Fesiak, among hundreds of worshipers who attended. “Earlier this place – on Ukrainian territory, within Kyiv – is associated with Moscow. Now we feel it is ours, it is Ukrainian. It is part of the Ukrainian nation.

The Putin-ordered Christmas ceasefire that began on Friday was first proposed by the Kremlin-aligned head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill. The Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar and celebrates Christmas on 7 January. Putin’s order said the cease-fire would allow worshipers in war zones to attend Christmas services.

The head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Metropolitan Epiphany speaks during a Christmas service in Kyiv.

NurPhoto via Getty Images

But Ukrainian officials have not committed to comply and dismissed the move as a Russian ploy to buy time for their struggling invasion forces to regroup. Ukrainian and Western officials characterized the announcement as a Russian attempt to grab the moral high ground and potentially take away battlefield initiative and momentum from the Ukrainian military amid its counteroffensive of recent months.

The stoppage was due to end on Saturday night – at midnight Moscow time, which is 11 pm in Kyiv.

The Ministry of Defense in Britain, a major supplier of military aid to Ukraine, said in its daily readout on the invasion on Saturday that “fighting has continued at a regular level over the Orthodox Christmas period.”

Costumed people sing carols as they take part in Orthodox Christmas celebrations in the city of Lviv, western Ukraine.
Costumed people sing carols as they take part in Orthodox Christmas celebrations in the city of Lviv, western Ukraine.

Yuri DYACHYSHYN via Getty Images

In the hard-fought Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, regional government Serhiy Haidai reported continuing Russian shelling and attacks. Posting Friday on Telegram, Haidai said that in the first three hours of the ceasefire, Russian forces shelled Ukrainian positions 14 times and stormed a settlement three times. The claim could not be independently verified.

Ukrainian officials on Saturday also reported attacks elsewhere in the past 24 hours, although it was not clear whether the fighting was before or after the ceasefire began.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Russian forces carried out a missile attack and 20 salvos with rockets and targeted settlements in the east, northeast and south.

The head of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region on Saturday reported two civilian deaths the previous day from Russian attacks on the city of Bakhmut and in Krasna Hora, north of it.

In the southern Kherson region, Gov. Yaroslav Yanushevich said on Saturday that Russian forces fired 39 rounds on Friday, targeting homes and apartment buildings as well as a fire station. One person died and seven others were injured in this.

John Leicester in Le Peuc, France and Alice Morton in London contributed to this report.



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