Bombing continues in Ukraine despite the Orthodox Christmas ceasefire
On Saturday, Ukrainians and Russians celebrated an Eastern Orthodox Christmas in the shadow of war, as shellfire echoed around the near-deserted streets of the Ukrainian town of Pakhmut, currently the focus of the fiercest fighting in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, despite Moscow’s own announcement. Ceasefire on the occasion of Orthodox Christmas.
Clear, sparkling skies and falling snow belied the devastation of a city abandoned by most of its pre-war population of 70,000, where humanitarian volunteers are now risking their lives to support those who remain.
“Dear God, our town was so beautiful,” said Oleha, 75, elegantly dressed and wearing lipstick as she carried shopping bags down the street.
“There were roses everywhere, flowers,” she added, barely blinking at the sound of a distant boom. “It was clean, everything was fine.”
Moscow said on Saturday that its forces in Ukraine would maintain a 36-hour ceasefire announced by President Vladimir Putin until midnight, though Ukraine rejected the offer.
It said its forces only returned artillery fire when fired upon by Ukrainian forces. Reuters was not able to ascertain the source of the shelling that was heard in Bakhmut.
“Ceasefire, do you know how it’s done?” said the 30-year-old humanitarian volunteer Vasyl Lisin.
“When Putin says there is a ceasefire, the opposite is true: there is no ceasefire. We bombed a lot yesterday. Then, during the night, it was more or less quiet. But this is usually the case: one day there is bombing, The next day it will be much calmer.
A drive around Pakhmut, which lies on the front line dividing Ukraine’s Donetsk province, reveals scars from months of bombing, from smashed storefronts to battered workshops and destroyed businesses.
Volunteers like Liesin help maintain “indomitable centers” set up to provide free electricity, heat, water, internet, mobile communications and medicine as Russian attacks destroy essential civilian infrastructure.
Centers may display an indomitable spirit but are far from invulnerable.
“When we visited another indomitable point yesterday for 15-20 minutes, a missile hit us. A volunteer car was damaged, one person was killed and four injured,” said Lisin, who was wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest.
“Volunteers were injured, and one of the Bakhmut volunteers lost a limb and was evacuated. I wish people were in their protective clothing, but the situation is not clear. We know that they were seriously injured.”
Olha, who declined to give her last name, sneered at the idea of any respite at Christmas after the Russian attack. “I think they are fooling us,” she said, “that is very obvious to me.”
“What else can I tell you? If someone makes a promise, someone must keep it. Promises are kept. I don’t understand; what do they need?”