Ukraine’s Orthodox Church allowed Christians to mark Christmas on December 25 in a pointed break with Russian Orthodox tradition, which celebrates January 7. Ukrainians will create their own Christmas miracle by remaining unbowed by Russian attacks that have plunged millions into darkness, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a defiant holiday message. Read FRANCE 24’s liveblog below to see how the day’s events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).
5:10pm: Putin claims Moscow is ready for Ukraine talks as attacks continue
President Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia is ready for talks to end the war in Ukraine even as the country faced more attacks from Moscow – a clear sign that peace wasn’t imminent.
Putin said in a state television interview, excerpts of which were released on Sunday afternoon that Russia is “prepared to negotiate some acceptable outcomes with all the participants of this process”.
He said that “it’s not us who refuse talks, it’s them” – something the Kremlin has repeatedly stated in recent months as its 10-month old invasion lost momentum.
3:16pm: Ukrainian celebration of Christmas today is ‘a kind of protest’ against Russia
The Ukrainians celebrating Christmas today are “by no means in the majority” but those doing so are taking part in a “kind of protest” against the Russian invasion. FRANCE 24’s Andrew Hilliar reports.
12:25pm: World longing for peace, Pope says in Christmas message
Pope Francis has called for an end to the war in Ukraine and other conflicts in his traditional Christmas message, saying the world was suffering from a “famine of peace”.
Delivering the 10th Christmas “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing of his pontificate, the pope also urged people to look beyond the “shallow holiday glitter” and help the homeless, immigrants, refugees and the poor in their midst seeking comfort, warmth and food.
“Let us see the faces of all those children who, everywhere in the world, long for peace,” Francis said, speaking from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.
“Let us also see the faces of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters who are experiencing this Christmas in the dark and cold, far from their homes due to the devastation caused by 10 months of war,” he said, speaking to tens of thousands of people in the square below.
11:10am: Russia is ‘ready to negotiate’, Putin says
Russia is ready to negotiate with all parties involved in the conflict in Ukraine but Kyiv and its Western backers have refused to engage in talks, Russia’s Vladimir Putin told state television.
“We are ready to negotiate with everyone involved about acceptable solutions, but that is up to them – we are not the ones refusing to negotiate, they are,” the Russian president said in an interview.
Russia has previously said the recognition of Crimea – which Russia illegally annexed in 2014 – as a part of Russia was a precondition for peace talks. Moscow has also sought guarantees that Ukraine would never seek to join NATO.
Moscow has rejected Western demands that it withdraw its invading forces from Ukraine as a condition for talks.
“I believe that we are acting in the right direction, we are defending our national interests, the interests of our citizens, our people. And we have no other choice but to protect our citizens,” Putin added.
9:35am: Some Ukrainians move Christmas celebrations in break with Russia
Ukrainians usually celebrate Christmas on January 7, as do fellow Orthodox Christians in Russia. But not this year, or at least not all of them.
Some Orthodox Ukrainians have decided to observe Christmas on December 25, like many Christians around the world.
In October, the leadership of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is not aligned with the Russian church, agreed to allow the faithful to celebrate on December 25.
The choice of dates has clear political and religious overtones in a nation with rival Orthodox churches and where slight revisions to rituals can carry potent meaning in a culture war that runs parallel to the shooting war.
The idea of commemorating the birth of Jesus in December was considered radical in Ukraine until recently, but Russia’s invasion has changed hearts and minds.
8:20am: Lawmakers in Moscow to hike taxes for Russians who left the country
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Duma, says the Russian lower house of parliament is preparing a law to introduce higher taxation for people who have left the country since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
“It is right to cancel preferences for those who have left the Russian Federation and to introduce an increased tax rate for them,” Volodin wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “We are working on appropriate changes to the legislation.”
The number of Russians who have left since the start of the war is unclear.
By early October, some local media had reported that as many as 700,000 had fled following the September announcement of a mobilization drive to call up as many as 300,000 to fight. The government rejected that figure at the time.
6:50am: Emergency services workers killed while demining Ukraine’s Kherson
Three Ukrainian emergency services workers were killed on Saturday when a mine exploded while they were demining parts of the Kherson region, said the emergency service of another region, in which they served.
“All three selflessly served in the emergency and rescue squad of the Special Purpose Unit of the State Department of Ukraine in Zhytomyr region and performed the task of demining territories liberated from the enemy in the Kherson region,” the Zhytomyr emergency service said on its Facebook page.
The Zhytomyr region is west of Kyiv, in northern Ukraine.
Explosive experts have been at work in Kherson region since Ukrainian forces retook the regional capital, also named Kherson, and a number of settlements in mid-November.
11:50pm, December 24: Ukraine’s Zelensky delivers a defiant Christmas message
Ukrainians will create their own Christmas miracle by showing they remain unbowed despite Russian attacks that have plunged millions into darkness, President Volodymyr Zelensky has said in a defiant message.
Speaking 10 months to the day since Russia launched a war that has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions more, Zelensky said that while freedom came at a high price, slavery would cost even more.
“We endured at the beginning of the war – we withstood attacks, threats, nuclear blackmail, terror, missile strikes. We will endure this winter because we know what we are fighting for,” he said.
Zelensky made his remarks in a video address to Ukrainians who celebrate Christmas in December. Most Ukrainians are Orthodox Christians and mark the occasion in early January.
“Even in complete darkness, we will find each other to hug each other tightly. And if there is no heat, we will embrace each other for a long time to warm each other,” he said.
“We will smile and be happy, as always. There is one difference – we will not wait for a miracle, since we are creating it ourselves.”
7:35pm: Death toll rises from shelling of Kherson
Russian shells pummeled the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson on Saturday, killing at least 10 people and injuring 55 in the city that Moscow’s troops were forced to abandon last month.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, just back from his quick trip to Washington, posted photos of the wreckage on his social media accounts. He noted the destruction came as Ukrainians were beginning Christmas celebrations that for many Orthodox Christians will culminate in the traditional celebration on January 7.
“This is not sensitive content – it’s the real life of Kherson,” Zelensky tweeted. The images showed cars on fire, bodies on the street and building windows blown out.
Yaroslav Yanushevych, the governor of the Kherson region, said in televised remarks that the number of people killed in the latest shelling of the city rose from seven to 10. He added that 55 people were wounded, 18 of them in grave condition, including a 6-year-old child.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)