Artillery duels continued on Friday in Bakhmut, the epicenter of fighting in eastern Ukraine, and shelling elsewhere in the country, despite a ceasefire coming into effect – unilateral fire decreed by Russia on the occasion of Orthodox Christmas.
AFP journalists heard shots from both the Ukrainian and Russian sides after the start of the ceasefire in this city with largely destroyed and deserted streets, but their intensity was less than in previous days.
Dozens of civilians were gathered in a building used for the distribution of humanitarian aid, where volunteers organized a Christmas celebration, distributing tangerines, apples and cookies, an hour before the entry into force at 0900 GMT of the Russian truce.
Pavlo Diatchenko, a Bakhmout policeman, said the truce was a Russian “provocation” that would not help civilians in the city. “They are being bombarded day and night and almost every day people are killed,” he said.
The Russian army has assured that it is respecting its truce, but accuses the Ukrainian troops of “continuing to bombard Russian towns and positions.”
The deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, reported two Russian strikes on Kramatorsk (east) having hit a residential building without causing any casualties. Earlier, before the truce, he had mentioned a Russian bombardment on Kherson (south).
The pro-Russian separatist authorities in eastern Ukraine, for their part, , reports several Ukrainian bombardments on their stronghold of Donetsk before and after the theoretical entry into force of the ceasefire, announced the day before by President Vladimir Putin.
Following a call from the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, but also a proposal from the Turkish Head of State Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr. Putin had asked his army to observe a “ceasefire on the entire line of contact between games from 12:00 p.m. (09:00 GMT) on January 6 until 12:00 p.m. (21:00 GMT) on January 7”.
“Give some fresh air”
This is the first time that a major truce has been announced in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion in February 2022. Short halts in fighting had previously been observed locally, such as for the evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol (southeast) in April.
Ukraine questioned the sincerity of the Russian initiative, brushing it off as an “act of propaganda”. According to its president Volodymyr Zelensky, it is an “apology with the aim of at least stopping the advance of our troops in the Donbass and bringing equipment, ammunition, and bringing men closer to our positions”.< /p> < i class="fa fa-times">
Vladimir Putin had called on the Ukrainian forces to respect this truce in order to give the possibility to the Orthodox, the majority confession in Ukraine as in Russia, to “attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on the day of the Nativity of Christ” .
“Russia must leave the occupied territories, only then will there be a 'temporary truce'. Keep your hypocrisy,” an adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, Mykhaïlo Podoliak, reacted on Twitter on Thursday.
For the American president, Vladimir Putin is seeking “to give himself some air”. He “was ready to bomb hospitals, nurseries and churches (…) on December 25 and on New Year's Eve,” joked Joe Biden.
This ceasefire “will do nothing to advance the prospects for peace,” reacted British Foreign Minister James Cleverly, calling for a permanent withdrawal of Russian forces. Such a truce will bring “neither freedom nor security” in Ukraine, abounded the German diplomacy.
In his telephone conversation with Mr. Erdogan, Vladimir Putin assured that Russia was ready for a “serious dialogue” with Ukraine on condition that the latter comply with Russian demands and accept the “new territorial realities”, namely the annexation claimed by Moscow in September of four Ukrainian regions.
Mr. Zelensky insists on him for a total withdrawal of Russian forces from his country, Crimea included, before any dialogue with Moscow. Otherwise, he promises to take back the occupied territories by force.
During his discussions with Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Putin accused the West of “feeding the Kyiv regime with weapons and military equipment and providing it with operational and targeting information”.
The United States and Germany thus promised Thursday in Kyiv the delivery of infantry armored vehicles, of the Bradley type on the American side and of the Marder model on the German side, after the announcement by France to send light tanks.
Berlin has also pledged to provide a Patriot anti-aircraft defense battery, as Washington has already done.
The Russian truce has was proposed less than a week e after a Ukrainian strike on New Year's Eve that killed at least 89 soldiers in Makiivka, eastern Ukraine.