Ukraine: Zelensky sounds defiant in Christmas message

Kyiv, Ukraine

President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Ukrainians to have “patience and faith” in a defiant Christmas speech after a deadly wave of Russian attacks hit the southern city of Kherson.

Ten months after Russia’s war against Ukraine, Zelensky spoke of perseverance and striving to the end, while acknowledging that “freedom comes at a high price.”

He urged the nation to stand firm in the face of a bleak winter of power blackouts, the absence of loved ones and the ever-present threat of Russian attacks.

Zelensky’s message came after Ukrainian officials said Russia had launched deadly rocket attacks on central Kherson on Christmas Eve, killing at least 10 people and injuring dozens. Zelensky described those attacks as “killing for intimidation and pleasure.”

A rescuer extinguishes a fire in a burning workshop after Russian shelling in the city of Kherson on December 24, 2022.

In his Christmas message, Zelensky acknowledged that all Holidays this year has a bitter aftertaste for the besieged country.

“We can feel the traditional Spirit of Christmas in a different way. Dinner at the family table cannot be so tasty and warm.

“There may be empty chairs around you. And our houses and streets can’t be that bright. And Christmas bells can ring not so loud and inspiring. Through air raid sirens, or worse, gunshots and explosions.”

He said that Ukraine had been resisting the forces of evil for three hundred days and eight years, however, “in this battle, we have another powerful and effective weapon. The hammer and sword of our spirit and conscience. The wisdom of God. Courage and bravery. Virtues that incline us to do good and overcome evil.”

Addressing the Ukrainian people directly, he said the country would sing Christmas carols louder than the sound of a power generator and listen to the voices and greetings of relatives “in our hearts” even if communication services and the Internet are down.

“And even in total darkness, we will meet, to hold each other tight. And if it’s not hot, we’ll give each other a big hug to warm ourselves up.”

Zelensky concluded: “We will celebrate our holidays! As always. We will smile and be happy. As always. The difference is one. We are not going to wait for a miracle. After all, we created it ourselves.”

Ukraine has traditionally celebrated Christmas on January 7 in accordance with Orthodox Christian customs, which recognize the birth of Jesus according to the Julian calendar.

but a crack of years between the Ukrainian and Russian branches of the Orthodox Church has spread since the invasion of Moscow in February.

A branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church announced last month that it would allow its churches to celebrate Christmas on December 25. And many younger Ukrainians choose to celebrate the holiday on December 25 in an attempt to move away from Russia and closer to the Western world.

On Sunday night, a few dozen people gathered around a darkened Christmas tree on Kyiv’s Sophia Square in the center of the Ukrainian capital, and erupted in applause as the generator started up and the lights turned on. The blue and yellow lights of the tree lit up.

Ihor Zholudiev, an IT specialist originally from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, told CNN that he found the moment “inspiring.”

“This Christmas is special for us because we can celebrate it in this difficult year,” Zholudiev said. His wishes for Christmas, New Year and his birthday are the same: “victory and heaven of peace over our heads.

Olena Vedmid, a photographer, described having an impromptu dinner with her family amid frequent power outages in the capital.

“We had electricity for half a day, so we had time to cook the dishes,” he said. “This year we celebrated by candlelight and it was great. Everyone liked him, because he was welcoming and sincere.”

A Ukrainian couple photographed in Kyiv's Sophia Square on Christmas Day in the Ukrainian capital.

Hours before Zelensky was due to deliver his Christmas speech, a series of deadly Russian attacks struck the city of Kherson, where apartments and medical facilities were among the affected buildings, according to Yaroslav Yanushevych, head of the region’s military administration.

Yanushevych said on Sunday that a total of 16 people had been killed in 71 Russian strikes in the wider Kherson region on Saturday, including three state emergency workers killed during mine clearance operations. Another 64 people suffered injuries of varying severity, he said.

Zelensky condemned the Kherson bombing as an act of “terror”.

Zelensky condemned the bombing as an act of

“The terrorist country continues to bring Russia to the world in the form of bombing the civilian population. Kherson. In the morning, on Saturday, on Christmas Eve, in the central part of the city, ”he said.

“These are not military installations,” he wrote on Telegram on Saturday. “This is not a war by defined rules. It is terror, it is killing for intimidation and pleasure”.

In November, the Russian army withdrew from the city of Kherson, the only regional capital it had captured since the invasion began, in a major setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Since then, Russian forces have been stationed across the river from Kherson and regularly shell the city from there.

Putin said he is ready to “negotiate with all those involved in this process on acceptable solutions” regarding the war in Ukraine, according to Russia’s state news agency TASS, citing Putin’s interview with state television on Sunday.

“I don’t think it’s that dangerous, I think we’re going in the right direction, protecting our national interests and the interests of our citizens, our people. And we simply have no choice but to protect our citizens,” Putin said. “We are ready to negotiate with all those involved in this process on acceptable solutions, but it depends on them. We are not the ones who refuse to negotiate, it is them”.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted in response saying that “Putin needs to come back to reality.”

Podolyak tweeted that Russia “single-handedly attacked Ukraine and is killing citizens” and that “Russia doesn’t want negotiations but tries to avoid responsibility. This is obvious, so we moved to the Tribunal”.

Putin’s comments come as Russia continues its offensive against Ukraine. On Sunday, Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional military administration, said Russian troops attacked Kramatorsk with three rockets. An industrial area was attacked but there were no casualties.

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