KYIV, Ukraine ( Associated Press) — Ukraine’s president has praised the United States for including armored anti-tank vehicles in its latest multibillion-dollar military aid package, saying they are “exactly what Kyiv needs.” Army needs Russian troops in position to attack”, including at a time when 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 allies, as Moscow said its troops were observing a brief truce for Orthodox Christmas.
Ukrainian officials denounced the unilateral 36-hour pause as a mere ploy, saying it appeared to have been ignored by some of Moscow’s forces, which were moving forward with an offensive nearly 11 months .
Russia’s defense ministry insisted on Saturday that its forces along a 1,100-kilometre (684-mile) front line were obeying a Kremlin-ordered ceasefire but were retaliating when they came under fire.
The latest US aid package was the largest ever for Ukraine. For the first time it included 50 Bradley armored vehicles and 500 anti-tank missiles that could fire.
In return, Germany also announced that it would supply about 40 Marder armored personnel carriers. For its part, France promised the AMX-10 RC anti-tank destroyer.
Together, this week’s pledges were a powerful signal that Ukraine can count on Western help for a long time in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military campaign to disintegrate the country.
President Volodymyr Zelensky called the US aid package “very powerful” in a televised address on Friday night.
“For the first time, we’ll get the Bradley armored vehicle, which is exactly what we need. New weapons and projectiles, including high precision, new rockets, new drones. It’s something timely and powerful,” he said.
Zelensky thanked his US counterpart, Joe Biden, US lawmakers and “all Americans who value freedom and know it is worth protecting.”
Celebrated by both Ukrainians and Russians, the Orthodox Christmas celebration also highlights the animosity that the Russian invasion is sowing between them.
At an iconic 1,000-year-old cathedral in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, a Christmas service was held in Ukrainian instead of Russian on Saturday for the first time in decades, underscoring how Ukraine is trying to rid itself of remaining Moscow influences. Trying on the country’s religion, cultural life and economy.
The Ukrainian government on Thursday took over the administration of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Cathedral of the Caves Monastery in Kyiv, allowing the Ukrainian church to use the Ukrainian cathedral for Christmas services. The monastery was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
“It’s an incredible moment,” declared Alex Fasiak, one of the hundreds of believers who attended. “Earlier, this place was attached to Moscow, inside Kyiv, on Ukrainian territory. Now we feel it is ours, it is Ukrainian. It is part of the Ukrainian nation.
The Christmas truce, which began on Friday on Putin’s orders, was originally proposed by Patriarch Cyril, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is closely aligned with the Kremlin. 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.
However, the Ukrainians would not commit to follow suit, dismissing the move as a Russian ploy to buy time and allow their battered invasion forces to regroup. Ukrainian and Western officials described the announcement as an attempt by Russia to take the moral lead and potentially take away initiative and battlefield momentum from the Ukrainian military amid its counteroffensive in recent months.
The ceasefire was to expire at midnight on Saturday in Moscow, which is 11:00 pm in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.