Kyiv ( Associated Press) – Kyiv was in a tense calm Friday, broken by air raid sirens that echoed across the rest of Ukraine despite Russia declaring a ceasefire for Orthodox Christmas. Ukrainian officials say the ceasefire is just a ploy.
However, no explosion was heard in the capital. Reports of sporadic fighting in other parts of Ukraine were also unconfirmed. Reports of clashes in those areas could take hours.
Hours after the ceasefire began, residents of Kyiv ventured into a light cover of snow to buy gifts, cakes and food for family Christmas Eve celebrations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered his forces in Ukraine to observe a 36-hour unilateral ceasefire. Kyiv officials rejected the move, but did not say whether Ukrainian troops would do the same.
Moscow also did not say whether its forces would respond if Ukraine continued fighting, but Denis Pushilin, the Moscow-appointed chief of the Donetsk region, said they would.
The ceasefire announced by Russia in the nearly 11-month war began at noon on Friday and is due to last until midnight Moscow time (between 0900 GMT on Friday and 2100 GMT on Saturday).
About 40 minutes after the Russian ceasefire went into effect in Kyiv, air raid sirens sounded. The widely used “Alert in Ukraine” mobile app, which includes information on emergency services, showed sirens sounding across the country.
The Russian Defense Ministry alleged that the Ukrainian military continued shelling its positions and claimed that its forces retaliated to stop the attacks. However, it was not clear from the statement whether the attack and return of fire took place before or after the ceasefire came into effect.
Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov reported several Ukrainian attacks in the eastern regions of Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhia. It was not possible to verify such claims.
Putin’s announcement on the eve that his troops would stop fighting along the 1,000-kilometre (680 mi) front line and elsewhere was unexpected. It came after Patriarch Cyril of the Russian Orthodox Church proposed a truce for this weekend to mark the Orthodox Christmas. The Orthodox Church, which uses the Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on 7 January.
But Ukrainian and Western officials suspect the Russian president’s apparent goodwill gesture may have an ulterior motive. He dismissed the announcement as an attempt by Putin to gain the moral upper hand as he sought to possibly take the initiative from the battlefield and rob Ukrainians of momentum amid their counter-offensive in recent months.
His Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, questioned the Kremlin’s intention, accusing it of planning to stop the fighting “in order to continue the war with renewed vigour”.