Christmas did not bring any pause in hostilities between Ukraine and Russia, but rather an escalation of fighting, though both countries claim they are ready to negotiate.
On Christmas Eve, the city of Kherson, recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces, suffered an air strike and ten civilians were killed, according to local Ukrainian officials. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky blamed the attacks on Russia.
On Twitter, he posted pictures of the effects of the missiles and tweeted:
This is not sensitive content—it’s the real life of Kherson. On the eve of Christmas, in the central part of the city. It’s terror, it’s killing for the sake of intimidation and pleasure. The world must see what absolute evil we are fighting against.
Euractiv reports that Yuriy Sobolevskyi, deputy chair of the regional council, said a missile landed next to a supermarket by the city’s Freedom Square.
Russia still controls most of the region around the city, and the news outlet also reports that Vladimir Saldo, the region’s Russian-installed governor, blamed Kyiv for ordering the attack on the city with the aim of blaming Russia for killing civilians.
On Christmas Day, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he was ready to negotiate an end to the war.
“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,” Putin told Rossiya 1 state television in an interview.
He also blamed the West for the war.
“Actually, the fundamental thing here is the policy of our geopolitical opponents which is aimed at pulling apart Russia, historical Russia,” Putin said, accusing the West of toppling Ukraine’s pro-Russia government in 2014.
The following day, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov lashed out at Kyiv for refusing to accept Moscow’s conditions for ending the war.
“Our proposals … are well known to the enemy,” state news agency TASS quoted Lavrov as saying late on December 26th:
The point is simple: Fulfil them for your own good. Otherwise, the issue will be decided by the Russian army.”
Moscow is demanding that Ukraine acknowledge the annexation of Crimea and the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as declared by Russia in September. Zelensky has consistently resisted and criticised international calls for Ukraine to negotiate peace with Russia.
On December 27th, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told the Associated Press his country was willing to negotiate peace and spoke of his hopes for a United Nations peace summit in February.
In a wide-ranging interview, he also said that the most recent military aid package from the U.S. included a battery of the Patriot anti-aircraft missile system and training for Ukrainian troops in its use. Under a special training program, Ukrainian soldiers would be ready to use the weapons in just six months, though the training usually lasts a year. The system has a radar range of over 150 kilometres and can defend an area of 15 to 20 kilometres.
Just before Christmas, Zelensky made his first foreign trip since the start of the war, visiting Washington, and returned home with a pledge from the U.S. for a $1.8 billion military aid package.
Several drone attacks in recent weeks have struck Russian bases far beyond the Ukrainian-Russian border, the most recent attack occurring on December 26th at the Engels airbase 600 kilometres from the Ukrainian border. Three servicemen were reportedly killed. Russia claims the attacks have come from Ukrainian drones, but Kyiv has never officially taken responsibility for such attacks, including the most recent.
During an interview on Ukrainian television on Monday, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yurii Ihnat did not directly acknowledge his country’s involvement in Monday’s attack.
“These are the consequences of Russian aggression,” he said, according to Euronews, “If the Russians thought that the war would not affect them in the deep rear, they were deeply mistaken.”Zelensky also said on December 26th that the situation in the Donbas region was “painful and difficult.” On December 27th though, Kyiv reported having repelled Russian forces in the linchpin embattled city of Bakhmut.