1. Fighting reportedly continued despite Russia’s Christmas ceasefire
Artillery fire could be heard from the front line in Ukraine on Friday, even after the official start of a unilateral ceasefire declared by Moscow and rejected by Kyiv.
Additionally, air raid sirens were sounded across the entire country around 1:30 pm local time on Friday.
President Vladimir Putin ordered the 36-hour ceasefire from midday on Friday to observe Orthodox Christmas.
Kyiv has said it has no intention to stop fighting, rejecting the purported truce as a stunt by Moscow to buy time to reinforce troops that have taken heavy losses this week.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rejected the ceasefire out of hand as a ploy for Russia to buy time.
“They now want to use Christmas as a cover, albeit briefly, to stop the advances of our boys … and bring equipment, ammunition and mobilised troops closer to our positions,” Zelenskyy said in his Thursday night video address.
Russia’s defence ministry said its troops began observing the ceasefire from noon Moscow time (0900 GMT) “along the entire line of contact” in the conflict but said Ukraine kept up its shelling.
One witness in the Russian-occupied regional capital Donetsk, close to the front, told Reuters that there was outgoing artillery fired from pro-Russian positions on the city’s outskirts after the truce was meant to take effect.
Neither claim could be independently confirmed.
One rescue worker was killed and four others injured after Russian forces shelled a fire department in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson before the deadline early on Friday, the regional governor said. Reuters could not immediately verify this.
In the hours prior to the deadline, rockets slammed into a residential building in the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk close to the eastern frontline, damaging 14 homes but with no casualties, the mayor said. Residents described several explosions.
“It’s bad, very bad. We need to pressure them, get them to leave, maybe more air defence systems would help. This happens often, not only on festive occasions. Every other day,” said Oleksandr, 36, outside a supermarket at the time of the attack.
Putin ordered the 36-hour ceasefire in the 10-month-long war in a surprise move on Thursday, saying it would run through to the end of Russian Orthodox Christmas on Saturday.
2. Ukraine’s energy company asks citizens to conserve power as temperatures plummet
Ukraine’s power grid operator issued a new appeal to civilians to save electricity on Friday as temperatures fell and energy consumption rose, threatening new strains on a network devastated by Russian air strikes.
Russian missile and drone attacks on energy infrastructure since October have caused widespread damage that has led to winter blackouts and shortages of heating and water.
After hovering at around 10 degrees Celsius during an unseasonably warm spell since New Year, temperatures are now falling. Forecasters say they could soon plunge to -11°C in Kyiv and to -18°C in eastern Ukraine.
“In the near future, a significant drop in temperature is expected, which will lead to a rapid increase in consumption,” state-run energy company and grid operator Ukrenergo said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.
“The energy system is currently unable to fully cover it due to the damage and the enemy’s occupation of a number of power plants that produce electricity, in particular, and the most powerful — the Zaporizhzhia (nuclear power plant).”
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told a government meeting on Friday that Ukraine should expect Russian attacks and emergency outages.
Russia, which invaded Ukraine last February, says it regards energy facilities as legitimate military targets. Ukraine and its allies say attacks on civilian infrastructure amount to war crimes.
Cities across Ukraine, including Kyiv, are undergoing scheduled blackouts to reduce the strain on the electrical grid during peak usage hours.
Ukrenergo said it was working with electricity producers and distributors to restore damaged facilities but that the repairs took up a lot of resources and time because of the complexity and scale of the damage.
Ukraine’s Soviet-era power system cannot be fixed easily as energy operators need vast quantities of equipment.
Businesses and residents have bought tens of thousands of generators to ensure electricity supplies. Yaroslav Zheleznyak, a parliamentary deputy, said on Telegram that 669,400 generators were imported into Ukraine in 2022, with deliveries peaking at 309,400 units in December.
3. Lukashenka visits Russian units stationed in Belarus
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka visited a military base where Russian troops are stationed, the defence ministry said on Friday.
During the meeting, Lukashenka and an unnamed representative from the Russian army discussed the two countries’ joint military drills, it claimed.
“At this stage, units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are ready to carry out tasks as intended,” the representative stated.
Belarus, which is closely allied with Moscow, said on Thursday that it would receive more weapons and equipment from Russia as the two boost their military cooperation, fuelling fears it could be used as a staging post to attack Ukraine from the north.
Minsk has said it will not enter the war in Ukraine, but Russia used Belarus as a launchpad for its 24 February full-scale invasion and continues to use Belarusian airspace for drone and missile strikes, Kyiv says.
On Friday afternoon, a Russian MiG-31K interceptor jet known to operate nuclear-capable Kinzhal missiles was said to have taken off from Belarus and entered Ukrainian airspace after the unilateral truce deadline.
This claim could not be independently confirmed.