President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Ukrainians to show “patience and faith” in a defiant Christmas speech after a deadly wave of Russian strikes hit the southern city of Kherson.
Ten months into Russia’s war with Ukraine, Zelensky spoke of endurance and going all the way, while acknowledging that “freedom comes at a high price”.
He urged the nation to stand firm in the face of a dark winter of blackouts, the absence of loved ones and the ever-present threat of Russian attacks.
Zelensky’s message came after Ukrainian officials said Russia launched deadly rocket fire into downtown Kherson on Christmas Eve, killing at least 10 people and injuring dozens. Zelensky described these attacks as “killing for intimidation and fun”.
In his Christmas message, Zelensky acknowledged that all holidays have a bitter aftertaste for the beleaguered country this year.
“We can feel the traditional spirit of Christmas differently. Dinner at the family table can not be so tasty and warm.
“There may be empty chairs around. And our houses and our streets cannot be so bright. And Christmas bells can ring less loudly and in an inspiring way. By air raid sirens, or even worse – gunfire and explosions.
He said that Ukraine had resisted 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 mind and our conscience. The wisdom of God. Courage and bravery. Virtues that incline us to do good and overcome evil.
Speaking directly to the people of Ukraine, he said the country would sing Christmas carols louder than the sound of a generator and hear the voices and greetings of loved ones “in our hearts” even though communications services and Internet are down.
“And even in total darkness – we will find each other – to hug each other. And if there’s no heat, we’ll give each other a big hug to warm up.
Zelensky concluded: “We will celebrate our holidays! Like always. We will smile and be happy. Like always. The difference is one. We will not expect a miracle. After all, we create 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 years-long rift between the Ukrainian and Russian branches of the Orthodox Church has deepened 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 young Ukrainians are now choosing to observe the holiday on December 25 in a bid to get away from Russia and towards the Western world.
Hours before Zelensky was to deliver his Christmas speech, a series of deadly Russian strikes hit the city of Kherson, where apartments and medical facilities were among the buildings hit, according to Yaroslav Yanushevych, head of the military administration of the region.
Yanushevych said on Sunday that a total of 16 people were killed in 71 Russian attacks in the wider Kherson region on Saturday, including three state emergency workers who were killed during mine clearance operations. Another 64 people suffered injuries of varying severity, he said.
Zelensky condemned the bombing of Kherson as an act of “terror”.
“The terrorist country continues to attract the Russian world in the form of bombardment of the civilian population. Kherson. In the morning, on Saturday, on Christmas Eve, in the city center,” he said.
“These are not military installations,” he wrote on Telegram on Saturday. “This is not a war by set rules. This is terror, this 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 start of the invasion, in a major setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Since then, Russian forces have stationed themselves across the river from Kherson and regularly bombard the city from there.