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Russian President Vladimir Putin orders ceasefire in Ukraine over Orthodox Christmas

05-01-2023: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered his defense minister to implement a ceasefire in Ukraine for 36 hours on 6 and 7 January 2023 to allow Orthodox Christians to attend Christmas services, according to a statement from the Kremlin.

Many Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on 7 January.

Earlier on Thursday, Patriarch Kirill – the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church and a vocal supporter of the war – had called for a temporary ceasefire.

Proceeding from the fact that a large number of citizens professing Orthodoxy live in the areas of hostilities, we call on the Ukrainian side to declare a ceasefire and allow them to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on Christmas Day, Kremlin said.

A senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Mykhailo Podolyak, cast the Russian Orthodox Church as a “war propagandist” that had incited the “mass murder” of Ukrainians and the militarisation of Russia.

“The statement of the Russian Orthodox Church about the ‘Christmas Truce‘ is a cynical trap and an element of propaganda, he said.

Until recently, commemorating the birth of Jesus in December was not accepted in Ukraine. However, due to Russia’s invasion, many people’s opinions have changed. In October, the leadership of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is independent of the Russian church and one of two branches of Orthodox Christianity in the country, agreed to allow people to celebrate on December 25th. The choice of dates has significant political and religious implications in a country with rival Orthodox churches, and small changes to rituals can hold a lot of meaning in the ongoing cultural conflict that coincides with the ongoing military conflict.

Christmas celebrations in Ukraine were thrown into disarray following a decree by the Synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine that local church rectors can choose which date to celebrate the holiday. This decision triggered criticism by some members of the church, who argued that the change could further divide an already divided country.