Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced a temporary ceasefire in the ongoing war in Ukraine to allow Ukrainian Orthodox Christians to observe Orthodox Christmas. The 36-hour curfew will begin at 12:00 on January 6 and end at 24:00 on January 7. Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on those dates.
“Taking into account the appeal of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, I instruct the Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation to introduce a ceasefire regime along the entire line of contact of the parties in Ukraine from 12:00 on January 6, 2023, to 24:00 on January 7, 2023,” Putin said on Thursday.
Mr Putin also asked the Ukrainian side to declare a ceasefire like it has done so that Ukrainians can celebrate a hitch-free Christmas.
“Based on the fact that a large number of citizens professing Orthodoxy live in the combat areas, we call on the Ukrainian side to declare a ceasefire and give them the opportunity to attend services on Christmas Eve, as well as on the Day of the Nativity of Christ,” the statement added.
However, Ukrainian officials have described the move as a trap and that Kyiv will not fall for it.
“Keep hypocrisy to yourself,” Ukraine tells Russia
The news of Russia’s ceasefire has not been received as good news in Ukraine. To them, there is no difference between what is happening now and what will happen during the duration of the ceasefire.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Zelenskyy, said there was no need for Ukraine to declare a ceasefire because it does not attack foreign territory and doesn’t kill Civilians as the Russian Federation does.
“[The Russian Federation] must leave the occupied territories – only then will it have a “temporary truce”. Keep hypocrisy to yourself,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said it is wrong for Russia to propose a ceasefire when it has completely ignored President Zelenskyy’s “Peace Formula of ten steps.”
“Their current “unilateral ceasefire” can not and should not be taken seriously,” Kuleba tweeted.
The UN welcomes the truce
The United Nations said it is in support of Russia’s decision to temporarily ceasefire in Ukraine but called for a total end to the almost 11-month war.
“Christmas represents a holy period for both Russians and Ukrainians. The possibility that this holy period be respected with a cessation of all hostilities is always welcomed by the Secretary-General, knowing that this will not replace a just peace in line with the UN Charter and international law,” UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric told reporters on Thursday.
The romance between the Orthodox Church and the Russian State
Putin’s decision came after the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Krill, called on Russia and Ukraine to a ceasefire for the duration of the celebration.
Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow, said: “I, Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, appeal to all the parties involved in the internecine conflict to cease fire and establish a Christmas truce from 12:00 on January 6 until 24:00 on January 7 so that Orthodox people can attend services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.”
Kirill, since he assumed leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, has been a close ally of President Putin. Many see him as one man that could influence the dreaded Russian leader. In 2012, when Putin was campaigning to become President of the Russian Federation, he had the full support of Kirill. The Patriarch of Moscow said Putin’s rule is a miracle and organised a special prayer ceremony twice after his election in 2012 and reelection in 2018.
The relationship between Putin and Kirill could date back to the days of the KGB. The Patriarch is believed to be a former KGB agent. Putin was also a member of the security team. In 2009, Forbes magazine, after the installation of Kirill as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, said Kirill was an active member of the KGB.
“According to material from the Soviet archives, Kirill was a KGB agent (as was Alexei). This means he was more than just an informer, of whom there were millions in the Soviet Union He was an active officer of the organisation,” The Forbes Magazine stated. “Neither Kirill nor Alexei ever acknowledged or apologized for their ties with the security agencies.”
Regarding the war in Ukraine, Kirill had publicly declared his support for President Putin and defended his decision to invade Ukraine.
“We do not want to fight with anyone. Russia has never attacked anyone. Surprisingly, a large and powerful country has never attacked anyone, it has only defended its borders,” Kirill said after the invasion.
As a religious leader who is supposed to preach and promote peace, many have criticised the Patriarch of Moscow for supporting Putin at all times, even in wartime.
Since his installation in 2009, Kirill has brought the Church closer to the Russian state. He is believed to be using his unchecked powers to influence the decisions of the government, including the ban on other religious groups.
Why celebrate Christmas on January 7?
Although most of the world celebrated Christmas on December 25, 12% of Christendoms are waiting for January 7 to celebrate it. Most of them are Orthodox Christians in Russia, Ukraine Greece and parts of Ethiopia and Egypt.
Before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, most of the world used the Julian calendar. While a year is supposed to have 365 days, the Julian calendar has 365.25 days in one year, which was fractionally too long. The calendar gradually fell out of line with seasons as it did not match the earth’s rotation around the sun.
Under the Julian calendar, Christmas is celebrated between January 6 and January 7. However, the Gregorian calendar corresponded with the astronomical year because it has 365.2 days in one year.
On September 3 1752, the British government completely abandoned the Julian calendar and adopted the Gregorian. September 3 automatically became September 14 because of the adjustment, causing the British to lose 11 days in its history. That is why in its records, nothing happened between September 3 and 13, 1972.
The loss of 11 days also means Christmas will no longer be on January 7 but on December 25. That is why some regard January 7 as the old Christmas date.
Although most of the world accepted the Gregorian calendar, many Orthodox Christians are yet to do so. Hence they celebrate Christmas on January 7. The majority of Ukrainians and Russians are Orthodox Christians and will be celebrating Christmas on Saturday. Putin’s proposed ceasefire will begin mid-day on Friday and end at midnight on Christmas day.
The extent to which the ceasefire will affect the war remains unknown until mid-day on Friday. However, Russian-backed officials of the annexed Ukrainian regions have said the ceasefire will not prevent them from responding to Ukrainian threats when necessary.