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Moscow ends self-proclaimed cease-fire

In this handout photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Jan 7, 2023, Russian troops attend the Orthodox Christmas service at the Russian Armed Forces' main cathedral in the Patriot military park in Kubinka just outside Moscow, Russia, Jan 7, 2023. (PHOTO / RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY PRESS SERVICE VIA AP)

MOSCOW — A self-declared cease-fire over Orthodox Christmas from the Kremlin ended on Sunday, with Russia vowing to push on with the special military operation in Ukraine until it reaches a victory.

President Vladimir Putin ordered a 36-hour cease-fire on Friday along the line of contact to observe Russia and Ukraine's Orthodox Christmas, which fell on Saturday.

Despite Russian troops' observance of the truce, Ukraine continued artillery shelling of populated areas and Russian positions, while Russian forces responded with fire, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Most Ukrainian Orthodox Christians have traditionally celebrated Christmas on Saturday, as have Orthodox Christians in Russia. But this year the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the country's largest, allowed also a Dec 25 celebration. Still, many observed the holiday on Saturday, flocking to churches and cathedrals.

After the cease-fire ended, the Kremlin said Moscow will press ahead with the special military operation in Ukraine.

"The tasks set by the president (Putin) for the special military operation will still be fulfilled," Putin's first deputy chief of staff Sergey Kiriyenko was quoted by Russian state news agency TASS as saying. "And there definitely will be a victory."

There is no end in sight to the conflict, now in its 11th month, which has killed thousands, displaced millions and turned Ukrainian cities into rubble.

Ukrainian officials also reported blasts in regions that make up the broader Donbas region, the front line in the conflict where fighting has been raging for months.

Missile strikes

Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region, said there were nine missile strikes on the region overnight, including seven on the battered city of Kramatorsk.

Blasts were also heard in the city of Zaporizhzhia, a local official said, without giving any immediate report on damage or casualties.

Minutes after the start of the cease-fire on Friday, the White House announced $3.75 billion in weapons and other aid for Ukraine and its European backers.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the United States for including tank-killing armored vehicles in its latest package of military aid, saying they are "exactly what is needed" for Ukrainian troops locked in combat against Russian forces, even as both sides celebrated Orthodox Christmas.

Ukrainian officials denounced the unilateral 36-hour cease-fire as a ploy and said it appeared to have been ignored by some of Moscow's forces. Ukrainian officials reported Russian shelling attacks in the Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhia regions on Saturday.

However, Russia's Defense Ministry insisted on Saturday that its forces along the 1,100-kilometer front line were observing the Kremlin-ordered truce, but returned fire when attacked.

The latest round of US military assistance was the biggest to date for Ukraine. For the first time, it included 50 Bradley armored vehicles and 500 anti-tank missiles they can fire. Germany also announced it would supply around 40 Marder armored personnel carriers and France promised wheeled AMX-10 RC tank destroyers.

Agencies via Xinhua