KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday hailed the shooting down of two Russian fighter jets on Christmas Eve and said “this Christmas sets the right mood for the entire year ahead.”
In a Christmas message marking the first time the country has officially observed the holiday on Dec. 25 rather than Jan. 7, Zelenskyy also referred to Ukraine’s claim to have destroyed a further three Russian fighter planes on Friday.
“The stronger our air defense, the fewer Russian devils will be in our skies and on our land,” Zelenskyy said, praising Ukraine’s “capabilities in negotiations with partners, capabilities in bolstering our sky shield, capabilities in defending our homeland from Russian terrorists. ”
His upbeat assessment comes amid growing concern about battlefield disappointments and about the future of Western aid for Ukraine’s war effort. Despite high hopes for a summer counteroffensive, the front line has barely moved and political disputes in allied countries leave billions of dollars of aid in doubt.
Russia on Monday claimed a battlefield advance. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow’s forces had taken control of Marinka, a now-deserted strategic town about 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of Donetsk, the largest city in Russian-held territory.
“This allows us today to more effectively protect Donetsk from attacks,” Shoigu said at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ukrainian officials didn’t comment on the possible seizure of the town.
Ukraine said that along with the two Russian planes that were shot down during the night, its air defense forces intercepted 28 Russian drones. The air force said 31 drones were launched in all, but no details were given about what the three that weren’t intercepted may have struck.
A summary from the Ukrainian presidential office said that one civilian was killed and at least four wounded in Russian attacks over the previous 24 hours. The death occurred in the town of Chornobaivka in the Kherson region, which is under Ukrainian control and experiences frequent attacks.
Zelenskyy signed legislation in July to move the date for the Christmas public holiday. Ukraine is predominantly Orthodox Christian, but the faith is divided between two churches, one of which had long affiliation with the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which didn’t recognize the authority of the Russian church and had been regarded as schismatic, was granted full recognition in 2019 by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Orthodoxy’s top authority.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which was a branch of the Russian church, announced in 2022 after the start of the Russia-Ukraine war that it was breaking ties with Moscow and considered itself autonomous. However, its parishes continue to follow the same liturgical calendar as the Russian church and will observe Christmas on Jan. 7.
Many Ukrainians embraced the change with enthusiasm, viewing it as a positive step that will further strengthen their cultural separation from Russia.
“It’s historical justice,” said Yevhen Konyk, a 44-year-old serviceman who, along with his family, participated in traditional celebrations at the open-air museum in Kyiv. “We need to move forward not only with the world but also with the traditions of our country and overcome the imperial remnants we had.”
Konyk, who serves in Kyiv, said he is hopeful of victory next year but noted the dire situation on the frontline.
“This year, everyone expected major achievements on the front, but it turned out that the predictions were too optimistic. The enemy was also preparing,” he said.
Oksana Poviakel, the director of the Pyrohiv Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine, where the celebrations of Christmas took place, said that celebrating on Dec. 25 is “another important factor of self-identification.”
“We are separating ourselves from the neighbor who is currently trying to destroy our state, who is killing our people, destroying our homes, and burning our land,” she said.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine