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Russian President Putin orders a temporary cease-fire in Ukraine

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is deeply skeptical of Russian President Vladimir Putin's call for a 36-hour cease-fire over Orthodox Christmas this weekend.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Putin yesterday ordered his military to begin this cease-fire to let people observe the holiday, and he urged Ukraine to do the same. Zelenskyy, in his nightly address, accused Russia of simply trying to buy time to regroup and replenish its stocks along the front lines.

MARTÍNEZ: Joining us now from Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine is NPR's Tim Mak. Tim, so what sparked Putin's proposal that Ukrainians, I'm sure, are taking with a grain of salt?

TIM MAK, BYLINE: So he said he was making the move in response to a call from the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to halt the fighting so that those who want to could safely attend Orthodox Christmas services. And he said he ordered a cease-fire from noon today. Now, the Ukrainian response has been to reject any deal. Here's Zelenskyy in a direct appeal to Russians in Russian last evening.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Speaking Russian).

MAK: He said that everyone knows that Russia will use this time to, quote, "continue the war with new vigor." And he called on Russian people to help end the war - to, quote, "find the courage for at least 36 hours, at least during Christmas, to free themselves from their shameful fear of one person - the Kremlin." Now, top Ukrainian national security official Oleksiy Danilov went even further, calling the cease-fire, quote, "lies and hypocrisy," adding that they would affirmatively continue the war. He said, quote, "we will tear you apart in the serene silence of the Ukrainian night." And here's what a key Putin ally in Ukraine had to say. Denis Pushilin, a pro-Russian separatist leader, noted that it was merely a temporary cease-fire and that any, quote, "provocations" would be responded to.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. So what's been the response from the U.S. and Ukraine's other Western allies? I'm sure just as skeptical.

MAK: Yes. Well, President Biden echoed his Ukrainian counterpart, pointing out that Russia bombed Ukraine on December 25th and New Year's Eve and New Year's, all through the holidays, and also has been noted to bomb hospitals and churches. In fact, after Putin's offer was made, the White House publicized that America will give Ukraine Bradley Fighting Vehicles and that Germany would also pitch in by sending their own armored fighting vehicles and an additional Patriot air defense system. Now, this is something Zelenskyy has been asking for for some time, but he still wants more - for example, things like tanks, fighter jets and longer range missiles.

MARTÍNEZ: There in Ukraine, Christmas is politicized. Can you explain why that is, and how that maybe might account for Ukraine's skepticism?

MAK: Right. So there's this big debate in Ukraine right now over whether to celebrate Christmas on December 25 or January 7. Now, January 7 is traditionally when many Ukrainians and Russian Christians have celebrated Christmas. So there are powerful memories and feelings and traditions associated with the January marking of the date. But in recent years, some Ukrainians have begun celebrating Christmas along with the West, with Europe, in December. The full-scale invasion by Russia has intensified this debate, and those who support a December Christmas want to disassociate themselves further from Russia and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Tim Mak in Zaporizhzhia. Tim, thanks.

MAK: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.