Putin praises Russian ‘defenders’ as Ukraine deflects another barrage | Russia-Ukraine war News

The Russian leader marked the eve of Orthodox Christmas with a call for ‘justice’ as drones and missiles struck Ukraine.

Celebrating Orthodox Christmas, President Vladimir Putin has pledged to support soldiers defending Russia as his army sent another barrage of drones and missiles at Ukraine overnight.

Speaking on the eve of Sunday’s Orthodox Christmas, the Kremlin chief promised military families that his government would offer increased backing to “Russian warriors” engaged in the invasion of Ukraine, launched in February 2022. Unlike last year, Putin did not call this year for a ceasefire.

“Many of our men, our courageous, heroic guys, Russian warriors, even now, on this holiday, defend the interests of our country with arms in hand,” he said as he met bereaved families of Russian soldiers who have died in Ukraine.

However, anger persists in some quarters over Russia’s treatment of its soldiers in the “meatgrinder” of Ukraine. In particular, following a mobilisation drive in September 2022, a lack of training and equipment was criticised. On Saturday, the wives of Russians mobilised to fight in Ukraine demanded the return of their husbands from the front.

Many of those soldiers were spending Christmas in trenches, with the front-line war largely bogged down. Amid the stalemate, air raids have increased in frequency and intensity.

Ukraine’s air force reported on Telegram on Sunday that it had shot down 21 out of 28 drones launched by Russia overnight, largely in the south and east of the country. Three cruise missiles also targeted the country, it said, without offering further details.

“The enemy is shifting the focus of attack to the frontline territories – Kherson and Dnipropetrovsk regions were attacked by drones,” Air Force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat told national television. The drones were predominantly destroyed by mobile teams, saving “scarce” air defence missiles, he added.

Dnipropetrovsk regional authorities said on Telegram that 12 people were injured in a drone attack in the city of Dnipro.

The previous day, the Ukrainian authorities said a Russian missile attack killed 11 people and injured 10 in the eastern city of Pokrovsk. A Russian-installed official accused Kyiv of shelling parts of Donetsk now under Moscow’s control.

Orthodox Christmas celebrations were cancelled in the Russia border city of Belgorod, where 25 people were killed on December 30 in Ukraine’s deadliest cross-border attack of the war. The city has come under further sporadic rocket attacks within the past week.

‘Goodness, mercy and justice’

In a separate greeting issued on the Kremlin’s website, Putin called on Russians to follow the “unshakable” values of “goodness, mercy and justice” and on the Russian Orthodox Church to help strengthen “the institution of families” and patriotism.

Facing a presidential election in March, Putin has sought to further extol “traditional values”. The Orthodox Church has long been a reliable pillar of his regime and has helped stoke support for the invasion of Russia’s neighbour.

Ukraine is also Orthodox, but this year it changed its tradition of joining Russia in celebrating Christmas on January 7. Instead, it officially marked the December 25 holiday for the first time as part of an ongoing effort to remove Russian influence from the country.

The change was enacted in a law signed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in July, reflecting both the Ukrainians’ dismay with the 23-month-old Russian invasion and their assertion of a national identity.

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