The ceasefire unilaterally ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin to coincide with the start of Orthodox Christmas began on Friday, but Ukraine and its allies rejected it as a cynical move designed to buy time on the battlefield and favor in the eyes. of the public.

The 36-hour truce declared by Russia took effect at noon Moscow time (4 am ET) and was to last until midnight Saturday (4 pm ET).

But Kyiv dropped the suggestion of a pause in hostilities for the holiday, and the situation on the front lines was unclear. About an hour after the Russian ceasefire began, air-raid sirens sounded in the capital Kyiv.

Ukrainian officials accused Putin of using Christmas as a cover to buy time for his army to regroup.

«Now they want to use Christmas as a cover to stop the advance of our guys in the (east) Donbas (region) for a while and bring equipment, ammunition and mobilized people closer to our positions,» President Volodmyr Zelenskyy said Thursday night. night.

«Everyone knows how the Kremlin uses the pauses in the war to continue the war with new force,» he added.

The country’s Western allies echoed that assessment, calling the move a propaganda ploy.

President Joe Biden told reporters on Thursday that Putin was still prepared to bomb «hospitals, day care centers and churches» on December 25 and on New Years.

«I think it’s trying to find some oxygen,» he said.

The United States said it was not treating the proposed ceasefire as a strategic change in Russia’s approach to the war, which will be one year old on February 24.

“We think this is a cynical ploy, so the Russians can use a little bit of time … to regroup and ultimately strike back with potentially even more vengeance, even more brutality, even more lethality if they get out. with his,» State said. Department spokesman Ned Price said at a news conference Thursday.

Putin’s surprise order instructed his defense minister to institute a ceasefire «along the entire line of contact between the parties in Ukraine» starting Friday, which is Christmas Eve for the Orthodox Church.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which uses the old Julian calendar, celebrates Christmas on January 7, later than the Gregorian calendar. Some Orthodox Christians in Ukraine recently began celebrating Christmas on December 25 to show their anger and defiance at Moscow.

“Based on the fact that a large number of citizens professing Orthodoxy live in the areas of hostilities, 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,” Putin said.

The wording and sudden nature of the proposal fueled suspicions, with analysts suggesting that the ceasefire was an attempt by Putin to further damage Ukraine’s reputation at home and perhaps even abroad.

«Putin cannot reasonably expect Ukraine to abide by the terms of this suddenly declared ceasefire and may have called for the ceasefire to frame Ukraine as intolerant and unwilling to take the necessary steps toward negotiations,» the Institute for the War Study, a Washington think tank, saying.

“Such a pause would disproportionately benefit Russian troops and begin to deprive Ukraine of the initiative,” the think tank added in its assessment late Thursday.