Kyiv, Ukraine — President Vladimir V. Putin on Sunday insisted he was ready to negotiate his invasion of Ukraine, an oft-repeated statement that was dismissed as lip service by U.S. and Ukrainian officials as air raid sirens blasted Ukrainians already excited months ago of war and bitter cold to take refuge on Christmas Day.
There was a nationwide alert in the morning and a second in the afternoon lifted within about two hours, and there were no immediate reports of Russian strikes landing in Ukraine. But the air raid alerts increased the country’s concerns first Christmas since the Russian invasion, after days of warnings from officials that Mr. Putin’s forces would trigger a new wave of strikes against energy infrastructure.
As Ukrainians celebrated the holiday with defiance, gathering for Christmas services despite the sirens in churches and chapels, Mr Putin repeated claims that his war was defending Russia’s national interests and that Ukraine and its allies were responsible for a conflict entering his 11th month.
“We are ready to negotiate some acceptable outcomes with all participants in this process, but that’s their business – we don’t oppose negotiations, they do,” Mr Putin told an interviewer on state television in Russia.
Top Russian officials have frequently stated that they are ready to start negotiations – Mr Putin said last week that his goal is “to end this war” – almost in the same breath emphasizing a determination to keep fighting. US officials said Russia has given no indication that it is willing to negotiate in good faith.
On Sunday, Ukrainians seemed determined to celebrate an ordinary holiday as possible.
“Nobody canceled birthdays, and nobody canceled Christmas,” said Oleh Moor, 50, a chef in Kyiv. “You can’t tell a kid, ‘Wait until the war is over.’ Maybe there won’t be any music, maybe there won’t be concerts like last year, but we live on.”
Because Russian infrastructure strikes, the Ukrainian capital is largely devoid of festive lights and decorations, but authorities have placed a generator-powered Christmas tree in a central square that remains lit during frequent power outages.
On Sunday, Mr. Moor and his family stopped by on the way there christmas dinner His children posed for photos with a Santa Claus.
“We will not let the enemy know that we are broken,” said Mr. Mohr.
There have been no serious peace talks between Russia and Ukraine for months, and Ukrainian officials have said they will not negotiate until Moscow withdraws its troops. On Sunday, Ukrainian officials dismissed Mr Putin’s remarks with Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior presidential adviser, who said the Russian leader “needs to get back to reality”.
“Russia does not want negotiations but is trying to avoid responsibility,” he said. Podoliak wrote on Twitter.
In the autumn and early winter, Russian forces fired salvos of cruise missiles and launched drones at Ukrainian cities, targeting energy and heating infrastructure. Military analysts said it was part of a Russian strategy to plunge the country into darkness and cold to demoralize the population.
The bombings typically occurred at intervals of about a week. The actions on Sunday that triggered the air alert could have been either Russia firing missiles or sending planes that trigger false alarms.
But the air raid alarm is also a precautionary measure and no actual strikes follow.
When alerting, Ukrainians often go to corridors, bathrooms or other areas of their homes that are away from windows and considered safer in the event of a strike. Some people go into basements or quickly wrap their children in warm clothes to take shelter in a subway station.
The Ukrainians in the capital are also pinning their hopes on the country’s air defenses.
But in cities closer to the front lines, no defense can protect against artillery fire. Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said in a post on Twitter on Sunday that artillery destroyed the only church in the village of Kyselivka in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine.
A domino effect of war Views on when Christmas should be celebrated have changed, with more Orthodox Ukrainians now saying they want to do so on December 5th. 25, in line with most of Europe, and not on the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar date of 7/1. Over the past year, support for celebrating Christmas in December has risen sharply. A social poll by the Rating Group found that 44 percent of Ukrainians plan to celebrate in December, up from 26 percent last year.
On Sunday, churchgoers thronged the small chapel of Kyiv’s St. Sophia Cathedral, one of the capital’s oldest churches, for a Christmas service. Wrapped up in the cold, they continued their prayers unmoved, even when the air raid alarm sounded in the morning.
In Rome, Pope Francis called from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica during his Christmas address, asking God to “enlighten the minds of those who have the power to still the thunder of arms and to put an immediate end to this senseless war.”
The Pope’s request came one day after Russian shelling ripped through the center of the southern city of Kherson, killing at least 10 people and prompting President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine to say the holidays “have a bitter aftertaste for us this year”.
“Dinner at the family table can’t be that tasty and warm – there can be empty chairs around it,” he said in a Christmas Eve message. “And our houses and streets can’t be that bright. And Christmas bells can not ring so loud and inspirational. By air raid sirens or, even worse, gunfire and explosions.”
These sentiments were evident in Kyiv, where friends and relatives of Ukrainian POWs gathered on Christmas Eve and put on a performance titled “Christmas in Captivity,” which emulated the image of the Last Supper with barbed wire and empty steel bowls.
“Thanks to our soldiers, who sacrifice their normal lives to protect us, we have this opportunity to gather at the rich Ukrainian table,” said Yevhen Sukharnikov, one of the organizers, whose 24-year-old son is a prisoner of war.
“They are constantly being relocated and we have no way of contacting them,” said Mr. Sukharnikov.
The toll of 10 months of war continued to mount. The Ukrainian military said on Sunday that three demining experts were killed in the Kherson region a day earlier while they were clearing mines and unexploded ordnance left behind by the Russian military retired from there last month.
A day after the deadly attack in the city of Kherson, a long line formed outside a blood donation center on Sunday, photos shared by Ukrainian officials on social media showed. More than 60 people were injured in the strikes, which hit a shopping district and residential buildings in one of the deadliest Russian attacks on the city in nearly two months since it was retaken by Ukrainian forces.
“People have gathered to help their fellow residents injured by yesterday’s Russian terrorist attack,” the Ukrainian military said tweeted. “Remorse. Invincibility. Compassion. Victory.”
Oleksandr Chubko Spirit Laura Bouschnak contributed reporting.