(Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin pledged on the eve of Orthodox Christmas to support soldiers who “with weapons in their hands” defend Russia’s interests, ordering his government to provide more support to those fighting and calling for his people to be merciful and just.
“Many of our men, our brave and heroic Russian warriors, even today, on this holiday, defend the interests of our country with weapons in their hands,” Putin said during a meeting Saturday evening with the families of Russian soldiers died in Moscow. Ukraine.
Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, in what kyiv and its Western allies have called an unprovoked imperialist land grab.
Nearly two years later, the war, which has killed thousands and displaced millions, has devolved into intensifying airstrikes on each other’s territories as both sides struggle to make significant gains. along the front line.
State television footage showed the Russian leader attending with a small group of families of slain soldiers an intimate midnight service, known as the Divine Liturgy, later Saturday at a chapel at his residence in Novo- Ogaryovo, outside Moscow.
This year, Putin did not call for a ceasefire in Ukraine to coincide with the holiday that many Orthodox Christians celebrate on January 6 and 7 – as was the case a year ago.
Ukraine said on Saturday that a Russian missile strike killed 11 people and injured 10 others in and around the eastern Ukrainian town of Pokrovsk, while a Russian-installed official accused Kiev for bombing parts of Donetsk now under Moscow’s control.
Putin, who faces an election in March and has softened his rhetoric to focus on traditional values and unity, has ordered his entire government to provide more support to the families of slain servicemen.
“I would like our meeting to be a clear and understandable signal to all my colleagues throughout the Russian Federation and at all levels – a clear signal to ensure that my colleagues are always and everywhere with you, I repeat, at all levels of power,” he told the families.
KINDNESS, MERCY AND JUSTICE
In another message posted on the Kremlin website, Putin called on Russians to follow the “unshakable” values of “goodness, mercy and justice” and called on the Russian Orthodox Church to help strengthen “the institution families” and patriotism.
Putin has used the Orthodox Church as a powerful ally to promote his vision of a “Russian world” based on traditional conservative values, in contrast to what he describes as a decadent West. Reflecting this trend, Russia last year banned what it called “the international LGBT social movement” on grounds of “extremism.”
At Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, people were able to pray in front of Russia’s most famous religious painting – Andrei Rublyov’s 15th-century icon of the Trinity – which was removed from a restoration site and displayed for a service on Orthodox Christmas Eve.
Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, bowed his head in front of the painting and sprinkled incense on a censer as believers crossed themselves.
The BBC Russian Service reported that the fragile artwork had been transported to the cathedral the previous night in temperatures of -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) and displayed in a plain glass display case without special protection to regulate its temperature and humidity.
Putin transferred the artwork from Moscow’s Tretyakov Museum and handed it over to the Orthodox Church last year, despite opposition from cultural experts who expressed fears over its preservation.
Christmas services were also held in Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine – unlike the rest of the country, where President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a law last July to change the date of the Christmas holiday from January 7 to December 25 , as part of a campaign to “renounce Russian heritage”.
In the southern Russian town of Belgorod, where 25 people were killed Dec. 30 in the deadliest cross-border attack of Ukraine’s war, Mayor Valentin Demidov said Christmas Eve services had been canceled.
The town, located just 40 km from the border with Ukraine, has suffered further sporadic rocket attacks over the past week, overshadowing New Year and Christmas celebrations.
(Reporting by Reuters in Moscow, Maria Starkova in Lviv and Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; editing by Leslie Adler)
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