(CNN) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Ukrainians for “patience and faith” following a defiant Christmas speech after a deadly wave of Russian attacks hit the southern city of Kherson.
Ten months after Russia’s war against Ukraine, Zelensky spoke of perseverance and going all the way, while acknowledging that “freedom comes at a high price.”
He urged the nation to stand firm in the face of a bleak winter of power blackouts, the absence of loved ones and the ever-present threat of Russian attacks.
Zelensky’s message came after Ukrainian officials said Russia had launched rocket attacks on central Kherson on Christmas Eve, killing at least 10 people and injuring dozens. Zelensky described those attacks as “killing for intimidation and pleasure.”
In his Christmas message, Zelensky acknowledged that all the holidays have a bitter taste for the embattled country this year.
“We can feel the traditional Spirit of Christmas in a different way. Dinner at the family table cannot be so tasty and warm.
“There may be empty chairs around you. And our houses and streets can’t be that bright. And Christmas bells can ring not so loud and inspiring. Through air raid sirens, or worse, gunshots and explosions.”
He said that Ukraine has resisted the forces of evil for three hundred days and eight years, however, “in this battle, we have another powerful and effective weapon. The hammer and sword of our spirit and conscience. The wisdom of God. Courage and bravery. Virtues that incline us to do good and defeat evil”.
Addressing the Ukrainian people directly, he said the country would sing Christmas carols louder than the sound of a power generator and listen to the voices and greetings of relatives “in our hearts” even if communication services and the Internet are down.
“And even in total darkness, we will meet, to hold each other tight. And if it’s not hot, we’ll give each other a big hug to warm ourselves up.”
Zelensky concluded: “We will celebrate our holidays! As always. We will smile and be happy. As always. The difference is one. We are not going to wait for a miracle. After all, we created it ourselves.”
Ukraine has traditionally celebrated Christmas on January 7 in accordance with Orthodox Christian customs, which recognize the birth of Jesus according to the Julian calendar.
But a year-long gap between the Ukrainian and Russian branches of the Orthodox Church has widened since the invasion of Moscow in February.
A branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church announced last month that it would allow its churches to celebrate Christmas on December 25. And many younger Ukrainians now choose to celebrate the holiday on December 25 in an attempt to move away from Russia and closer to the Western world.
attacks on Kherson
Hours before Zelensky was to deliver his Christmas speech, a series of deadly Russian attacks struck the city of Kherson, where apartments and medical facilities were among the affected buildings, according to Yaroslav Yanushevych, head of the region’s military administration.
Yanushevych said on Sunday that a total of 16 people had been killed in 71 Russian strikes in the wider Kherson region on Saturday, including three state emergency workers killed during mine clearance operations. Another 64 people suffered injuries of varying severity, he said.
Zelensky condemned the bombardment of Kherson as an act of “terror.”
“The terrorist country continues to bring the Russian world in the form of bombing the civilian population of Kherson. In the morning, on Saturday, on Christmas Eve, in the central part of the city, ”he said.
“These are not military installations,” he wrote on Telegram on Saturday. “This is not a war by defined rules. It is terror, it is killing for intimidation and pleasure”.
In November, the Russian army withdrew from the city of Kherson, the only regional capital it had captured since the invasion began, in a major setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Since then, Russian forces have positioned themselves across the river from Kherson and regularly shell the city from there.