On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered a 36-hour ceasefire over Orthodox Christmas in Ukraine, stating that the ceasefire would be in effect from midday on Friday until midnight on Saturday. The offer was made in response to a call for a Christmas truce from Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. However, Ukraine rejected the offer, stating that there could be no truce until Russia withdrew its forces from occupied Ukrainian land. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy argued that Russia was attempting to use the ceasefire as a cover to stop Ukrainian advances in the Donbas region and bring in more equipment. In addition, Zelenskyy's Presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, tweeted that a ceasefire could only happen if Russia left occupied territories in Ukraine. Podolyak went on to say that unlike Russia, Ukraine was not attacking foreign territory or killing civilians, but was only destroying "members of the occupation army on its territory."
The United States also responded to Putin's ceasefire order, with President Joe Biden stating that it was simply an effort to find breathing room for the Russian war effort in Ukraine. Biden argued that Putin was "ready to bomb hospitals and nurseries and churches" on Christmas Day and New Year's Day and that he was "trying to find some oxygen."
Earlier on Thursday, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, had called for both sides of the war in Ukraine to observe a Christmas truce so "Orthodox people can attend services on Christmas Eve and on the day of the Nativity of Christ." The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest in the Eastern Orthodox communion, with approximately 100 million followers within Russia and more outside of the country. However, Ukraine dismissed the request made by the patriarch, who had previously justified the war as part of Russia's "metaphysical struggle" to prevent a liberal ideological encroachment from the West. In response, Podolyak stated that the Russian Orthodox Church is a "war propagandist" that had incited the "mass murder" of Ukrainians and the militarization of Russia. He went on to say that the church's statement about the "Christmas Truce" was a "cynical trap and an element of propaganda."
In recent months, Ukraine's security services have cracked down on Moscow-linked churches and have raided properties accused of engaging in anti-Ukrainian activity and supporting Russia's invasion. In December, Ukraine placed punitive measures against seven senior clerics who were allegedly among Orthodox leaders known to have been sympathetic to Moscow.
Earlier on Thursday, Russia and Ukraine made it clear that there would be no negotiations between them anytime soon, effectively rejecting an offer of mediation by Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had spoken separately to both Putin and Zelenskyy. The conflict in Ukraine, which began in 2014, has resulted in the deaths of more than 13,000 people and has displaced thousands more.