Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said Russia’s government rejected calls for a ceasefire over the Orthodox Easter holidays.
“Unfortunately, Russia rejected the proposal to establish an Easter truce. This shows very well how the leaders of this state actually treat the Christian faith, one of the most joyful and important holidays,” Zelenskyy said in his daily evening address on Thursday.
“But we keep our hope. Hope for peace, hope that life will overcome death,” he added.
Orthodox Christians, the largest religious group in Russia and Ukraine, celebrate Easter on Sunday, which also marks two months since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into the neighbouring country on February 24.
While it was not immediately clear which truce proposal Zelenskyy was referring to, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres this week called for a four-day truce during the Holy Week to allow civilian evacuations and the delivery of humanitarian aid in hard-hit areas.
Separately, a Ukrainian association of churches and religious communities proposed an Easter break, too. The head of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church also urged Ukrainians to forgo nighttime Easter services, fearing Russian bombardment.
Responding to the UN’s appeal, an envoy from Moscow responded that he was “a bit sceptical”, saying that Russia had offered to create humanitarian corridors but that Ukraine did not use them or had misused them.
Ukrainian authorities, though, have repeatedly accused Russia of hindering efforts to create such safe routes and of ceasefire violations that prevented their implementation.
On Thursday, a planned humanitarian corridor from occupied villages in the Kherson region to Dnipro did not go ahead due to constant shelling from Russian forces, Ukraine’s army said. Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk made similar comments about a planned humanitarian corridor from the southern port city of Mariupol.
“The shelling started near the collection point, which forced the corridor to be closed,” she said on Telegram late on Thursday. She added, however, that a four-bus convoy was allowed on Wednesday to transport 79 civilians from Mariupol to the Zaporizhzhia region – a development she said gave her “hope”.
Putin on Thursday declared Mariupol “liberated” after weeks of relentless bombardment and ordered his troops to blockade a giant steelworks where Ukrainian forces are holding out, having refused an earlier ultimatum to surrender or die.
Asked about Putin’s victory declaration in Mariupol, United States State Department spokesman Ned Price said it was “yet more disinformation from their well-worn playbook”.
Mariupol, once home to 400,000 people, has seen not only the most intense battle of the war that started when Russian forces invaded on February 24, but also its worst humanitarian catastrophe.
Ukraine estimates tens of thousands of civilians have died in the city. The UN and Red Cross say the civilian toll is at least in the thousands.