Pope Francis Sunday delivered his traditional Christmas address from St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, describing Russia’s war in Ukraine as “senseless” and calling for an end to the conflict.
“May the Lord inspire us to offer concrete gestures of solidarity to assist all those who are suffering, and may he enlighten the minds of those who have the power to silence the thunder of weapons and put an immediate end to this senseless war,” he said.
Recalling how Bethlehem means “house of bread,” the 86-year-old pontiff called on the world to remember children who go hungry today while so much food is wasted, and resources are spent instead on weapons. He pointed out how the war in Ukraine has worsened the reality of world hunger, especially in Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, which is facing widespread famine. He said food is used as a weapon of war by making distribution difficult to people already suffering.
“On this day, let us learn from the prince of peace and — starting with those who hold political responsibilities — commit ourselves to making food solely an instrument of peace,” he said.
In an interview that aired Sunday, President Vladimir Putin said Russia is ready to negotiate with all parties involved in the war in Ukraine, but that Kyiv and its Western backers have refused to engage in talks.
The Kremlin says it will fight until all its aims are achieved while Kyiv says it will not rest until every Russian soldier is ejected from all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
“We are ready to negotiate with everyone involved about acceptable solutions, but that is up to them — we are not the ones refusing to negotiate; they are,” Putin told Rossiya 1 state television in the interview.
An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Putin needed to return to reality and acknowledge that it was Russia which did not want any negotiations.
“Russia single-handedly attacked Ukraine and is killing citizens,” Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “Russia doesn’t want negotiations but tries to avoid responsibility.” He echoed the CIA’s assessment earlier in December that Russia was not yet serious about a real negotiation to end the war.
Putin argued Russia was acting in the “right direction” in Ukraine because the West, led by the United States, was trying to cleave Russia apart. Washington denies it is plotting Russia’s collapse.
“I believe that we are acting in the right direction; we are defending our national interests, the interests of our citizens, our people. And we have no other choice but to protect our citizens,” he said.
On Sunday morning, the Reuters news agency reported that air raid sirens wailed in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and across the country, apparently in response to Russian planes taking off in Belarus.
On Christmas Eve, Russia launched an artillery attack on central Kherson in southern Ukraine, killing at least 10 people and injuring 55 others. Sixteen people were killed in Kherson and Kherson Oblast that day, said the regional governor, Yaroslav Yanushevich.
Zelenskyy condemned the Russian attack on Kherson, saying that the attack is “terror; it is killing for the sake of intimidation and pleasure.”
One rocket landed next to a supermarket in downtown Kherson, Yuriy Sobolevskyi, first deputy head of Kherson Oblast Council, said in a Telegram post. According to Ukraine’s interior ministry, 66 cars were on fire after the shelling.
Photos of the strike — burning cars and what appeared to be corpses — were on the president’s Telegram account.
“Social networks will most likely mark these photos as ‘sensitive content,'” Zelenskyy wrote. “But this is not sensitive content — it is the real life of Ukraine and Ukrainians.”
In a video address to Ukrainians celebrating Christmas late Saturday, Zelenskyy said they were creating their own Christmas miracle by remaining unbowed and defiant in the face of Russian attacks.
“We endured at the beginning of the war — we withstood attacks, threats, nuclear blackmail, terror, missile strikes. We will endure this winter because we know what we are fighting for,” he said.
“Dinner at the family table cannot be so tasty and warm. There may be empty chairs around it. And our houses and streets can’t be so bright,” he said.
But he added the path of the Ukrainian people is illuminated by faith and patience.
Some material for this article came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.