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Breaking with tradition, Ukrainians celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25 this year

A Ukrainian serviceman holds his daughter as they take part in Christmas celebrations in the village of Pyrogove, near Kyiv on Monday.
Sergei Supinsky
/
AFP via Getty Images
A Ukrainian serviceman holds his daughter as they take part in Christmas celebrations in the village of Pyrogove, near Kyiv on Monday.

On Sunday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed his nation and led its citizens in a short prayer to usher in Christmas Day.

"Today, all Ukrainians are together," Zelenskyy said in a pre-recorded video shared on YouTube.

"We all meet Christmas together," he said. "On the same date, as one big family, as one nation, as one united country. And today our common prayer will be stronger than ever. The people's prayer. Today, it will unite millions of voices — more than ever before. And it will resonate today without a time difference of two weeks. Resonate together with Europe and the world."

In central Kyiv, a big Christmas tree is decorated with blue and yellow ornaments, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

This is the first time Ukraine will celebrate the holiday on Dec. 25. It has traditionally been celebrated on Jan. 6-7 in alignment with the Julian calendar.

Zelenskyy signed a law in the summer that made the date change official. Churches across the country upheld the new date, despite originally following the guidance of the Russian Orthodox Church.

It is another example of how Ukraine seeks to align itself with NATO allies and the West and away from Russian influence.

Christmas Day comes as the war carries into another difficult winter, and Russian attacks gain momentum inside Ukraine.

Financial and military aid from both the United States and theEuropean Unionare tied up and Ukrainians are worried. President Biden has asked Congress for $61 billion in support for Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act, a yearly spending bill for the Department of Defense, which included a $300 million security assistance package for Ukraine.

But some Ukrainians worry what dwindling support might mean for their country.

Oleksandra Ustinova, a Ukrainian parliament member, told NPR that the international support is critical to Ukraine's survival.

"If we don't have munition coming, Ukraine is going to lose. And the question is whether the EU, U.S. and other countries are OK with Ukraine losing," Ustinova said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joanna Kakissis
Joanna Kakissis is an international correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she leads NPR's bureau and coverage of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.
Hiba Ahmad