Christmas masses canceled in Russian city attacked by Ukraine
The Russian Orthodox Church has canceled Christmas Eveservices in the capital of Belgorod Region and all settlements located within a 20-kilometer-wide zone along the Russian border with Ukraine.
The city of Belgorod, located around 40 kilometers from the border, has been subjected to continuous Ukrainian strikes for seven days in a row.
Night services were also cancelled in the border city of Shebekino, which was also targeted by Ukrainian strikes and ground attacks last year, the church’s regional metropolitan, Ioann, told his congregation during a sermon that was also published on YouTube. Ioann cited “the danger that besets all of us,” in reference to the Ukrainian attacks. He also vowed to pray for all the victims of Kiev’s strikes that remain in hospitals.
Metropolitan Ioann still called on Orthodox Christians in the region to celebrate Christmas but to focus on their “spiritual self-improvement” and on an “inner journey,” rather than on the ceremonial aspects of the holiday. “Let’s thank God that we still have an opportunity to pray on Christmas Eve while preserving our traditions,” he said.
Belgorod has been the target of Ukrainian missile attacks and shelling since a massive strike on December 30 claimed the lives of 24 people and left more than 100 injured. According to the Russian military, Kiev’s forces used banned cluster munitions in their attack.
By January 4, around 600 city residents had been evacuated due to unexploded ordnance, as the Russian military launched mine-clearance and bomb-disposal operations in the area. Cluster munitions are banned by more than 110 nations under a 2008 UN convention due to the extreme danger they pose to civilians. They scatter small bomblets that can remain unexploded after the initial blast and effectively become mines.
Although Ukrainian forces have been striking civilians in Russia’s border regions for months, the December 30 attack was the worst of its kind since the start of the conflict. Moscow has accused the US and UK of helping plan the strike.
A security source also told RT that the strike on Belgorod had been personally ordered by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky and was carried out by the neo-Nazi Kraken unit based in Kharkov.
Around a dozen Russian cities canceled New Year’s festivities in the wake of the tragedy, in solidarity with Belgorod.