Foreign leaders have voiced their support for Ukraine in their Christmas messages as the Ukrainians are facing their most difficult winter holidays in the country's independent history.
Despite the holiday season, Ukrainian soldiers are putting their lives at risk to defend cities from deadly Russian assaults, with the fiercest battle unfolding near Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast.
Many Ukrainians are spending Christmas in unfamiliar countries, separated from their families. Some 28 million people remaining in war-torn Ukraine are grappling with severe power outages amid the threat of a potential missile strike.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Dec. 23 released a video on Twitter where two girls – one from Ukraine and another from the U.K. – were preparing for Christmas. But the Ukrainian girl is constantly interrupted by air raid sirens and forced to hide in a shelter.
“This Christmas, we’re with you, Ukraine,” Sunak wrote in his Twitter post.
A statement released by his office on Dec. 19 said that the U.K. would announce a new $304 million military aid package for Ukraine, which would include “hundreds of thousands of rounds of artillery” to keep a “continuous flow of crucial artillery ammunition to Ukraine into 2023.”
While U.S. President Joe Biden did not mention Ukraine in his Christmas address, First Lady Jill Biden said in her holiday message that she and her husband were thinking of “resilient” Ukrainian children with cancer who were transferred to the U.S. for medical care, as well as their family.
The U.S., Kyiv’s most powerful ally, has enormously helped Ukrainian troops succeed on the battlefield. On Dec. 21, during President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington, D.C., the U.S. unveiled $1.85 billion in military aid, including the transfer of long-sought Patriot air defense systems – though they are expected to arrive a few months later.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who has also won Ukrainians’ respect for her strong support for their country, called for “remembering this momentous year” in her Christmas message.
“A year when we overcame hardship, an unprecedented energy crisis and showed solidarity with Ukrainians defending their country,” von der Leyen said. “Merry Christmas to all.”
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier admitted in his speech that “rough times” are expected to continue as there was no prospect of an early end to Russia’s brutal war.
"The brutal Russian attack on Ukraine, the return of the war to Europe, the terrible suffering of the Ukrainians, and the fear of an escalation of the fighting - all this disturbs and frightens many people in our country," Steinmeier said.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis called for ending Russia’s “senseless” war in Ukraine during his traditional Christmas Day address on Dec. 25.
“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.
Bartholomew, the patriarch of Constantinople and spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians worldwide, congratulated Ukrainians for their courage in his Christmas message. He said that the Ukrainians “demonstrate to the whole world their true and boundless devotion."
Spain's King Felipe VI expressed his support for Ukrainians during his Christmas address. He added that 2022 was a “difficult year” and gave his condolences to all Ukrainian refugees in Spain.
“We have witnessed 10 months of the war, which has already caused a level of destruction and devastation that is hard to imagine in our daily reality,” he said. “We have become witnesses of the suffering of the Ukrainian people and continue with deep sadness to experience the loss of thousands of human lives.”
Felipe VI had previously denounced Russia’s war against Ukraine in a rare move for royal families.
Previously the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and Ukrainian Greek Catholics had celebrated Christmas only on Jan. 7 - on the same day as Russia. Most Orthodox churches and Roman Catholics celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25.
This year, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has allowed its parishes to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25 as part of the country's efforts to distance itself from Russia amid its aggression against Ukraine.
Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine has forced those living inside the country and abroad to face the trauma of the war every day, and Christmas is no different. This Christmas Eve began with the horrifying news that a deadly Russian artillery barrage hit the center of Kherson, killing at least 10 civilians and wounding dozens of others.