Russian shelling of southern Ukraine’s Kherson region has killed four people as the country prepares to mark Christmas on 25 December for the first time.
An 87-year-old man and his 81-year-old wife were among those who died after a strike on their apartment building on Sunday.
Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the regional military administration, said that the barrage injured nine other people, including a 15-year-old, sparked fires in homes and at a private medical facility and set a local gas pipeline alight.
Andrii Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian president’s office, wrote: “There are no holidays for the enemy.
“They do not exist for us as long as the enemy kills our people and remains on our land.”
The shelling across Kherson affected the centre of the region’s capital city of the same name.
The strike coincided with Ukraine’s preparations to officially celebrate Christmas on 25 December for the first time.
This is the inaugural year the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has allowed its congregations to celebrate Christmas on 25 December, having previously marked the date on 7 January, in accordance with the Julian calendar.
The move is a direct result of the country’s conflict with Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church observes the birth of Jesus on 7 January.
Some Orthodox Ukrainians observed Christmas on 25 December last year in response to Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
President Volodymyr Zelensky signed legislation in July moving the public Christmas Day holiday to 25 December.
In a Christmas message delivered on 24 December, Mr Zelensky addressed Ukraine in a video filmed before the floodlit St Sophia Cathedral in central Kyiv.
He said: “We all celebrate Christmas together. On the same date, as one big family, as one nation, as one united country.”
Mr Zelensky also reassured Ukrainians fighting against Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country that “step-by-step, day-by-day, the darkness is losing”.
One of Ukraine’s two competing Orthodox church organisations is sticking with the January date dictated by the Julian calendar.
Additional reporting by Associated Press