A first in 100 years: Ukraine to celebrate Christmas, December 25

For the first time since 1917, Ukraine will celebrate Christmas on December 25 instead of January 7, the date that Russia celebrates. The move reflects another Ukrainian cultural shift away from Russia. [AP Photo]

For the first time since 1917, Ukraine is celebrating Christmas on December 25 instead of January 7, the date that Russia celebrates.

The move of the holiday reflects another Ukrainian cultural shift away from Russia.

While both Russia and the West use the Gregorian calendar, Russia still follows the Julian calendar for some religious practices. Kyiv's switch is a sign of its continuing effort to align itself with Europe.

In his daily address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy  said Saturday that as the week before Christmas ends, Ukraine remains strong. He cited the downing of three Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber aircraft Friday on the southern front, hailing it as a success in Ukraine's 22-month-old war against Russia's invasion.

"This week once again demonstrated the effectiveness of bolstering our air defense. It is not only for protecting cities and villages from Russian drones and missiles but also for front-line operations," he said, adding that "the capability to shoot down Russian fighter jets is one of the keys to ending this war justly."

The fate of the Russian pilots and crew members was not immediately clear.

The Russian military made no mention of the incident.

President thanks country's supporters

Zelenskyy thanked all the partners that support Ukraine's war effort. He expressed his gratitude to Germany for its military aid as well as to the Netherlands for an aid package of more than $110 million and Finland for an equivalent aid amount.

He said Kyiv is awaiting the approval of a U.S. support package for the next year and added, "I am grateful to representatives of both parties for understanding that decisions need to be made."

Zelenskyy also gave thanks to the U.S. for its new round of economic sanctions against Russia and its collaborators.

He expressed his gratitude to the Ukrainian soldiers in "combat brigades on all fronts, from Kharkiv to Kherson. At the border — those who defend against Russian sabotage and reconnaissance groups, those who eliminate Shahed drones, and those who hold our front-lines. I thank each and every one of you!" he said.

Border unblocked

Polish farmers have unblocked the key border crossing of Shehyni-Medyka between Poland and Ukraine, Kyiv's economy minister Yulia Svyrydenko said Saturday.

"An important improvement in the situation on the western border," Svyrydenko said.

Polish truckers said Saturday that they will continue blockades at three other crossings and allow even fewer trucks to pass. They say they are protesting Ukraine's trade advantages into the EU that run against the interests of local farmers.

The demonstrators have blocked border crossing with Ukraine since November 6, demanding the European Union reinstate a system whereby Ukrainian companies need permits to operate in the bloc and the same for European truckers entering Ukraine.

Rodents infest front line

Meanwhile, Ukrainian and Russian troops are facing an adversary of another kind on the ground, the British Defense Ministry said Friday in its daily intelligence update on Ukraine — “exceptional levels of rat and mice infestation in some sectors of the front line.”

The rodents will “likely” seek shelter in vehicles and defensive positions,” the ministry said, which could also affect soldiers’ morale, according to the report.

The update said the jump in the rodent population is likely the result of this year’s mild autumn, “along with ample food from fields left fallow due to the fighting.”

The British ministry said the rodents could gnaw the cables of military equipment, just as they did in the same region during World War II.

Unverified reports indicate, the ministry said, that Russian troops are already beginning to experience a growing number of cases of illness, which the Russian troops blame on the rodents.