Ukraine Hails U.S. Military Aid as Cease-fire Said to Falter

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine's president is praising the United States for including tank-killing armored vehicles in its latest multibillion-dollar package of military aid, saying they are "exactly what is needed" for Ukrainian troops locked in combat against Russian forces.

The White House announcement Friday of $3.75 billion in weapons and other aid for Ukraine and its neighbors on NATO's eastern flank came as Moscow said its troops are observing a short cease-fire for Orthodox Christmas, celebrated Saturday.

Ukrainian officials denounced the unilateral 36-hour truce as a ploy and said it appeared to have been ignored by some of Moscow's forces pressing ahead with the nearly 11-month invasion.

Russia's Defense Ministry insisted Saturday that its forces along the 1,100-kilometer (684-mile) front line were observing the cease-fire but returned fire when attacked.

The latest package of U.S. military assistance was the biggest to date for Kyiv. For the first time, it included Bradley armored vehicles -- known as tank-killers because of the anti-tank missiles they fire.

In his nightly televised address on Friday, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it "a very powerful package."

"For the first time, we will get Bradley armored vehicles -- this is exactly what is needed. New guns and rounds, including high-precision ones, new rockets, new drones. It is timely and strong," he said.

He thanked U.S. President Joe Biden, U.S. lawmakers and "all the Americans who appreciate freedom, and who know that freedom is worth protecting."

Ukrainian officials dismissed the Kremlin-ordered cease-fire that started Friday for Orthodox Christmas Eve as a ploy to buy time for Russia's struggling invasion forces to regroup. Ukrainian and Western officials portrayed the announcement as a Russian attempt to grab the moral high ground and possibly snatch battlefield initiative and momentum from Ukrainian forces amid their counteroffensive of recent months.

The pause was due to end Saturday night -- at midnight Moscow time, which is 11 p.m. in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

The Ministry of Defense in Britain, a leading supplier of military aid to Ukraine, said Saturday in its daily readout on the invasion that "fighting has continued at a routine level into the Orthodox Christmas period."

In the fiercely contested Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, regional Gov. Serhiy Haidai reported continued Russian shelling and assaults. Posting Friday on Telegram, Haidai said that in the first three hours of the cease-fire, Russian forces shelled Ukrainian positions 14 times and stormed one settlement three times. The claim couldn't be independently verified.

Ukrainian authorities on Saturday also reported attacks elsewhere in the previous 24 hours although it wasn't clear whether the fighting was before or after the cease-fire's start.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Russian forces carried out a missile strike and 20 salvoes with rockets, and targeted settlements in the east, northeast and south.

The head of Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region on Saturday reported two civilian deaths the previous day from Russian strikes in the fiercely contested city of Bakhmut and to its north, in Krasna Hora.