Videos shared on social media show Ded Moroz, or Grandfather Frost, arriving in a ‘battle taxi’ for the opening of the festive tree in the region of Belgorod, some 30 miles north of the border with Ukraine.
By Soviet tradition, he visits children with presents at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
But this year he is likely to be preoccupied with consoling the families of soldiers who have died on the frontlines of Putin’s invasion.
Despite the horror it has brought to the region, the cheerful Santa was seen riding in the armoured vehicle while blasting Russian pop music.
Another video shows him bringing a bag of oranges to soldiers dressed in combat gear in an woodland.
Elsewhere in Russia, wives, mothers and children were seen crying as they marked the addition of 60 new names to a war memorial in the city of Saratov.
They held pictures of their lost sons, fathers and husbands, and kissed the granite stone.
‘Those whose names are engraved on this memorial are all heroes,’ said Dmitry Ayatskov, a speaker of the pro-war Combat Brotherhood organisation.
‘Our men are accomplishing a feat in Donbas. The war is not with the Ukrainians. The war is with NATO. This must be clearly understood.
‘I am sure that our warriors will win. We have the spirit. We have the will. We have an historical memory. The Russian people cannot be brought to their knees.’
The grieving ceremony took place at the Sokolovaya Mountain in Saratov where there are now a total of 166 names of those killed since February in the war.
The region alone has suffered the loss of 181 men, and this is the fourth time in a few months that more names are added to the memorial.
Major Alexander Yanklovich told mourners: ‘When we opened this monument, we could not imagine that this list would grow with more and more new names.
‘No words and monuments will console grief [and] the heaviness in your soul from the losing of your beloved ones.
‘Just memory is able to save them in our hearts.’
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