- Russia marks the New Year with drone and missile attacks
- Putin and Zelensky speak opposite languages
- Ukrainian frontline soldiers reflect on the conflict
KYIV/DONETSK PROVINCE FRONT LINE, Ukraine, January 1. (Reuters) – Ukrainians cheered from their balconies as their air defenses in the first 2023 blasted Russian missiles and drones out of the sky for hours, as Moscow saw in the new year, attacking civilian targets across Ukraine.
Ukrainian forces shot down 45 Iranian-made Sahed drones launched by Russia on the first night of the year, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday night, praising Ukrainians for showing gratitude to the military and to each other.
“Drones, missiles, everything else won’t help them,” he said of the Russians. “Because we are united. They are united only by fear.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stern New Year’s speech signaled that he was not relenting on the offensive in Ukraine, contrary to what Zelensky had previously hoped.
As sirens rang out in Kiev, some people shouted from their balconies: “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!”
Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said on social media that fragments of the late-night attack caused minimal damage in the center of the capital, and initial reports indicated no injuries or casualties. Earlier on Saturday, attacks in the capital hit residential buildings and a hotel, killing at least one person and injuring more than 20.
US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink said on Twitter: “Russia coldly and cowardly attacked Ukraine in the early hours of the new year. But Putin still doesn’t understand that Ukrainians are made of iron.”
Soldiers greeted the new year near the front line in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province. Pavlo Pryzhehodskiy, a 27-year-old soldier, played a song on guitar that he wrote at the front after 12 of his comrades were killed in one night.
“It is sad that instead of meeting friends, celebrating and giving each other gifts, people were forced to seek refuge and some were killed,” he told Reuters. “It’s a huge tragedy. It’s a huge tragedy that can never be forgiven. That’s why the New Year is sad.”
In a nearby front-line trench, soldier Oleh Zahrodsky, 49, said he signed up as a volunteer after his son was called up to fight as a reservist. His son was now in hospital in the southern city of Dnipro, fighting for his life from a brain injury, while his father led the front.
“It’s very hard right now,” he said, fighting back tears.
‘HAPPY NEW YEAR’
Kyiv police chief Andriy Nebytov posted a photo on his Telegram messaging app of what was described as a piece of drone used in the attack on the capital, with a handwritten sign in Russian saying “Happy New Year”. .
“These wreckages are not at the front, where fierce battles are taking place, but here, on the sports field, where children play,” said A. Nebytovas.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said it targeted the production, storage and launch sites of Ukrainian drones with long-range missiles on New Year’s Eve.
Russia has devastated Ukrainian cities and killed thousands of civilians since Putin ordered the invasion in February, arguing that Ukraine was an artificial state whose pro-Western outlook threatened Russian security. Since then, Moscow has claimed to have annexed about a fifth of Ukraine.
Ukraine has fought back with Western military support, driving Russian forces out of more than half of the territory they seized. In recent weeks, the front lines have been largely static, with thousands of soldiers killed in intense trench warfare.
Since October, Russia has launched massive missile and drone attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, plunging cities into darkness and cold as winter approaches. Moscow says the strikes are aimed at reducing Ukraine’s ability to fight; Kyiv says they have no military purpose and are intended to harm civilians, which is a war crime.
“The most important thing is the fate of Russia,” Putin said on New Year’s Eve in front of a crowd dressed in military uniform, instead of the usual backdrop of the Kremlin walls. “Defending the motherland is our sacred duty to our ancestors and descendants. Moral, historical righteousness is on our side.”
Zelensky delivered his address in near darkness on Saturday, in front of a flying Ukrainian flag. He described the past year as a national awakening.
“We were told: you have no choice but to surrender. We say: we have no choice but to win,” he said.
“This year shook our hearts. We cried all the tears. We shouted all the prayers,” Zelensky said. “We are fighting and we will continue to fight. In the name of the main word: “victory”.
The latest airstrikes damaged infrastructure in Sumy (in the northeast), Khmelnytskyi in the west, Zaporozhye and Kherson in the southeast and south, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said.
One person was killed and three others were wounded in the shooting in Orikhov, Zaporozhye region, regional governor Oleksandr Staruch said in a telegram.
Grid operator Ukrenergo said the past day had been “difficult” but that the power situation was “under control” and no emergency shutdowns had taken place.
Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Russia’s southern Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, said overnight shelling on the outskirts of the city of Shebekin damaged houses, but there were no casualties.
Russian media also reported a series of Ukrainian attacks in Moscow-controlled parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, with local officials saying at least nine people were wounded.
Russian state news agency RIA quoted a local doctor as saying that six people were killed in an attack on a hospital in Donetsk on Saturday. Authorities in Donetsk also reported that one person was killed in Ukrainian shelling.
Reuters could not confirm the reports. There was no response from Kiev, which rarely comments on attacks inside Russia or Russian-controlled territories in Ukraine.
Reporting by Gleb Garaničius, Valentyn Ogirenko, Dan Peleshchiuk and Sergiy Karazy in Kyiv and Herbert Villarraga on the front line in Donetsk province; Written by Peter Graff, Lidia Kelly, Dan Peleschuk, edited by Kim Coghill and Frances Kerry
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