FRONT LINE IN KYIV/DONETSK REGION, Ukraine, Jan 1 (Reuters) – Ukrainians cheered from their balconies as their air defenses blasted Russian missiles and drones out of the sky in the early hours of 2023, as Moscow saw in the new year by attacking civilian targets throughout Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Air Force Command said it destroyed 45 Iranian Shahed drones overnight – 32 of them after midnight on Sunday and 13 late on Saturday. This was in addition to 31 rocket attacks and 12 airstrikes across the country in the past 24 hours.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled no end to his attack on Ukraine in a dark and defiant New Year’s speech that contrasted with a hopeful message of gratitude and unity from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
As sirens blared in Kyiv, some people shouted from their balconies, “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!”
Fragments of the late-night attack caused minimal damage in the center of the capital, and preliminary reports indicated no injuries or casualties, Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said on social media. The attacks earlier on Saturday hit apartment buildings and a hotel in the capital, 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 seem to understand that Ukrainians are made of iron.”
On the front line in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province, troops toasted the new year. Soldier Pavlo Prizehodski, 27, plays a guitar song 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 shelter, some were killed,” he told Reuters. “This is a huge tragedy. This is a huge tragedy that can never be forgiven. That’s why the New Year is sad.”
In a nearby front-line trench, soldier Oleg Zahrodsky, 49, said he volunteered 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 with a brain injury while his father was at the front.
“It’s very difficult now,” he said, holding back tears.
‘HAPPY NEW YEAR’
Andriy Nebitov, Kyiv’s police chief, posted a photo on his Telegram messaging app showing what was described as part of a drone used in an attack on the capital, with the words “Happy New Year” written in Russian.
“These remains are not at the front where fierce battles are fought, it is here at a sports ground where children are playing,” Nebitov said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it was targeting the production, storage and launch of Ukrainian drones with long-range missiles on New Year’s Eve.
Russia has razed Ukrainian cities and killed thousands of civilians since Putin ordered his invasion in February, claiming that Ukraine is an artificial state whose pro-Western outlook threatens Russia’s security. Since then, Moscow claims to have annexed about a fifth of Ukraine.
Ukraine hit back with Western military support, driving Russian forces out of more than half of the territory they seized. The front lines have been largely static in recent weeks, with thousands of soldiers dying in intense trench warfare as Moscow defends its grip on captured territory.
Since October, Russia has launched massive missile and drone attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, plunging cities into darkness and cold as winter sets in. Moscow says the strikes are aimed at reducing Ukraine’s ability to fight; Kyiv claims they have no military purpose and are intended to harm civilians, which is a war crime.
“The main thing is the fate of Russia,” a stern-faced Putin said in his New Year’s address, speaking to a group of people dressed in military uniform instead of the normal backdrop of Kremlin walls. “The defense of the fatherland is our sacred duty to our ancestors and descendants. Moral, historical justice is on our side.”
Zelensky delivered his own address in near-darkness, in front of a waving Ukrainian flag. He defined the past year as a wake-up call.
“They told us: you have no choice but to surrender. We say: we have no choice but to win,” he said.
“This year has blown our hearts away. We cried all the tears. We called all the prayers,” said Zelensky. “We are fighting and we will continue to fight. In the name of the keyword: “victory”.
The latest airstrikes damaged infrastructure in Sumy, in the northeast of the country, Khmelnytskyi in the west, and Zaporozhye and Kherson in the southeast and south, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said.
“May the day be peaceful,” Valentin Reznichenko, governor of Dnipropetrovsk region, said early Sunday after reporting heavy shelling of several settlements in the region overnight, in which one was wounded.
Grid operator Ukrenergo said on Sunday that the past day had been “difficult” for its workers, but that the power situation was “under control” and no emergency outages had been implemented.
Separately, Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of Russia’s southern Belgorod region bordering Ukraine, said overnight shelling on the outskirts of the town of Shebekino damaged houses but caused no casualties.
Russian media also reported multiple Ukrainian attacks on Moscow-controlled parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, with local authorities saying at least nine people were wounded.
Russian state news agency RIA quoted a local doctor as saying six people were killed in an attack on a hospital in Donetsk on Saturday. Proxy authorities in Donetsk also said one person was killed by Ukrainian shelling.
Reuters could not verify the information. There was no immediate response from Kyiv, which rarely comments on attacks in Russia or Russian-controlled territories in Ukraine.
Reporting by Gleb Garanich, Valentin Ogirenko, Dan Peleshchuk and Sergiy Karazi in Kyiv and Herbert Villaraga on the front lines in Donetsk province; Written by Peter Graff, Lydia Kelly and Dan Peleschuk Editing by Kim Cohill and Frances Carey
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