Russia launches fresh strikes on Ukraine as Zelenskiy delivers new year message of hope

President says country ready to fight for return to normal life as Moscow launches latest wave of attacks

Ukraine was targeted by a fresh wave of strikes overnight as Russia’s attack on the country continued into a second year and embattled President Zelenskiy said in a new year’s message that he hoped for victory.

Blasts were heard in Kyiv after midnight as people celebrated the new year indoors, but the destruction in the capital appears to have been limited to two cases of rocket debris falling on the city, damaging a car in the city centre.

Three others were reported dead around the country, after attacks on Kherson, where a children’s hospital was also hit, in Khmelnytsky in the west of the country and in the southern Zaporizhzhia region.

The country’s air force said it had successfully shot down 45 Iranian-designed Shahed drones either side of midnight, one of which had the message “Happy New Year” handwritten on its tailfin, according to a photo released by Ukraine’s police.

Celebrations of the new year were limited by the curfew that is in force from 11pm in Kyiv and many other cities, although some in the capital shouted from their balconies: “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to heroes!”

No casualties have been reported, Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said in a lunchtime update on Sunday, but he described the night as “restless”. The damaged car was in the Shevchenkivskyi district, he added.

All 32 of the drones launched after midnight were destroyed, Kyiv’s military administration said. However, an infrastructure site was damaged in the surrounding region, the governor, Oleksiy Kuleba, said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and wife Olena Zelenska address the Ukrainian people on New Year’s Day.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his wife, Olena Zelenska, address the Ukrainian people on New Year’s Day. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The attacks came minutes after Zelenskiy delivered his first wartime new year address, with no end in sight to the war, more than 10 months since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February.

The Ukrainian leader said 2022 had “struck out our hearts” and described a period of great emotion: “We cried out all the tears. All the prayers were yelled; 311 days. We have something to say about every minute. But most words are superfluous. No explanation needed. Silence is needed to hear. Pauses are needed to realise.”

Zelenskiy said he hoped the new year would bring a successful conclusion to the fighting, and peace to the country. “We don’t know for sure what 2023 will bring us. I want to wish all of us one thing – victory. And that’s the main thing.

“Let this year be the year of return. The return of our people. Soldiers – to their families. Prisoners – to their homes. Emigrants – to their Ukraine. The return of our lands. And the temporarily occupied will become forever free.

“Return to normal life. To happy moments without curfew. To earthly joys without airstrike alerts. The return of what has been stolen from us. The childhood of our children, the peaceful old age of our parents.

“May the new year bring it all. We’re ready to fight for it. That’s why each of us is here. I’m here, we’re here, you’re here – everyone’s here. We’re all Ukraine.”

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the fighting, although accurate figures are hard to come by in a conflict that has so far left Russia occupying a territory in the east and south of Ukraine roughly the size of Portugal.

Earlier, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, released a new year video message in which he said his country was fighting in Ukraine to protect its “motherland”, and to secure “true independence”.

In the nine-minute message aired on Russian state television – the longest such address of his two-decade rule – Putin blamed the west for provoking the war and attempting to “weaken and split Russia”.

Standing in front of a group of men and women in military fatigues, Putin sought to justify the invasion. He said: “It was a year of difficult but necessary decisions, of important steps towards Russia’s full sovereignty and a powerful consolidation of our society.

The speech was dominated by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Putin lauded all the country’s servicemen fighting there as heroes, and argued the war was necessary to protect people in areas once ruled by Moscow.

Ukrainian soldiers share a toast to celebrate New Year’s Eve, in a military rest house in region of Donetsk.
Ukrainian soldiers share a toast to celebrate New Year’s Eve, in a military rest house in the region of Donetsk. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

“This is what we are fighting for today, protecting our people in our historical territories in the new regions of the Russian Federation. Together, we are building and creating,” the president said.

Russia also fired more than 20 cruise missiles at targets across on Ukraine earlier on Saturday in what Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman, Dmytro Lubinets, called “terror on New Year’s Eve”.

Saturday’s attack – Moscow’s second missile strike in three days – badly damaged a hotel south of Kyiv’s centre and a residential building in another district. A Japanese journalist was among the wounded and taken to hospital, Klitschko said.

Separately, Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of the southern Russian region of Belgorod, bordering Ukraine, said that as a result of overnight shelling of the outskirts of Shebekino town there had been damage to houses, but no casualties.


Dan Sabbagh

The GuardianTramp

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