Russian strikes on Saturday targeted Ukraine, including the capital Kyiv, just hours before New Year’s Eve celebrations, as President Vladimir Putin told Russians that “historic equality” was on their side.
As Russian regions in the Far East called in 2023, the Russian leader delivered his midnight speech – mostly against the backdrop of the Kremlin – this year between servicemen and women who fought in Ukraine.
Around the same time, explosions rocked the Ukrainian capital, where AFP journalists heard about 10 loud blasts in the early afternoon.
“A terrorist state will not be forgiven. And those who give orders for such attacks and those who carry them out will not be pardoned,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video message following the attacks.
“Ukraine will not forgive,” he added, speaking in Russian.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on social media that at least one person died as a result of the attacks and 20 others were injured.
An explosion tore open a corner of the four-star Alfavito hotel in Kiev, sending debris onto the street, an AFP reporter said.
Nearby sidewalks were covered in glass from blown-out windows in the area, including from the National Palace of Arts in Kyiv.
Filmmaker Yaroslav Mutenko, 23, lives in a nearby apartment complex and said he was in the shower preparing to go to a New Year’s Eve party when he heard a bang.
He said there had been similar explosions in the area during a previous attack in October, but nothing as loud as Saturday’s explosion.
Watching rescuers cordon off the street in front of the hotel, he told AFP he still planned to go to the party at a friend’s house.
“Our enemies, the Russians, can destroy our composure, but they cannot destroy our spirit,” he said.
“Why am I going to celebrate with friends? Because this year I understand that it is important to have people close by.”
The attacks come as Putin’s invasion of Ukraine enters its 11th month, with Russian strikes systematically targeting energy infrastructure, leaving millions out in the cold and dark in the middle of winter.
Strikes were also reported in the southern city of Mykolaiv, where six people were injured, according to a local official.
The mayor of Mykolaiv, Oleksandr Sienkievych, had previously said that a fire had broken out in one of the city’s districts and several residential buildings suffered damage as a result of the strikes.
– Putin ‘celebrates’ New Year –
In the west, at least seven people were injured in the Khmelnytskyi region, Governor Sergiy Gamaliy said, adding that part of the city of Khmelnytskyi was without power.
According to the Ukrainian military, Russia launched 20 cruise missiles on Saturday, 12 of which were shot down.
“War criminal Putin ‘celebrates’ New Year by killing people,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin gave his New Year’s address from the headquarters of Russia’s southern military district, which he visited earlier on Saturday, and presented awards to servicemen.
Among the recipients of the awards was the Russian commander in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, according to Russian news agencies.
Footage released by Russian state television shows Putin raising a glass of champagne with soldiers dressed in military uniform, some with awards pinned to their chests.
In his traditional New Year’s Eve speech, broadcast by the channels just before midnight, Putin told the Russians that “moral, historical correctness is on our side”.
Putin said this year was marked by “truly crucial, fateful events” that became “the frontier that lays the foundation for our common future, for our true independence.”
“Today we are fighting for this and protecting our people in our own historical territories, in the new constituent parts of the Russian Federation,” he added, referring to four Ukrainian regions that Russia claimed to have annexed.
Earlier in the day, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a message to his military that Russia’s victory in Ukraine was “inevitable”.
The Defense Ministry also announced the capture of the village of Dorozhnyanka in the southern Zaporizhzhia region – a rare gain claimed as Russia suffered a string of defeats on the ground in Ukraine.
The ministry also said 82 Russian military personnel had been released as part of a prisoner exchange with Ukraine, while Kiev said it had returned 140 people.
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