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KYIV and MOSCOW — Russia intensified its air attacks against Ukraine, wrapping up a year of intense warfare against the country by firing cruise missiles and explosive drones at several cities. All 25 of Ukraine’s administrative regions spent much of the day Saturday under air raid warnings.
The commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, Valery Zaluzhny, said his air defenses successfully intercepted a total of 12 incoming attacks, six of which were in Kyiv. The total number of incoming attacks was unclear.
The sounds of at least 10 loud explosions echoed through the center of Ukraine’s capital on Saturday afternoon. Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko reported that major blasts caused “ruins” in four of the city’s neighborhoods. He added that at least one person died, and several more have been hospitalized.
Kyiv’s emergency services were dispatched to several locations around the city. Videos published to social media and geo-located by NPR show several apparent injuries, including partially severed limbs and bloodied faces on one residential street.
That street, in a neighborhood called Protasiv Yar, was blocked off to normal traffic Saturday evening. As some local residents walked their dogs, others were trying to clean up the damage from the blasts.
Gennadiy Scholik was sweeping glass off the front windshield of his car, which had been shattered. He said his wife Svetlana suffered a concussion as a result of the blast.
“There, a woman died,” he said, pointing down the road to where the videos had shown a motionless woman lying on the ground with a severed hand.
One resident shouted and argued with emergency workers on the scene, apparently in shock about the explosion that had occurred, shouting sarcastically that he was fine.
“What I heard, it was so scary, that I really became terrified,” said another neighborhood resident, Valentina Povyakel. “The explosion [was] so huge, and all the windows immediately shattered.”
Povyakel gave a tour of her damaged apartment, showing that the windows were all blown out and her cat was scared and hiding. She also said that within an hour of the explosion, her neighbors had helpfully come by to take the damaged windows off the hinges and put up plywood to block out the cold. She had swept up much of the glass.
Still, there was a lot of damage to her home, and she is a retired pensioner with limited means.
“What am I going to do now?” she said.
A top emergency adviser to the Ukrainian presidential administration, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said that Russian missiles also hit a four-star hotel in Kyiv’s entertainment district.
Upon arrival, an NPR correspondent observed that the corner of the Alfavito Hotel had collapsed, with investigators already on the scene documenting and photographing the damage. In front of the hotel stood Ukrainian and EU flags, undamaged by the blast.
Ukraine’s power grid operator said it preventively shut off electricity to several areas of the capital region, but did not report any damage to their infrastructure.
While Kyiv bore the brunt of Saturday’s attacks, several cities in the west and south also fended off Russian airstrikes. The regional administrator in the western Ukrainian region of Khmelnytskyi says 20 Russian missiles flew over his area, hitting some targets and injuring at least four civilians. Residents in the southern city of Mykolaiv also sustained injuries, according to officials there.
Saturday’s strikes come as social media reports explosions in four cities in the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula. Official Russian sources did not corroborate the reports.
Earlier in the week, the leader of Ukraine’s military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, told a local newspaper that he expects Ukrainian forces to move into Crimea by the summer.
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The attacks on Ukraine came as Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual New Year’s address and vowed Russian forces would prevail in Ukraine. Speaking surrounded by Russian soldiers rather than the traditional Kremlin backdrop, Putin said 2022 had been a year of “hard necessary decisions” but that Russian forces were fighting in Ukraine to protect Russian “sovereignty” from Western aggression.
“The West lied about (wanting) peace,” Putin said. “It was preparing for aggression…and now they are cynically using Ukraine and its people to weaken and split Russia.”
“We have never allowed this, and will never allow anyone to do this to us,” he added.
The Russian leader later bestowed the country’s highest military honor – the Order of Saint George – on the commander of its forces in Ukraine, Gen. Sergei Surovikin.
Surovikin ordered the mass targeting of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure — a tactic Ukraine and its western allies say is a war crime.
Russia’s Defense Ministry also announced the return of 82 Russian prisoners of war following what it said were negotiations with “territories under the control of the Kyiv regime.”
Ukrainian officials made no comment on the exchange but have engaged in a series of prisoner swaps with Russia in recent weeks.
Maynes reported from Moscow. Hanna Palamerenko contributed to this report from Dnipro, Ukraine. Rotislav Peleh contributed to this report from Kyiv.