Ukrainians cheer 2023 as drones are blasted from the sky

KYIV/DONETSK PROVINCE FRONT LINE, Ukraine, Jan 1 (Reuters) – Ukrainians cheered from their balconies while their air defenses blasted Russian missiles and drones out of the sky in the first hours of 2023, as Moscow saw in the new year by attacking civilians targets across Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Air Force command said it had destroyed 45 Iranian-made Shahed drones overnight — 32 of them on Sunday after midnight and 13 late on Saturday. That was on top of 31 missile attacks and 12 air strikes across the country in the past 24 hours.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled no let-up to his assault on Ukraine, in a grim and defiant New Year’s speech that contrasted with a hopeful message of gratitude and unity from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

As sirens blared in Kyiv, some people shouted from their balconies, “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to heroes!”

Fragments from the late-night attack caused minimal damage in the capital’s center, and preliminary reports indicated there were no wounded or casualties, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on social media. Attacks earlier on Saturday hit residential 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 does not seem to understand that Ukrainians are made of iron.”

At the front line in Urkaine’s eastern Donetsk Province, troops toasted the new year. Soldier Pavlo Pryzhehodskiy, 27, played a song on guitar he had written at the front after 12 of his comrades were killed in a single night.

“It is sad that instead of meeting friends, celebrating and giving gifts to each other people were forced to seek shelter, some were killed,” he told Reuters. “It is a huge tragedy. It is a huge tragedy that can never be forgiven. That is why the New Year is sad.”

In a nearby front line trench, soldier Oleh Zahrodskiy, 49, said he had signed up as a volunteer after his son was called up to fight as a reservist. His son was now in a hospital in the southern city of Dnipro, fighting for his life with a brain injury, while his father manned the front.

“It is very tough now,” he said, holding back tears.

‘HAPPY NEW YEAR’

Andrii Nebytov, chief of Kyiv’s police, posted a photo on his Telegram messaging app, showing what was described as a piece of drone used in an attack on the capital, with a hand-written sign on it in Russian saying “Happy New Year” .

“This wreckage is not at the front, where fierce battles are taking place, this is here, on a sports ground, where children play,” Nebytov said.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had targeted production, storage and launch sites of Ukrainian drones with long range missiles on New Year’s Eve.

Russia has flattened Ukrainian cities and killed thousands of civilians since Putin ordered his invasion in February, claiming Ukraine was an artificial state whose pro-Western outlook threatened Russia’s security. Moscow has since claimed to have annexed around a fifth of Ukraine.

Ukraine has fought back with Western military support, driving Russian forces from more than half the territory they seized. In recent weeks, the front lines have been largely static, with thousands of soldiers dying in intense trench warfare as Moscow defends its grip on captured territory.

Since October, Russia has launched mass missile and drone attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, casting cities into darkness and cold as winter sets in. Moscow says the strikes aim to reduce Ukraine’s ability to fight; Kyiv says they have no military purpose and are intended to harm civilians, a war crime.

“The main thing is the fate of Russia,” a stern-faced Putin said in his New Year’s Eve address, speaking in front of a group of people dressed in military uniform instead of the normal backdrop of the Kremlin walls. “Defence of the fatherland is our sacred duty to our ancestors and descendants. Moral, historical righteousness is on our side.”

Zelenskiy delivered his own address in near darkness, in front of a fluttering Ukrainian flag. He described the past year as a national awakening.

“We were told: you have no other option but to surrender. We say: we have no other option than to win,” he said.

“This year has struck our hearts. We’ve cried out all the tears. We’ve shouted all the prayers,” Zelenskiy said. “We fight and will continue to fight. For the sake of the key word: ‘victory’.”

The latest air strikes damaged infrastructure in Sumy, in the northeast of the country, Khmelnytskyi in the west and Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the southeast and south, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said.

“Let the day be quiet,” Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region said early on Sunday, after reporting heavy shelling of several communities in the region overnight that wounded one.

Grid operator Ukrenergo said on Sunday the past day had been “difficult” for its workers but the electricity situation was “under control” and emergency outages were not being implemented.

Separately, Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of the southern Russian region of Belgorod bordering Ukraine, said overnight shelling of the outskirts of Shebekino town had damaged houses but there were no casualties.

Russian media also reported multiple Ukrainian attacks on the Moscow-controlled parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, with local officials saying at least nine people were wounded.

Russia’s RIA state news agency cited a local doctor as saying six people were killed when a hospital in Donetsk was attacked on Saturday. Proxy authorities in Donetsk also said one person had been killed by Ukrainian shelling.

Reuters could not verify the reports. There was no immediate response from Kyiv, which rarely comments on attacks inside Russia or on Russian-controlled territories in Ukraine.

Reporting by Gleb Garanich, Valentyn Ogirenko, Dan Peleshchuk and Sergiy Karazy in Kyiv and Herbert Villarraga at the front line in Donetsk province; Writing by Peter Graff, Lidia Kelly and Dan Peleschuk Editing by Kim Coghill and Frances Kerry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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