© Reuters. People gathered next to a Christmas tree to celebrate the New Year eve before a curfew, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in front of the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine December 31, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
By Pavel Polityuk and Herbert Villarraga
KYIV/DONETSK PROVINCE FRONT LINE, Ukraine (Reuters) -Several waves of Russian drones targeted critical infrastructure in Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv and surrounding areas on Monday, officials said, as Moscow extended its constant bombardment into a second day in 2023.
Ukrainians cheered from balconies as their air defences blasted Russian missiles and drones out of the sky in the first hours of the New Year, which Moscow ushered in by attacking civilian targets across Ukraine.
“Glory to Ukraine! Glory to heroes!” some shouted as air raid sirens blared during the late night attack.
Ukrainian forces shot down 45 Iranian-made Sahed drones fired by Russia on the first night of the year, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday, praising Ukrainians for showing gratitude to the troops and one another.
“Drones, missiles, everything else will not help them,” he said of the Russians. “Because we stand united. They are united only by fear.”
In a stern New Year’s speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin signalled no let-up in his assault on Ukraine, however.
“It is loud in the region and in the capital: night drone attacks,” Kyiv Governor Oleksiy Kuleba said of Monday’s aerial attack.
“Russians launched several waves of Shahed drones. Targeting critical infrastructure facilities. Air defence is at work,” he said on the Telegram messaging app.
By 3 a.m. (0100 GMT), Ukraine’s air defence systems destroyed 20 air objects above Kyiv, its military administration said. By then, air raid sirens had been wailing for more than four hours.
Earlier, one person had been wounded by debris from a drone destroyed over Kyiv that hit a road and damaged a building in a northeastern district of the capital, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.
A 19-year-old man was taken to a hospital in the Desnianskiy district, Klitschko said on the Telegram app. The mainly residential district on the left bank of the Dnipro River is Kyiv’s most populous.
Ukrainian presidential aide Kyrylo Tymoshenko also said the debris hit a road in the district, damaging a building beside it.
Reuters was not able to independently verify the information.
The regional military command in Ukraine’s east said air defence systems destroyed nine Iranian-made Shahed drones over the Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhia regions by the early hours of Monday.
NEW YEAR IN THE TRENCHES
On Twitter, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, said, “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.”
Troops toasted the new year on the front line in Ukraine’s eastern province of Donetsk. One soldier, Pavlo Pryzhehodskiy, 27, played on the guitar a song he had written after 12 of his comrades were killed in a single night.
“It is sad that instead of meeting friends, celebrating and giving gifts to one another, people were forced to seek shelter, some were killed,” he told Reuters.
“It is a huge tragedy. It is a huge tragedy that cannot ever be forgiven. That is why the New Year is sad.”
In a nearby trench, soldier Oleh Zahrodskiy, 49, said he had volunteered after his son was called up to fight as a reservist. Now, his son is in a hospital in the southern city of Dnipro, fighting for his life with a brain injury, while his father mans the front.
“It is very tough now,” he said, holding back tears.
‘HAPPY NEW YEAR’
Kyiv’s police chief, Andrii Nebytov, posted a photo on the Telegram app, showing what was described as a piece of a drone used in an attack on the capital, with a handwritten sign on it in Russian reading “Happy New Year”.
“This wreckage is not at the front, where fierce battles are taking place, this is here, on a sports grounds, where children play,” Nebytov said.
Russia’s defence 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 about 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.
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 hurt civilians, a war crime.
“The main thing is the fate of Russia,” Putin said in a New Year’s Eve speech to a group dressed in military uniform, instead of the event’s 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.”
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