Russia strikes Ukraine hours before New Year; Putin: Moral rightness on our side

Ukrainians prepare to celebrate December 31 despite ongoing war: ‘Our enemies can destroy our calm but they cannot destroy our spirit’

A serviceman stands at the bottom of a hotel, partially destroyed by a Russian strike, in the center of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv on December 31, 2022 (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)
A serviceman stands at the bottom of a hotel, partially destroyed by a Russian strike, in the center of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv on December 31, 2022 (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)

KYIV, Ukraine (AFP) — Russian strikes on Saturday targeted Ukraine, including the capital Kyiv, just hours before New Year’s Eve celebrations while Russian President Vladimir Putin told Russians that “historical rightness” was on their side.

As Russian regions in the Far East rang in 2023, the Russian leader delivered his midnight address — usually set against the backdrop of the Kremlin — standing among servicemen and women who fought in Ukraine.

At around the same time, explosions shook the Ukrainian capital where AFP journalists heard around 10 loud blasts in the early afternoon.

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 one corner of the four-star Hotel Alfavito in Kyiv, spilling rubble into the street, an AFP reporter saw.

Nearby sidewalks were covered in glass from blown-out windows in the area, including from Kyiv’s National Palace of Arts.

People shelter inside a subway station during missile strikes in Kyiv on December 31, 2022. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)

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 boom.

He said there had been similar explosions in the area during a previous attack in October, but nothing as loud as Saturday’s explosion.

As he watched rescue workers 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 calm but they cannot destroy our spirit,” he said.

“Why do I go celebrate with friends? Because this year I understand that it is important to have people near.”

The attacks come as Putin’s invasion of Ukraine enters its 11th month, with Russian strikes systematically targeting energy infrastructure, leaving millions in the cold and dark in the middle of winter.

A Ukrainian firefighter picks up a bag as firefighters receive New Year’s gifts at their fire station in the city of Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, on December 31, 2022. (Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP)

According to mayor Klitschko, 30 percent of Kyiv’s residents were left without electricity due to emergency power cuts after the strikes on Saturday.

Strikes were also reported in the southern city of Mykolaiv where a local official said six people were injured.

Mykolaiv mayor Oleksandr Sienkievych had said earlier that a fire broke out in one of the city’s districts and several residential buildings sustained damage as a result of the strikes.

In the west, at least seven people were wounded in the Khmelnytskyi region, governor Sergiy Gamaliy said, adding that part of the city of Khmelnytskyi was left without power.

According to Ukraine’s army, Russia launched 20 cruise missiles on Saturday, with 12 shot down.

“War criminal Putin ‘celebrates’ New Year by killing people,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.

According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Putin delivered his New Year’s speech from the headquarters of Russia’s southern military district, where he was on a visit earlier on Saturday and presented awards to servicemen.

Ukrainian firefighter Nikita Nedylko, 30 years old, poses for a photograph at his fire station in the city of Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine on December 31, 2022 (Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP)

Among the recipients of the awards was Russia’s commander in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, Russian news agencies said.

Footage released by Russian state TV showed Putin raising a glass of champagne with soldiers dressed in military uniform, some with awards pinned to their chest.

In his traditional New Year’s Eve address, broadcast by channels just before midnight, Putin told Russians that “moral, historical rightness is on our side.”

Putin said that this year was marked by “truly pivotal, fateful events” which became “the frontier that lays the foundation for our common future, for our true independence.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) poses during an official military ceremony to award Russian servicemen involved in Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, on December 31, 2022, during a visit to the headquarters of the Southern Military District in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP)

“Today we are fighting for this, protecting our people in our own historical territories, in the new constituent entities 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 servicemen 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 that 82 Russian servicemen were freed as part of a prisoner exchange with Ukraine.

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