KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainians faced a grim start to 2023 as Sunday brought more Russian missile and drone attacks following a blistering New Year’s Eve assault that killed at least three civilians across the country, authorities reported.
Air raid sirens sounded in the capital shortly after midnight, followed by a barrage of missiles that interrupted the small celebrations residents held at home due to wartime curfews. Ukrainian officials alleged Moscow was deliberately targeting civilians along with critical infrastructure to create a climate of fear and destroy morale during the long winter months.
In a video address Sunday night, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised his citizens’ “sense of unity, of authenticity, of life itself.” The Russians, he said, “will not take away a single year from Ukraine. They will not take away our independence. We will not give them anything.”
Ukrainian forces in the air and on the ground shot down 45 Iranian-made explosive drones fired by Russia on Saturday night and before dawn Sunday, Zelenskyy said.
Another strike at noon Sunday in the southern Zaporizhzhia region killed one person, according to the head of the regional military administration, Alexander Starukh. But Kyiv was largely quiet, and people there on New Year’s Day savored the snippets of peace.
“Of course it was hard to celebrate fully because we understand that our soldiers can’t be with their family,” Evheniya Shulzhenko said while sitting with her husband on a park bench overlooking the city.
But a “really powerful” New Year’s Eve speech by Zelenskyy lifted her spirits and made her proud to be Ukrainian, Shulzhenko said. She recently moved to Kyiv after living in Bakhmut and Kharkiv, two cities that have experienced some of the heaviest fighting of the war.
Multiple blasts rocked the capital and other areas of Ukraine on Saturday and through the night, wounding dozens. An AP photographer at the scene of an explosion in Kyiv saw a woman’s body as her husband and son stood nearby.
Ukraine’s largest university, the Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv, reported significant damage to its buildings and campus. Mayor Vitali Klitschko said two schools were damaged, including a kindergarten.
The strikes came 36 hours after widespread missile attacks Russia launched Thursday to damage energy infrastructure facilities. Saturday’s unusually quick follow-up alarmed Ukrainian officials. Russia has carried out airstrikes on Ukrainian power and water supplies almost weekly since October, increasing the suffering of Ukrainians, while its ground forces struggle to hold ground and advance.
Nighttime shelling in parts of the southern city of Kherson killed one person and blew out hundreds of windows in a children’s hospital, according to deputy presidential chief of staff Kyrylo Tymoshenko. Ukrainian forces reclaimed the city in November after Russia’s forces withdrew across the Dnieper River, which bisects the Kherson region.
When shells hit the children’s hospital on Saturday night, surgeons were operating on a 13-year-old boy who was seriously wounded in a nearby village that evening, Kherson Gov. Yaroslav Yanushevych said. The boy was transferred in serious condition to a hospital about 99 kilometers (62 miles) away in Mykolaiv.
Elsewhere, a 22-year-old woman died of wounds from a Saturday rocket attack Saturday in the eastern town of Khmelnytskyi, the city’s mayor said.
Instead of New Year’s fireworks, Oleksander Dugyn said he and his friends and family in Kyiv watched the sparks caused by Ukrainian air defense forces countering Russian attacks.
“We already know the sound of rockets, we know the moment they fly, we know the sound of drones. The sound is like the roar of a moped,” said Dugin, who was strolling with his family in the park. “We hold on the best we can.”
While Russia’s bombardments have left many Ukrainians without heating and electricity due to damage or controlled blackouts meant to preserve the remaining power supply, Ukraine’s state-owned grid operator said Sunday there would be no restrictions on electricity use for one day.
“The power industry is doing everything possible to ensure that the New Year’s holiday is with light, without restrictions,” utility company Ukrenergo said.
It said businesses and industry had cut back to allow the additional electricity for households.
Zelenskyy, in his nightly address, thanked utility workers for helping to keep the lights on during the latest assault. “It is very important how all Ukrainians recharged their inner energy this New Year’s Eve,” he said.
In separate tweets Sunday, the Ukrainian leader also reminded the European Union of his country’s wish to join the EU. He thanked the Czech Republic and congratulated Sweden, which just exchanged the EU’s rotating presidency, for their help in securing progress for Ukraine’s bid.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the Western military alliance’s 30 members need to “ramp up” arms production in the coming months both to maintain their own stockpiles and to keep supplying Ukraine with the weapons it needs to fend off Russia.
The war in Ukraine, now in its 11th month, is consuming an “enormous amount” of munitions, Stoltenberg told BBC Radio 4′s “The World This Weekend” in an interview that aired Sunday.
“It is a core responsibility for NATO to ensure that we have the stocks, the supplies, the weapons in place to ensure our own deterrence and defense, but also to be able to continue to provide support to Ukraine for the long haul,” he said.
Achieving the twin goals “is a huge undertaking. We need to ramp up production, and that is exactly what the NATO allies are doing,” Stoltenberg said.
The NATO chief said that while Russia has experienced battlefield setbacks and the fighting on the ground appears at a stalemate, “Russia has shown no sign of giving up its overall goal of taking control over Ukraine.” he said.
“The Ukrainian forces have had the momentum for several months but we also know that Russia has mobilized many more forces. Many of them are now training.
“All that indicates that they are prepared to continue the war and also potentially try to launch a new offensive,” Stoltenberg said.
He added that what Ukraine can achieve during negotiations to end the war will depend on the strength it shows on the battlefield.
“If we want a negotiated solution that ensures that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign, independent, democratic state in Europe, then we need to provide support for Ukraine now,” Stoltenberg said.