Ukrainians woke up to a grim 2023 Sunday, reeling from more sirens and fresh missile attacks as the death toll from Russia’s massive New Year’s Eve assault across the country climbed to at least three.
Shortly after midnight, air raid alerts sounded in the capital, followed by a barrage of missiles that interrupted Ukrainians’ small celebrations at home. Ukrainian officials say Russia is now deliberately targeting civilians, seeking to create a climate of fear and destroy morale.
Many waking up on New Year’s Day, when Kyiv was largely quiet, 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” end-of-year speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on New Year’s Eve 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.
“Most of the missiles have been intercepted by our air defense forces,” Zelenskyy said in Ukrainian. “And these are lives saved. If it were not for air defense, the number of casualties would have been different. Much bigger. And this is yet another proof for the world that support for Ukraine must be increased.”
Zelenskyy also made a direct appeal to Russians in their own language, saying “it is not a war with NATO, as your propagandists lie.”
Putin “hides behind you and burns your country and your future,” Zelenskyy said in Russian. “No one will ever forgive you for terror. No one in the world will forgive you for this. Ukraine will never forgive. And you yourself will not forgive him everything that he will destroy and everyone whom he will kill.”
Zelenskyy’s speech on New Year’s Eve came just one week after he made his first trip outside Ukraine since the war began to the U.S., where he met with U.S. President Joe Biden and spoke before a joint meeting of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate as they debated a government spending bill for the fiscal year 2023 that included an additional $40 billion in aid for Ukraine.
In front of Congress, Zelenskyy called for “Ukrainian courage and American resolve” that will “guarantee the future of our common freedom.”
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 on Saturday saw a woman’s body as her husband and son stood nearby. 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 attacked 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 shelling blew out windows in the operating room, and 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 rocket attack in the eastern town of Khmelnytskyi, the city’s mayor said.
Instead of 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.”