KYIV: 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 had 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.
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 savoured the snippets of peace.
"Of course, it was hard to celebrate fully because we understand that our soldiers can't be with their families," 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 fightings 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 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 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 kilometres (62 miles) away in Mykolaiv.
ALSO READ | Hard to see people die before your eyes, say firefighters on Ukraine's frontline
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 defence 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.