Russia strikes Ukraine in retaliation for ‘terrorist attack’ on Belgorod

Published December 31, 2023
A local resident carries out a bicycle from a damaged building on December 30, 2023 in Kharkiv following a Russian missile strike, amid Russian invasion in Ukraine. — AFP
A local resident carries out a bicycle from a damaged building on December 30, 2023 in Kharkiv following a Russian missile strike, amid Russian invasion in Ukraine. — AFP

Russia launched fresh strikes against Ukraine at dawn on Sunday, a day after vowing to retaliate for what it called a “terrorist attack” on the city of Belgorod.

Several Iranian-made “Shahed” drones targeted Ukraine’s northeastern city of Kharkiv overnight, according to local authorities, as the two sides have taken turns accusing each other of pummelling civilian areas of their shared frontier over the weekend.

“As a result of the night attack of Russian drones on Kharkiv, buildings in the city centre were damaged. These are not military facilities, but cafes, residential buildings and offices,” the city’s mayor, Ihor Terekhov, wrote on Telegram, without mentioning casualties.

“On the eve of the New Year, Russians want to intimidate our city, but we are not scared.”

The strike follows the deadliest attack on civilians in Russia since the start of the conflict in February 2022.

At least 22 people were killed and dozens more wounded on Saturday in Belgorod, a Russian city just 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the border that has been repeatedly struck by what Moscow says is indiscriminate shelling.

Moscow said Saturday’s attack included the use of controversial cluster munitions, and told an emergency meeting at the UN Security Council that Kyiv had targeted a sports centre, an ice rink and a university.

Russian envoy Vasily Nebenzya called it a “deliberate, indiscriminate attack against a civilian target”.

Ukraine’s allies countered that responsibility ultimately lay with Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading the neighbouring country two years ago.

“If Russia wants someone to blame for the deaths of Russians in this war, it should start with President Putin,” said British envoy to the UN Thomas Phipps.

Both Putin and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky are due to give New Year’s Eve speeches on Sunday, as the conflict between their countries approaches its second anniversary in February.

January 1, day of mourning

In Belgorod, footage posted online showed a street strewn with debris and smoke billowing from burned-out cars in the city’s centre. AFP was not able to immediately verify the circumstances of the strike.

Authorities in Belgorod said the 22 dead included at least three children, with 109 people wounded.

The attack came a day after Ukraine said a barrage of Russian missile strikes on several cities, including the capital, had killed at least 40 people.

Schools, a maternity hospital, shopping arcades and blocks of flats were among the buildings hit in Friday’s barrage, one of the most violent attacks since the start of the war.

Ukraine was still sifting through the rubble on Saturday when fresh strikes hit the regions of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Chernigiv, according to local authorities.

Three more people were killed by Russian strikes across Ukraine on Saturday, the officials said.

The prosecutor’s office said Russian rocket attacks on Kharkiv on Saturday evening had wounded 26 people after hitting a range of buildings, including a hotel, a kindergarten, shops and restaurants.

The casualties included a British national, initially identified as a journalist, who was in fact a security adviser to a German media team, the statement added.

January 1 will be declared a day of mourning in the capital Kyiv, where at least 17 people were killed, city officials said.

Russia’s army said it had “carried out 50 group strikes and one massive strike” on military facilities in Ukraine over the past week, adding that “all targets were hit”.

The United Nations condemned the attacks and said they must stop “immediately”.

Appeal to Western allies

In the face of sustained Russian assaults, Ukraine is urging Western allies to maintain military support.

“Next year will be a time of many decisions — global decisions. And Ukraine needs to be able to influence them to be able to achieve its goals,” Zelensky said in his evening address on Saturday.

“We will fight for our influence, for justice for Ukraine, and I am grateful to all the leaders who help, who have been with us since February 24th and will be with us in 2024.”

Britain announced it would send hundreds more air-defence missiles to Kyiv, after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared: “We must continue to stand with Ukraine — for as long as it takes. “

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