Deadly Russian Strikes Hammer Ukraine on New Year’s Eve
KYIV, Ukraine — Russia rained missiles and exploding drones on Ukraine’s capital and other cities on Saturday in a deadly New Year’s Eve assault, punctuating President Vladimir V. Putin’s stated resolve to prosecute a war he called a “sacred duty to our ancestors and descendants.”
The aerial bombardments killed at least one person and partly destroyed a hotel in the capital, Kyiv, inflicted damage elsewhere and forced Ukraine’s war-ravaged electric utilities to pre-emptively shut off power.
“There are explosions in Kyiv!” Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “Stay in shelters!”
Describing the New Year’s Eve assault as “inhuman” and Russia as a “terrorist state,”President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine directed his rage at Mr. Putin and his subordinates, declaring in a videotaped reaction that “those who give orders for such strikes, and those who carry them out, will not receive a pardon. To put it mildly.”
Even for residents inured to brazen Russian bombings, the wail of air-raid sirens and the explosive thuds on New Year’s Eve were especially galling. If Mr. Putin’s intent was to demoralize them, the aerial assault only generated more hate.
“We know how vile they are and everybody knew they were ready to attack on the holiday, in theory,” said Viktoria Dubrovina, a retired Kyiv subway worker who joined others inspecting the damage after sirens stopped. “But we hoped something would change. But they did it.”
In his New Year’s address, Mr. Zelensky said that Ukrainians woke up on Feb. 24, the first day of the invasion, “into another life.” He said that the first Russian missile barrage, “finally destroyed the labyrinth of illusions. We saw who was who. What friends and enemy are capable of, and most importantly, what we are capable of.”
He added of the coming year, “let this year be the year of return” of soldiers to families, prisoners to homes, and Ukrainian land to Ukraine. “The temporarily occupied will become forever free,” he said.
The attacks began in midafternoon, only hours before Mr. Zelensky had been scheduled to deliver a much-anticipated speech to a nation where the Russian invasion has shaped the past 10 months and could for many more or far longer.
Air defense crews shot down 12 of at least 20 cruise missiles launched by Russia on Saturday afternoon, the top Ukrainian military commander, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, said on Telegram. The missiles had been launched from Russian strategic bombers over the Caspian Sea and from land-based launchers, he said.
In his own traditional New Year’s Eve address, Mr. Putin broke from practice and delivered the speech not at the Kremlin, but flanked by soldiers at an unspecified military base. He struck a defiant tone, repeating claims that his invasion of Ukraine was a defensive struggle for Russia’s existence.
Mr. Zelensky, whose impassioned nightly speeches have been become a rallying cry for Ukrainian patriotism and defiance of Russa, had warned on Thursday that the Russian military might launch another wave of missile attacks before any year-end commemorations. Moscow fired a large volley this past week, disrupting electrical power in Kyiv and in other cities.
What electricity had been available before the strikes was lost on Saturday in Kyiv, in Odesa in the south, and in cities of the Dnipropetrovsk region in central Ukraine, as the authorities switched off power to prevent short-circuits on the grid caused by any strike damage.
Within a few minutes of the explosions in Kyiv, reports of damage in several neighborhoods of the capital came out, and a video posted on Telegram showed smoke rising above the city.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, an aide to Mr. Zelensky, said in a post on social media that the city of Khmelnytskyi, in western Ukraine, had been attacked by exploding drones and that two people were wounded. In the Zaporizhzhia region, he said, residential buildings were damaged.
Between the larger waves of strikes on Thursday and Saturday, the Russian military had kept up the pressure on Ukraine’s energy grid with smaller-scale missile attacks, according to Ukraine’s military general staff.
Over the past day, Russia fired five missiles and 10 exploding drones, and it carried out 29 airstrikes on civilian infrastructure, the general staff said in a statement on Saturday morning.
How long Russia can sustain the barrage has been a pressing question in Ukraine, which has stymied and beat back the Russian military across several fronts since Mr. Putin launched the invasion in February.
Ukraine has received increasingly sophisticated defense weaponry from the United States and other NATO nations, striking many of the incoming Russian missiles and drones before they reach their targets.
Mr. Putin, who has repeatedly said Ukraine is not a legitimate country, used his year-end speech on Saturday as a platform to assert that “moral and historical righteousness is on our side.”
He defined the war in Ukraine as Russians’ “sacred duty to our ancestors and descendants.” Russian soldiers, he said, were fighting to secure “peace and security guarantees for Russia,” while the West was using Ukraine “to weaken and split up Russia.”
And reprising his references to antiwar Russians as traitors, Mr. Putin described the year as one that “clearly separated courage and heroism from betrayal and cowardice.”
Mr. Putin was working to rally Russian citizens who are increasingly feeling the effects of a conflict that has left their country the most economically isolated since the breakup of the Soviet Union three decades ago.
Moreover, Russian troops have suffered a series of embarrassing setbacks on the battlefield, and the military’s strategy has been increasingly criticized, even by domestic supporters of Russia’s invasion.
While the Kremlin had initially envisioned a quick conquest of Ukraine in February, sending troops speeding into cities with only a few days’ supplies, the invasion has mired Russia in a grueling war and revealed weaknesses in its conventional military abilities. American officials say that more than 100,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or injured since the invasion in February.
“We will do all we can to help the families of our killed comrades,” Mr. Putin said in his remarks on Saturday. “I share your pain with all my heart.”
In addition to trying to raise spirits on the home front, Mr. Putin’s speech also demonstrated his latest attempt to signal to the West that he has no plans to ease his onslaught against Ukraine.
His singular focus on the war in his New Year’s speech showed that the Kremlin had fully dispensed with its earlier strategy of playing down the war for the broader public, even though officials still refer to the fighting as only a “special military operation.”
New Year’s Eve was also a reminder of one of Mr. Putin’s biggest miscalculations: Western unity in the face of the invasion.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, in his own traditional New Year’s Eve speech, said that despite “a difficult year,” Germany and the rest of Europe had withstood unexpected hardships caused by Mr. Putin’s war.
Mr. Scholz’s first 12 months as chancellor have been among the most tumultuous of Germany’s postwar history. It was not what he, nor nearly anyone in Europe, had expected.
“Putin is conducting an imperialist war of aggression at the heart of Europe,” he said in a speech broadcast on Saturday evening. “This watershed moment is also a tough test for usand ourcountry.”
But on the eve of a new year, Mr. Scholz argued that 2022 also reflected strengths to celebrate.
“The history of 2022 is not purely one of war, suffering and worry,” he said. “After all, Putin did not manage, as he had planned, to overrun Ukraine in a matter of days.”
“On the contrary, the Ukrainians are bravely defending their homeland — thanks in part to our help,” he said. “And we will continue to support Ukraine.”
Erika Solomon, Rick Gladstone and Matt Surman contributed reporting.