Russia strikes Ukraine in retaliation for 'terrorist attack' on Belgorod

Russia strikes Ukraine in retaliation for 'terrorist attack' on Belgorod

Russia strikes Ukraine in retaliation for 'terrorist attack' on Belgorod

Sunday morning saw the start of new Russian attacks against Ukraine, one day after Moscow threatened to react for what it described as a “terrorist attack” on the city of Belgorod.

According to local officials, several “Shahed” drones manufactured in Iran were fired at Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine throughout the course of the night. The two sides have alternated in blaming one another of destroying civilian areas along their shared border 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 raid comes after the worst assault on Russian citizens since the conflict’s inception in February 2022.

Belgorod, a Russian city only 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the border that has frequently been hit by what Moscow claims is indiscriminate shelling, had at least 22 fatalities and several injuries on Saturday.

Moscow informed a UN Security Council emergency meeting that Kyiv had targeted a university, a sports complex, and an ice rink. It also claimed that the strike on Saturday had involved the use of contentious cluster bombs.

It was described as a “deliberate, indiscriminate attack against a civilian target” by Russian envoy Vasily Nebenzya.

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 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 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.”