Moscow says it shot down 32 Ukrainian drones, a day after Russia launched one of its deadliest attacks on Ukraine since it began its invasion in 2022.
At least 21 people, including three children, have been killed and 111 more injured following a Ukrainian attack on the centre of the Russian provincial capital of Belgorod, according to the Russian Emergencies Ministry.
Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Saturday that the attack on Belgorod, about 30km (19 miles) from the border with Ukraine, hit a residential area. In a Telegram post, he urged all residents to move to air raid shelters as sirens sounded.
Belgorod borders Ukraine’s Luhansk, Sumy and Kharkiv regions, some of which were hit by Russian air raids on Ukraine on Friday in what was one of its deadliest attacks since Moscow began its full-scale invasion in February 2022. The death toll from those attacks, which damaged a maternity hospital, apartment blocks, and schools, has now risen to at least 41.
Belgorod is about 600km (373 miles) from the Russian capital, Moscow, and has served as a vital base for the Kremlin’s forces to launch attacks towards Ukraine.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said in a statement the attack would “not go unpunished”.
The ministry said its anti-aircraft units had destroyed 13 Ukrainian rockets over the Belgorod region on Friday.
Russian forces also shot down 32 Ukrainian drones across the country, Moscow officials said earlier on Saturday.
Drones were seen in the skies over the Moscow, Bryansk, Oryol, and Kursk regions, the ministry said in a statement. All the drones had been destroyed by air defences, it added.
Russia on Saturday requested a meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to discuss the deadly strike.
It was “a terrorist attack by the Kyiv regime against a civilian city,” said Russia’s ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya, claiming that Kyiv targeted a sports centre, an ice rink and a university.
“[It was a] deliberate, indiscriminate attack against a civilian target.”
Ukraine and its allies quickly retorted, saying Russia had started the war.
“As long as this war, unleashed by the Kremlin dictator endures, the toll of death and suffering will continue to grow,” said Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UN Serhii Dvornyk.
The United Kingdom’s envoy Thomas Phipps said the UK “deeply” regretted any civilian losses, but also noted it had been Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to start the war.
“There are hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers in Ukraine. There is not a single Ukrainian soldier in Russia,” he said.
“If Russia wants someone to blame for the deaths of Russians in this war, it should start with President Putin.”
Ukrainian officials never acknowledge responsibility for attacks on Russian territory or the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized and annexed from Ukraine in 2014. However, larger aerial attacks against Russia have previously followed heavy assaults on Ukrainian cities. Russia also rejects claims it targets civilians.
Russian drone attacks against Ukraine continued on Saturday, with the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces reporting that 10 Iranian-made Shahed drones had been shot down across the Kherson, Khmelnytskyi, and Mykolaiv regions.
On Friday, Moscow’s forces launched more than 100 missiles and dozens of drones across Ukraine, an onslaught described by a Ukrainian Air Force official as the biggest aerial barrage of the war.
Rescuers continued to search through the rubble on Saturday.
Relief operations in the aftermath of yesterday’s Russian attack continue. Almost 120 cities and villages have been affected, with hundreds of civilian objects damaged.
I thank all of our State Emergency Service rescuers, municipal employees, police officers, and everyone who is… pic.twitter.com/bWFq2Wv0CU
— Volodymyr Zelenskyy / Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) December 30, 2023
“Relief operations in the aftermath of yesterday’s Russian attack continue. Almost 120 cities and villages have been affected, with hundreds of civilian objects damaged,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on X.
January 1 will be declared a day of mourning in Kyiv, the capital, where at least 16 people were killed, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.
The UNSC criticised Russia for carrying out its huge air assault at a meeting on Friday. But Russia’s Nebenzya claimed Moscow had “exclusively only targeted military infrastructure in Ukraine”.
Fighting along the front line is largely bogged down by winter weather after Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive failed to make a significant breakthrough along the roughly 1,000km (620-mile) front line.
Russia’s continuing aerial attacks have also generated concern among Ukraine’s neighbours.
Poland’s defence forces said on Friday that a Russian missile had briefly entered its airspace, however, Russian sources said Warsaw had not given the Kremlin evidence of an airspace violation.
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