Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged the people of his country to persevere in the face of Russian attacks as they observed a Christmas defined by war.
The message on Saturday, which also marked 10 months since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, came as at least 10 people were killed and 58 were wounded in a missile attack on a busy market in the recently recaptured Ukrainian city of Kherson.
“We endured at the beginning of the war – we withstood attacks, threats, nuclear blackmail, terror, missile strikes,” Zelenskyy said in the video address to Ukrainians who celebrate Christmas in December. Most Ukrainians are orthodox Christians and mark the occasion in early January. “We will endure this winter because we know what we are fighting for,” he said.
The clip, which lasted about nine minutes, was filmed outside at night with just a few white lights and a Christmas tree in the background. Relentless Russian missile and drone attacks since October have caused massive damage to the power-generating system, regularly leaving big cities without water and heat.
“Even in complete darkness, we will find each other to hug each other tightly. And if there is no heat, we will embrace each other for a long time to warm one another,” the Ukrainian president said.
“We will smile and be happy, as always. There is one difference – we will not wait for a miracle, since we are creating it ourselves,” he added.
‘Killing for pleasure’
Shortly before the defiant message, Zelenskyy had published photos of the attack in Kherson, showing streets strewn with burning cars, smashed windows and bodies.
“Social networks will most likely mark these photos as ‘sensitive content’. But this is not sensitive content – it is the real life of Ukraine and Ukrainians,” he wrote.
“These are not military facilities … It is terror, it is killing for the sake of intimidation and pleasure.”
Regional Governor Yaroslav Yanushevych reported in a Telegram post that 10 people had died and 55 were wounded in the attack on Kherson, with 18 in serious condition.
Ukrainian presidential aide Kyrylo Tymoshenko said the attack came from a grad multiple-rocket launcher, while Yuriy Sobolevskyi, deputy chair of the regional council, said the missile landed next to a supermarket by the city’s Freedom Square.
Among the victims was a butcher named Lesha who had been working at the market for many years, according to 43-year-old resident Oleksandr Kudryashov.
“He came out to have a smoke, he was standing right here. We pulled his body, he was already dead,” Kudryashov told the AFP news agency, pointing at a bloody staircase.
While Ukraine blamed Russian forces for the attack, a pro-Moscow official said the Ukrainian forces had launched the assault in a bid to pin the blame on the Russian military.
“This is a disgusting provocation with the obvious aim of blaming the Russian armed forces,” said Vladimir Saldo, the Moscow-appointed governor of the region, which is partly controlled by Russia.
Ukraine retook Kherson, the only regional capital Russia had taken since its February 24 invasion, in November. Since then, Kyiv says, Russian forces have heavily shelled the city from across the vast Dnieper River.
A senior aide to Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Podolyak, criticised those calling for Kyiv to seek peace talks with Russia, referencing the attack on Kherson as well as Moscow’s relentless pounding of Ukraine’s power grid.
“I’ll remind those who propose to take into account [Russian] ‘peace’ initiatives: Right now Russia is ‘negotiating,’ killing Kherson residents, wiping out Bakhmut, destroying Kyiv/Odesa grids, torturing civilians in Melitopol,” Podolyak wrote.
“Russia wants to kill with impunity. Shall we allow it?”