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Russian Strikes Intensify as Ukrainians Return for Holiday


KYIV, Ukraine — At least one person was killed and 14 others hospitalized as multiple blasts rocked Kyiv and other areas of Ukraine Saturday. Some Ukrainians defied the danger, however, to return to the country to reunite with families for the New Year’s holiday.

Ukrainian officials claimed Russia was deliberately targeting civilians, seeking to create a climate of fear to see out a grim 2022 and usher in a bloody new year.

First Lady Olena Zelenska expressed outrage that such massive missile attacks could come just before New Year’s Eve celebrations.

“Ruining lives of others is a disgusting habit of our neighbors,” she said.

The deadly blast in the Ukrainian capital occurred among the multi-story residential buildings of the Solomianskyi district. One person wounded in the attacks is in a critical condition, according to Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko. He said two schools were damaged, including a kindergarten.

Various residential buildings and civilian infrastructure were damaged in Kyiv on Saturday afternoon as part of massive attacks spanning the country. A top official in the president’s office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, published photos and video of a partially collapsed six-story hotel in Kyiv. Mayor Klitschko said a Japanese journalist was mong those injured in the capital.

Russia launched 20 cruise missiles over Ukraine on Saturday afternoon, of which Ukrainian forces shot down 12, according to Ukrainian military chief Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi.

At least four civilians were wounded in the Khmelnytskyi province of western Ukraine, according to regional Gov. Serhii Hamalii. Six people were wounded in the southern region of Mykolaiv.

Mykolaiv Governor Vitalii Kim said that the Russians were targeting civilians more directly than just by attacking infrastructure as in the past.

“In many cities residential areas, hotels, just roads and garages are affected,” he wrote on Telegram.

In Zaporizhzhia region, as a result of a missile attack, two houses were destroyed, and around eight damaged. Four people were also wounded, among them a pregnant woman and a 14-year-old girl, said regional Gov. Oleksandr Starukh.

Even though Russia’s 10-month war rumbles on with no end in sight, for some families the new year is nevertheless a chance to reunite, however briefly, after months apart.

At Kyiv’s central railway station on Saturday morning, Mykyta, still in his uniform, gripped a bouquet of pink roses tightly as he waited on platform 9 for his wife Valeriia to arrive from Poland. He hadn’t seen her in six months.

“It actually was really tough, you know, to wait so long,” he told The Associated Press after hugging and kissing Valeriia.

Nearby, another soldier, Vasyl Khomko, 42, joyously met his daughter Yana and wife Galyna who have been living in Slovakia due to the war, but returned to Kyiv to spend New Year’s Eve together.

Back in February, fathers, husbands and sons had to stay behind as their wives, mothers and daughters boarded trains with small children seeking safety outside the country. Scenes of tearful goodbyes seared television screens and front pages of newspaper across the world.

But on the last day of the year marked by the brutal war, many returned to the capital to spend New Year’s Eve with their loved ones, despite the ongoing Russian attacks.

As Russian attacks continue to target power supplies leaving millions without electricity, no big celebrations are expected and a curfew will be in place as the clock rings in the new year. But for most Ukrainians being together with their families is a luxury.

Valeriia first sought refuge from the conflict in Spain but later moved to Poland. Asked what their New Year’s Eve plans were, she answered simply: “Just to be together.”

The couple declined not to share their family name for security reasons as Mykyta has been fighting on the front lines in both southern and eastern Ukraine.

On platform 8, another young couple reunited. University student Arseniia Kolomiiets, 23, has been living in Italy. Despite longing to see her boyfriend Daniel Liashchenko in Kyiv, Kolomiiets was scared of Russian missiles and drone attacks.

“He was like, ‘Please come! Please come! Please come!’” she recalled. “I decided that (being) scared is one part, but being with beloved ones on the holidays is the most important part. So, I overcome my fear and here I am now.”

Although they have no electricity at home, Liashchenko said they were looking forward to welcoming 2023 together with his family and their cat.

Natalya Kontonenko had traveled from Finland. It was the first time she had seen her brother Serhii Kontonenko since the full-scale invasion began on Feb. 24. Serhii and other relatives traveled from Mykolaiv to Kyiv to meet Natalya.

“We are not concerned about the electricity, because we are together and that I think is the most important,” he said.

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