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Russia pounds liberated Kherson as Putin claims he is open to negotiation over Ukraine war

Kyiv says at least 12 killed and 60 wounded in one of the deadliest attacks suffered so far by the port city, which was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in November

Russia pounds liberated Kherson
Cars burn on a street after a Russian military strike in Kherson, Ukraine, December 24, 2022.UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SER (via REUTERS)
María R. Sahuquillo (SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT)

The seams in the asphalt are fresh, the attack blowing cement and earth across the sidewalk and the road. Next to the impact site, in the heart of downtown Kherson, which has been under a sustained and vicious bombardment by Russian forces over the last few days, a colorful advertisement taped to a lamppost advertises trips to Prague, Spain, Georgia or Italy. The offer is so out of place that two men smoking cigarettes next to it can’t help but glance at it from the corner of their eyes. On Saturday, a Russian shelling on this exact spot and two other strikes in nearby streets killed a dozen people and wounded 60, the vast majority of them civilians, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Danylo Stepaniuk, one of the smokers, says among the dead was a young man who had returned to Kherson to evacuate his mother. The attack caught him in his car and left nothing but a charred body, Stepaniuk adds.

Russian forces withdrew from the Black Sea port city - the only provincial capital the Kremlin managed to conquer in the early stages of the invasion - following a successful Ukrainian counter-offensive launched at the end of summer. Now, Vladimir Putin’s forces are subjecting the city to brutal punishment. Those residents that remain have little water, electricity and heating; the situation is even worse in Kherson than other Ukrainian cities that have been targeted by relentless air strikes and artillery fire. “The shelling is constant,” Stepaniuk says.

Saturday’s attack, which came hours before some Ukrainians were planning to celebrate an early Christmas, was one of the most devastating Kherson has faced. The governor of the region, Yaroslav Yanushevich, called on people who were able to donate blood for the wounded. Three emergency services workers deactivating mines on the outskirts of the city also died over the weekend due to booby traps left behind by retreating Russian troops, Yanushevich said.

A wounded man stands on a street after Russian shelling in Kherson, December 24, 2022.
A wounded man stands on a street after Russian shelling in Kherson, December 24, 2022. DIMITAR DILKOFF (AFP)

Zelenskiy: Christmas in Ukraine leaves “bitter aftertaste”

During his Saturday evening address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the Christmas holidays in Ukraine have left a “bitter aftertaste.”

“Dinner at the family table cannot be so tasty and warm. There may be empty chairs around it. And our houses and streets can’t be so bright. And Christmas bells can ring not so loudly and inspiringly. Through air raid sirens, or even worse – gunshots and explosions,” Zelenskiy said during a Christmas Eve speech.

The Ukrainian Army General Staff said Sunday that Russian forces had continued to shell dozens of towns and positions along the front line over the Christmas weekend. Moscow’s sustained attacks on critical energy infrastructure have left much of Ukraine suffering from severe water and electricity supply problems in the dead of winter.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting continues in Donbas, where a bloody struggle for control of Bakhmut on the Donetsk front and a slow Ukrainian counter-offensive to regain lost territory in the Luhansk region have both been bogged down in mud and freezing conditions as both armies settle into a grim strategy of trenches and fixed positions more reminiscent of the First World War than a 21st-century conflict.

Vladimir Putin (c), Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of Russia's Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov (l).
Vladimir Putin (c), Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of Russia's Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov (l). SPUTNIK (via REUTERS)

Putin: Russia defending “national interests” in Ukraine

On Sunday, Putin used a speech to double down on his warmongering discourse and claimed he is “acting in the right direction” in Ukraine. In yet another attempt to embellish his public image as a wartime leader and not as a president who has hidden in his bunker throughout the invasion and made botched military and political decisions that have - as described by Western intelligence agencies - cast Russia into international isolation, Putin once again laid the blame for the war at the feet of the Western powers, led by the United States, by undermining and trying to divide what he termed “historic Russia.” In Putin’s mind, that also includes Ukraine, a country he considers fictitious and whose sovereignty he is attempting to extinguish.

“I believe that we are acting in the right direction, we are defending our national interests, the interests of our citizens, our people. And we have no other choice but to protect our citizens,” Putin said during an address on state broadcaster Rossiya 1. The Russian president also claimed he is willing to negotiate with the West over an end to the conflict. “We are ready to negotiate with everyone involved about acceptable solutions, but that is up to them - we are not the ones refusing to negotiate, they are,” he said.

Presidential advisor to Zelenskiy, Mykhailo Podolyak, responded by stating on social media: “Russia single-handedly attacked Ukraine and is killing citizens. Russia doesn’t want negotiations, but tries to avoid responsibility.”

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