Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky blasted Russian “terror” after shelling left 10 dead and 55 injured in Kherson city on Saturday, urging his compatriots to persevere as they observed a Christmas Eve defined by war.
On the day marking 10 months since the start of the Russian invasion, shells rained around a busy market and started a fire in the southern port city which Kiev’s forces recaptured in November.
AFP journalists at the scene saw several bodies lying on the street, including a man killed in his car. Rescuers and police officers were seen comforting a man in tears next to a lifeless woman.
Severely injured residents lay on the ground, medics tending to them.
Standing next to her husband’s corpse and holding his blood-soaked jacket, a woman cried: “The medics tried (to save him), but there was no pulse.”Despite Russia’s retreat from the city, Kherson remains within reach of Moscow’s weaponry and under constant threat.
Zelensky on Telegram called the attack “terror… killing for the sake of intimidation and pleasure”.”It is the real life of Ukraine… The world must see and understand what absolute evil we are fighting against,” he said.
The Russian-installed head of the Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, said on Telegram that the shelling was “a disgusting provocation” by Ukraine used to blame Russia. 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 a serious condition.
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 AFP, pointing at a bloody staircase.
Sixty-six cars caught fire in a residential area of the city due to the shelling, the emergency services said.
The fires were put out after 40 minutes but the number of dead and injured was still being “established”, they said on Telegram.- ‘Spare a thought’-“While families in Europe, North America, and beyond prepare festive dinners, spare a thought for Ukraine which is fighting evil right now,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.
In an address to the nation to mark Christmas Eve, Zelensky urged his compatriots to persevere through a tough winter despite the absence of dead or exiled loved ones, power cuts, destruction and the threat of shelling.”Tears will be replaced by joy, despair will be followed by hope, and death will be conquered by life,” he said.
“We will celebrate our holidays! As always. We will smile and be happy. As always. The difference is one: we will not wait for a miracle, because we create it ourselves.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin in September announced the annexation of four regions in the east and south of Ukraine, including Kherson, after Moscow proxies held referendums there — denounced as a sham by Kiev and the West.
Russia’s troops never fully controlled any of the territories and last month were forced to retreat from the Kherson region after a months-long Ukrainian counteroffensive.
But Kherson has been regularly bombarded ever since, with a heavy toll on civilians as well as the power supply to the city.- ‘Prevent tragedies’ -On Friday alone, the Kherson region was targeted by 74 Russian strikes, leaving five dead and 17 injured, according to regional authorities.
Much of Ukraine is struggling without heat or power in sub-zero temperatures after Moscow started targeting electricity and water systems nearly two months ago.
The UN’s human rights chief has warned the campaign has inflicted “extreme hardship” on Ukrainians this winter, and also decried probable war crimes by Russian forces.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov on Twitter called for more weapons and ammunition deliveries to Kiev in the wake of the attack on Kherson.
The strikes came days after Zelensky travelled to the White House to meet US President Joe Biden and argue for a $44.9-billion emergency military and economic aid package for Ukraine. It was approved by US lawmakers on Friday.
Separately, a Ukrainian court sentenced two Russian mercenaries and two soldiers who “tortured” Ukrainian servicemen to 11 years in prison for war crimes, the prosecutor’s office said on Telegram.
Ukrainian servicemen were kidnapped near Izyum and “kept in a pit at a recreation centre without water or food.
The occupiers beat one of (them) with a hammer”, according to the statement.
The accused “fully admitted their guilt”, the statement said.