The seams in the asphalt are fresh, the attack has scattered pieces of cement and dirt on the sidewalk and the highway. Next to the burst pavement, in the heart of the city of Kherson, savagely attacked these days by Russian forces, a colorful advertisement attached to a street lamp advertises trips to Prague, Spain, Georgia or Italy. The cardboard is still shiny and so out of place that two men smoking next to it, next to a fresh blackish stain on the road, can’t help but glance at it. This Saturday, a Russian bombardment at that same point added to two others in the nearby streets killed a dozen people and injured 60, the vast majority of them civilians, according to the Ukrainian authorities.
Danylo Stepaniuk, one of the smokers, says that one of the dead was a young man who had just returned to the city to evacuate his mother from a city where living conditions are becoming more difficult. The attack caught the boy in the car and left his body charred, Stepaniuk says.
After abandoning the Black Sea port city — the only provincial capital the Kremlin had managed to conquer — pushed by a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces are now subjecting Kherson to a harsh punishment. The locality has serious problems of access to water, electricity and heating; worse even than other ukrainian cities. “The bombardments are constant,” says Stepaniuk.
The attack on Saturday, a few hours before part of the population celebrated the Christmas holidays, is one of the worst the city has suffered. The governor of the Kherson region, Yaroslav Yanushevich, has called on those who can to come and donate blood for the wounded. Three emergency workers who worked on demining tasks on the outskirts of the city have also died this weekend as a result of the explosion of one of the booby traps left planted by the Russians, according to Yanushevich.
Around the same time that Larissa and her family were preparing to leave for one of the Christmas religious services, air raid sirens were going off across the country. The family set out to hide in the basement of her house, outside Kherson. This year, the celebrations have added more people after the approval of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church —the one followed by a majority of believers in the country— that Christmas is also celebrated on December 25, on the date that marks the Gregorian calendar, in addition to January 7, according to the date of the Julian calendar that they follow.
“A bitter aftertaste”
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
Still, the holidays have a “bitter aftertaste” in Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his late-night speech on Saturday, as the vast majority of Western countries that have supported Ukraine celebrated Christmas. “Dinner at the family table cannot be so tasty and warm. There may be empty chairs around you and our houses and streets may not be so bright,” he said. “Christmas bells may not ring so loud and inspiring because of the air raid sirens, worse still, because of the gunshots and explosions,” the Ukrainian president added.
The consequences of the attacks on energy facilities throughout Ukraine, which have left a large part of the country with serious problems of light, water and electricity supply in the dead of winter, continued this Sunday. The general staff of the Ukrainian Army has affirmed this Sunday that the forces of the Kremlin have bombarded this weekend dozens of cities and positions along the front line.
In the east of the country, in the Donbas region, Ukrainian troops are pushing Russian soldiers in a slow counter-offensive to retake territory in the Lugansk region, where mud has slowed the movements of what has already become a classic warfare of positions and trenches.
A warmongering speech
In Russia, Putin clung this Sunday again and stronger to his warmongering speech and remarked that he is going in the “good direction” in Ukraine. In yet another of his efforts in recent days to appear in public as a leader and not as the president who has hidden in his bunker throughout the invasion and has made failed decisions that have led Russia to international isolation – as described by the Western intelligence – the Kremlin chief has for the umpteenth time blamed the West, led by the United States, for starting the conflict in Ukraine, for undermining and trying to divide what he called “historic Russia”. For the head of the Kremlin, that also includes Ukraine, a country that he considers fictitious and from which he wants to wrest its sovereignty with the war that has already exceeded ten months.
“We are acting in the right direction, defending our national interests, those of our citizens, our people. And we have no choice but to protect our citizens,” she stated in an interview on one of the EU-sanctioned Russian state TV channels. When the fighting continues on the southern and eastern flanks of Ukraine and the citizens resist the Russian attacks, Putin once again repeated that he is willing to negotiate and blamed Ukraine for not wanting to open the path to dialogue.
Mikhailo Podoliak, one of Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky’s negotiators and presidential adviser, stressed that the Kremlin chief only talks about negotiating without the intention of doing so and denounced that the Kremlin does not cease its attacks against the civilian population and its attempts to start to Ukraine its sovereignty. “Russia does not want negotiations, but tries to avoid responsibility,” Podoliak insisted on Twitter.
As Ukrainians resiliently celebrated the holiday, gathering despite the sirens in churches and chapels for Christmas services, Putin repeated the claim that his war was in defense of Russia’s national interests, and that Ukraine and its allies had the blame for the conflict that has entered its eleventh month. “We are ready to negotiate with all the participants in this process on some acceptable results, but this is their business, it is not us who reject the negotiations, but them,” Putin told an interviewer on state television in Russia.
Follow all the international information on Facebook Y Twitteror in our weekly newsletter.
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits