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Zelenskiy says Ukraine has become stronger as war moves closer to second year

Zelenskiy says Ukraine has become stronger as war moves closer to second year

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has vowed in his New Year’s address to unleash “wrath” against Russian forces in 2024, saying Ukraine had become stronger as the war moves toward its second year.

But Zelenskiy’s slick 20-minute video message, delivered from his Kyiv office, made almost no direct reference to the situation on the 1,000-km (600-mile) frontline or the limited success of a counteroffensive launched in June.

Nor did he refer to the political and diplomatic difficulties in securing continued military and other aid from both the US Congress and the European Union.

Zelenskiy said the war had taught Ukrainians to withstand Russian attacks and adapt to hardships, including blackouts, the operation of industry and threats to shipping its exports.

“The major result of the year, its main achievement: Ukraine has become stronger. Ukrainians have become stronger,” Zelenskiy said in the address, interspersed with footage of cities under attack and meetings with leaders of Ukraine’s western allies.

“When, at the beginning of 2023 … we surmounted, without exaggeration, the most difficult winter in history. When we proved that Ukrainians are tougher than cold and darkness. Stronger than power outages and blackout threats.

“Ukrainians are stronger than any blockades and vetoes, disbelief or skepticism,” he said.

His message came amid further attacks. Ukraine’s air force said that Russia launched a new overnight air attack, targeting Mykolaiv, Odesa and Dnipro regions. On Friday Moscow launched a barrage of missiles and drones at Ukrainian cities, killing 39 people in one of the biggest aerial attacks since the war began.

Ukrainian shelling on the city of Donetsk early on New Year’s Day killed three people, a Russian-installed official in the eastern region of Ukraine said.

Seven people were injured in “heavy shelling” by Ukrainian forces of the centre of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, the Russian-appointed head of the broader Donetsk region of which the Donetsk city is the administrative centre, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Zelenskiy pointed to Ukrainian successes in containing and attacking Russia’s navy in the Black Sea, confirmed “by their large landing ships, missile-armed and patrol corvettes on the bottom of the sea.”

He said Ukraine would “definitely see” F-16s in the skies this year, while repeating a promise to boost domestic weapons production and produce at least one million drones in the next year.

“Next year, the enemy will feel the wrath of domestic production,” he said.

With the war now entering its third calendar year, Zelenskiy has urged his western allies to keep up support amid increasing signs of fatigue with the conflict.

“Ukrainians are stronger than any intrigues, any attempts to diminish global solidarity, to undermine the coalition of our allies,” Zelensky cautioned in his message.

Despite billions of dollars’ worth of western weapons, Ukraine struggled to make a major breakthrough in its 2023 counteroffensive against invading Russian forces.

Moscow has meanwhile ramped up pressure along the frontlines, capturing the eastern town of Marinka earlier in December and pushing for control of Kupiansk in the north-east.

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not broach the war in Ukraine during his New Year’s Eve address, which was noticeably scaled back compared to last year’s.

The pre-recorded address, aired just before midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones, was in sharp contrast to last year, when he stood behind grim-looking soldiers to make a stern call for sacrifice in what he cast as a fight for survival.

“To everyone who is at a combat post, at the forefront of the fight for truth and justice: You are our heroes, our hearts are with you. We are proud of you, we admire your courage,” Putin said, this time with the more traditional backdrop of the Kremlin walls.

Ukraine was not mentioned by name, nor the “special military operation”, Putin’s term for the war he unleashed in February 2022 by sending Russia’s armed forces into Ukraine.

There was no mention in his speech of the hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers estimated to have been killed or wounded, or the repeated spilling over of the conflict on to home territory, seen dramatically in Saturday’s Ukrainian attack on the city of Belgorod, 34 km (21 miles) from the border.

The armed mutiny in June by the late Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner mercenary group, was also notably absent from Putin’s speech.

With Agence France-Presse and Reuters

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