Russia continues to intensify its missile attacks against Ukraine, capping off 2023 with what a top U.N. official called “devastating violence against the people of Ukraine.”
Between December 29 and January 2, Russia has launched about 300 missiles and 200 Shaheed drones against Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video post on X.
In the last five days, Zelenskyy said, Russia targeted, killed and wounded hundreds of Ukrainian civilians and called Moscow’s actions a “missile terror.”
Yet Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to portray Russia as the victim of Ukrainian “terrorist attacks” — and the protector of civilians there.
Speaking with Denis Shamalyuk, a soldier at a military hospital in the Moscow region, Putin called a presumed Ukrainian attack on the Russian border town of Belgorod on December 30, 2023, an “act of terror.”
“[What has happened in Belgorod] was a targeted strike on the civilian population. Of course, this is a terrorist attack; there is no other way to describe it.
“Should we respond in kind? Of course, we can hit squares in Kiev or any other city. But Denis, there are children walking there, mothers with strollers. I understand, because I am quite angry, too, but I want to ask you: do we need to do this, target the squares?”
Shamalyuk replied to this rhetorical question by saying Russia should strike military infrastructure, and not the civilian population.
“That is what we are doing,” Putin replied. “We strike with high-precision weapons at locations where they make decisions, where military personnel and mercenaries gather, at other similar centres, and at military facilities, above all.”
Putin’s claim that Russia is targeting military, and not civilian infrastructure, is false.
The attack in Belgorod was precipitated by what President Joe Biden called Russia’s “largest aerial assault on Ukraine” since Russia invaded it in February 2022.
Russia’s aerial attacks, launched on December 29, 2023, reportedly hit a maternity hospital, a shopping mall, and residential areas, killing over 40 civilians — including 30 in Kyiv. Scores more were injured.
That would not justify a deliberate attack on civilian targets. However, it is not established whether Ukraine intended to target civilians in Belgorod, where apparent Ukrainian shelling killed about two dozen people. A senior U.N. political official condemned that attack as a violation of international law.
After the December 30 Belgorod attack, Russia responded with massive attacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure in Ukraine’s two largest cities — Kyiv and Kharkiv.
In Kharkiv, a central hotel, a kindergarten, apartment buildings, shops and administrative buildings were damaged, the Associated Press reported, citing the regional prosecutor’s office.
Mirroring Putin’s language, Russia’s Defense Ministry said that it had hit “decision-making centers and military facilities” in Kharkiv, claiming that Ukrainian military and intelligence figures involved in the Belgorod attack were staying at the Kharkiv Palace Hotel.
Those claims are unsubstantiated. However, Germany’s ZDF broadcaster confirmed its television crew were among Western journalists staying at the hotel at the time of the attack.
On January 1, Ukraine struck the Donbas Palace hotel in Donetsk, where unconfirmed reports suggest members of Russia’s “elite” in the Russian-occupied city had gathered.
Ukraine says Russia hit residential buildings, a supermarket, a warehouse, and gas infrastructure In Kyiv, depriving some parts of the city of electricity and water.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a VOA sister organization, reported that 11 apartment buildings were damaged in Vyshnevo, a town located just south of Kyiv.
Mykolaiv, Kropyvnytskyi “and other settlements” were also attacked.
“Russia continues to target Ukrainian women, children and the elderly. The objects attacked by the Russian army were exclusively civilian,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said.
The December 29 attacks also fit into a broader pattern of Russia launching retaliatory strikes against Ukrainian civilian targets after Ukraine successfully attacked Russian military assets.
In this instance, Ukraine destroyed Russia’s Novocherkassk landing ship, docked at a port in Russia-occupied Crimea on December 26, 2023.
In July 2023, Ukraine struck the Kerch Straight Bridge, which links the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula with the Russian mainland. The bridge serves as a vital logistics route for Russia to supply its war effort in Ukraine.
In response, Russia targeted dozens of buildings and sites of cultural significance in the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa. Russia then claimed, without evidence, the civilian buildings it struck were being used to “prepare terrorists acts.”
The July 23 attack was not the first time Russia targeted civilian infrastructure in retaliation for a strike on the Kerch Strait Bridge. On October 10, 2022, Russia launched dozens of missiles at Ukrainian cities in retaliation for the Ukrainian bombing of the bridge.
In Kyiv, Russia struck museums, an office building, a pedestrian bridge, a park, a busy intersection and other civilian areas.
That same month, Amnesty International said Russian forces were intentionally targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure to “deprive civilians in Ukraine of heat, electricity and water as the cold grip of winter approaches.”
Russia has not desisted in that wintertime war strategy.
Polygraph.info has documented other Russian attacks (and denials of attacks) on civilian targets, including a June 2023 attack on a Kramatorsk restaurant, an April 2022 attack on the Kramatorsk railway station, the March 16, 2022, airstrike on the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater in Mariupol, and a March 9, 2022, airstrike on a maternity ward in Mariupol.
Mass graves and evidence of atrocities have also been found in Ukrainian towns after Russian forces were driven out.