The attack, if confirmed, would be one of the deadliest inside Russia since it invaded Ukraine nearly two years ago. It came as Ukraine was still reeling from the massive drone and missile barrage Russia unleashed on civilian targets and infrastructure Friday.
In that bombardment, one of the largest of the conflict, 39 people were killed and 159 injured, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday. He said the strikes hit 120 cities and villages, and urged Ukraine’s allies to maintain the flow of weapons to Kyiv, which has struggled in recent months to claw back territory seized by Russia.
“We cannot delay helping those who oppose terror,” he said. “We must all defeat terror together.”
Russia shatters Ukraine holiday season with massive missile barrage
Ukrainian officials have not commented publicly on Saturday’s attack and rarely, if ever, claim responsibility for strikes inside Russia. But in an address late Friday, Zelensky said Ukraine would “respond to Russian terrorists for every strike.”
“We will continue to strengthen our air defense,” he said. “And work toward pushing the war back to … where it came from — home to Russia.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry said Saturday that Czech-made Vampire rockets and Olkha missiles armed with cluster munitions were fired at Belgorod, about 18 miles from the Ukrainian border. Antiaircraft units intercepted 13 of the rockets and missiles, the ministry said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was briefed on the attack. The Foreign Ministry also said it requested a U.N. Security Council meeting to address the strikes.
Three children were among those killed in Belgorod on Saturday, while five children remain in critical condition, according to Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova. On Telegram, Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said there were casualties after a residential area was hit.
In an evening video address, Gladkov said that all public events in the region would be canceled ahead of the New Year’s holiday.
“Today, the most serious consequences of the last two years took place as a result of the Ukrainian army’s attack,” Gladkov said in the address. “To all the families of the victims, I understand that there are no words that could console this grief… the enemy will not be able to escape retribution.”
Videos circulating online after the attack showed thick, black smoke billowing from blown-out cars in the city center. Bodies were shown strewn on the ground, and in the footage panicked people ran from the scene.
Belgorod and the surrounding regions that border Ukraine have come under near-constant shelling and frequent drone attacks over the past year, but civilian casualties are rare.
“A tragedy occurred today in Belgorod. As a result of the attack by Ukrainian terrorists, peaceful civilians and children were killed, there were many victims … what happened is simply monstrous,” Alexander Bogomaz, governor of the nearby Bryansk region, which also borders Ukraine, wrote in a Telegram post.
Later Saturday, an apparent missile strike hit the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, about 44 miles south of Belgorod, injuring at least 19 people at a hotel and in a residential building in the city center, the local governor said.
Ebel reported from London.
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