Ukrainian forces shell Russian-controlled east
Ukrainian forces staged their heaviest shelling attack in years in the country's Russian-controlled east yesterday, Moscow-installed officials said, as both sides ruled out a Christmas truce in the nearly 10-month-old war.
Alexei Kulemzin, the Russian-backed mayor of Donetsk city, said 40 rockets were fired from BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers at civilians in the city centre in the early hours.
Meanwhile, Russian forces kept up shelling and air strikes along the entire eastern front line, killing one person, while two were killed in the southern city of Kherson, Ukrainian officials said.
Moscow and Kyiv are not currently holding talks to end Europe's biggest conflict since World War Two, raging mainly in Ukraine's east and south with little movement on either side.
"The Kremlin... is seeking to turn the conflict into a prolonged armed confrontation," a senior Ukrainian officer, Brigadier General Oleksiy Gromov, told a briefing, also dismissing the possibility of a truce over the festive period.
On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had said a Christmas ceasefire was "not on the agenda".
Kulemzin cast the Donetsk attack as a war crime and said it was the biggest on the city since 2014, when pro-Moscow separatists seized it from Kyiv's control. Preliminary estimates showed five people had been hurt, including a child, he said.
There was no immediate Ukrainian response to his comments.
Ukraine's military General Staff said Moscow's focus remained on the eastern cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, and that Ukrainian forces had repelled Russian attacks.
It also said Russian forces continued to strike Ukrainian troops and civilian infrastructure in the Donetsk region and in the southern areas of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, reports Reuters.
"The Russians fired at different areas along the entire front line all night and in the morning," the Ukrainian governor of Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on the Telegram messaging app.
One person was killed near Bakhmut, he said, adding: "It is dangerous to stay in the Donetsk region! Evacuate in time!"
Separately, Russian shelling killed two people in the centre of Kharkiv, the southern city liberated by Ukraine last month, said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president's office.
The United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk said in a speech to the Rights Council following a visit to Ukraine that Russia's strikes were exposing millions to "extreme hardship".
National grid operator Ukrenergo said yesterday Ukraine continued to suffer a "significant" deficit of electricity due to the strikes, including new ones in the east, adding that the situation was exacerbated by the wintry weather.
The Vatican launched a crowdfunding campaign yesterday to send thermal underwear to Ukraine to help people survive the winter.
European Union member states will try again to agree on a ninth package of Russia sanctions after Poland and Lithuania blocked a deal late on Wednesday over concerns it might benefit Russian oligarchs in the fertiliser business.
Further financial and military aid to Ukraine was set to feature prominently on the agenda of EU leaders meeting in Brussels for a summit later yesterday.