Ukrainian forces staged their heaviest shelling attack in years in the country’s Russian-controlled east on Thursday 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 center in the early hours.
Meanwhile, Russian forces kept up shelling and airstrikes along the entire eastern front line, killing one person, while two were killed in the southern city of Kherson, Ukrainian officials said.
“The Kremlin … is seeking to turn the conflict into a prolonged armed confrontation,” a senior Ukrainian officer, Brig. Gen. Oleksiy Gromov, told a briefing, also dismissing the possibility of a truce over the festive period.
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.
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.
Russian forces kept up shelling and airstrikes along the entire eastern front line, killing one person, while two were killed in the southern city of Kherson.
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.
“(The Russians) are crawling like zombies on our positions in Bakhmut, creating pressure in the south of the Donetsk region,” Andriy Yermak, head of the presidential office, wrote on Telegram.
“They understand that if they do not stretch the front now, then this winter will be a disaster for them.”
In a move that would significantly bolster Kyiv’s air defense, US officials said a decision on providing the Patriot missile system to the Ukrainian military could be announced soon.
The Kremlin said the US was getting “deeper and deeper into the conflict,” and that US Patriot systems would be legitimate targets, something that Russia’s Foreign Ministry said applied to all weapons supplied to Ukraine by the West. It warned that if the US confirms reports, it would be “another provocative move by the US” that could prompt a response from Moscow.
Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a weekly briefing that the US had “effectively become a party” to the war in Ukraine.
Growing amounts of US military assistance, including the transfer of such sophisticated weapons, “would mean even broader involvement of military personnel in the hostilities and could entail possible consequences,” Zakharova added.
Asked about the possibility of Ukraine getting the US Patriot systems, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said: “It hasn’t been confirmed yet but it will show quite how concerned people are by Russia’s deliberate targeting of civilian, critical national infrastructure.”
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