Ukrainian and Russian leaders vow to secure victory in New Year speeches

Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke of gratitude and pain as Vladimir Putin claimed 'moral, historical righteousness is on our side'

Ukrainian soldiers watch President Zelenskyy’s New Year's Eve address in a military rest house in Donetsk. Reuters
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The leaders of Ukraine and Russia both pledged to secure victory in speeches to mark the New Year, with Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking of gratitude and pain as Vladimir Putin cast the war as a near-existential fight.

Ukrainian's President Zelenskyy used his New Year’s Eve address to rally his people and celebrate the country’s survival.

“We will fight. And when we win, we will hug,” he said, dressed in his trademark khaki outfit and standing in darkness, with the Ukrainian flag fluttering behind.

Recalling some of the most dramatic moments and victories of the war, now dragging into its 11th month, he spoke of his pride in Ukrainians for withstanding attacks, darkness and cold.

“We were told: you have no other option but to surrender. We say: we have no other option than to win.

“We fight as one team — the whole country, all our regions. I admire you all.”

A few minutes after Mr Zelenskyy's speech, which was released just before midnight Kyiv time on New Year's Eve, numerous blasts were heard in the capital and around the country.

The attacks followed a barrage of more than 20 cruise missiles fired across Ukraine on Saturday — and many bombardments earlier.

Kyiv's mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least one person was killed and eight were wounded after a series of explosions in the capital on Saturday.

One of the wounded was a Japanese journalist who had been taken to hospital, he said.

A hotel to the south of Kyiv city centre was hit and a residential building in another district was damaged, according to the city administration.

Other cities across Ukraine also came under fire. In the southern region of Mykolaiv, governor Vitaliy Kim said on television that six people had been wounded.

Russian troops have been forced out of more than half the territory they took in the first weeks of what Mr Putin has called a “special military operation” to “denazify” and demilitarise Ukraine. Kyiv and its western allies say Moscow’s invasion was a land grab.

Mr Putin, breaking with tradition by delivering his New Year message flanked by troops rather than the Kremlin's walls, talked sternly and combatively about 2022 as the year that “clearly separated courage and heroism from betrayal and cowardice.”

While trying to rally support among Russians amid embarrassing battlefield setbacks and growing internal criticism of his military strategy, Mr Putin thanked Russian troops, but he also demanded more from them.

“The main thing is the fate of Russia,” said Mr Putin, dressed in a dark suit and tie. “Defence of the fatherland is our sacred duty to our ancestors and descendants. Moral, historical righteousness is on our side.”

Russia had planned a swift operation, but with the war dragging on it has been forced to put society on more of a war footing; calling up more than 300,000 reservists, retooling an economy hurt by western sanctions and saying publicly that the conflict may be long.

Reiterating that the West is intent on “destroying Russia” by using Kyiv, Mr Putin vowed he will never allow that. He signalled once again, that the war, albeit hard, will continue.

“We have always known, and today we are again convinced that the sovereign, independent, secure future of Russia depends only on us, on our strength and will”, he said.

Mr Zelenskyy promised the return of lands Moscow proclaimed it had annexed in September.

“It's impossible to forget. And it's impossible to forgive. But it's possible to win,” he said in his address.

While listing Ukraine's successes, Mr Zelenskyy referred to the Crimean Bridge, Moscow's symbol of the annexation of the peninsula that linked it with Russia and that was torn by an explosion in October.

Ukraine had not previously claimed responsibility for it — or any other attacks inside Russia — since Russia's February 24 invasion.

“This year has struck our hearts. We've cried out all the tears. We've shouted all the prayers,” Mr Zelenskyy said.

“We fight and will continue to fight. For the sake of the key word: 'victory'.”

Updated: January 01, 2023, 12:38 PM