A Ukrainian general has said Moscow is digging in for a long war and still wants to conquer the whole of Ukraine, as Russian forces pounded two strategic cities while Kyiv’s troops shelled Russian-controlled areas of Donetsk in the east.
“The Kremlin … is seeking to turn the conflict into a prolonged armed confrontation,” a senior Ukrainian officer, Brigadier General Oleksiy Gromov, told a news briefing on Thursday.
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“The main strategic objective of the enemy remains seizing all the territory of our country [and] not allowing Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration,” said Gromov.
Both sides have ruled out a Christmas truce and there are currently no talks aimed at ending the nearly 10-month-old conflict.
Ukraine’s military General Staff said Moscow’s main focus remained on the eastern cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, but that it was also shelling the southern city of Kherson daily and trying to get a stronger foothold in the southern region of Zaporizhia.
Russian shelling killed two people in the centre of Kherson, liberated by Ukraine last month, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, said on Thursday. The shelling also knocked out the city’s electricity, officials said.
One of those killed in Kherson was a female paramedic with the Ukrainian National Red Cross Society, according to the UN’s humanitarian coordinator Denise Brown. She said the attack hit a building used by local authorities and volunteers to distribute aid.
“It is shocking to know that a place that is used to support civilians, particularly the elderly, in need of assistance because of the war has been hit,” she said.
The Russian defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the attack on Kherson.
The Ukrainian governor of Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said one person was killed and four injured near Bakhmut.
Russian forces also attacked critical infrastructure in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, causing several explosions, its mayor, Ihor Terekhov, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
We are shocked and saddened by the loss of a @RedCrossUkraine volunteer due to the recent shelling in the Kherson region.
Our thoughts are with their staff, volunteers and family at this devastating time.
— ICRC Ukraine (@ICRC_ua) December 15, 2022
On Thursday, Alexei Kulemzin, the Russian-installed mayor of Donetsk, said Ukraine had fired 40 rockets from BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers at the city, in what he said was the heaviest attack there since 2014, when Russian-backed separatists wrested it from Kyiv’s control.
There were no reports of deaths in Donetsk, though Kulemzin said five people had been hurt, including a child.
On Thursday, national grid operator Ukrenergo said Ukraine continued to suffer a “significant” deficit of electricity due to Russian attacks, including new ones in the east, adding that the situation was exacerbated by the wintry weather.
Russia has fired barrages of missiles on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure since October, disrupting power supplies and leaving people without heating in freezing winter conditions.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said further attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure could lead to severe humanitarian deterioration and displacement.
In a speech to the Human Rights Council following a trip to Ukraine last week, Turk said that Russian attacks exposed millions of people to “extreme hardship”.
“Additional strikes could lead to a further serious deterioration in the humanitarian situation and spark more displacement,” he said.
He added that the war is an “unmitigated tragedy and disaster”.
Moscow says the raids do not target civilians but are meant to reduce Ukraine’s ability to fight and push it to negotiate, while Kyiv says the attacks are a war crime.
Meanwhile, Poland withdrew its objections to a minimum corporate tax at a European Union summit on Thursday, unblocking a whole package of linked agreements that includes 18 billion euros ($19.16bn) in financing for Ukraine in 2023.