Vladimir Putin has vowed to back soldiers who defend Russia’s interests and ordered his government to give greater support to those who fight – after two people were killed in the latest drone and missile attacks on Ukraine.
Speaking on the eve of Orthodox Christmas, the Russian president said on Saturday while meeting families of soldiers killed in Ukraine: “Many of our men, our courageous, heroic guys, Russian warriors, even now, on this holiday, defend the interests of our country with arms in hand.”
State TV showed Mr Putin attending an intimate midnight service, known as the Divine Liturgy, with a small group of families at a chapel at his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo outside of Moscow.
Russian soldiers marked Orthodox Christmas on Sunday, with Russia’s Defence Ministry saying military priests led prayer services on the front line of the war this weekend.
Meanwhile, two people were killed and several others wounded in Russian attacks on the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, local officials said.
Ukraine said Russia launched 28 drones and cruise missiles in attacks mostly on the south and east overnight, adding that its air defence systems destroyed 21 of the drones.
Twelve people were injured in a drone attack in Dnipro city, Dnipropetrovsk authorities said on Telegram.
Elsewhere more than 100 residents of the Russian border city of Belgorod evacuated to an area further from the Ukrainian border, local officials said. Ukrainian attacks on the city on 30 December killed 25 people there, the officials said, with rocket and drone attacks continuing throughout this week. Russia fired almost 300 missiles and used more than 200 drones in attacks in the last days of 2023 and the first days of 2024.
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Russia can be defeated, Zelenskyy says
Moscow’s assault on Ukraine can be defeated, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, adding the situation on the battlefield remains relatively stable.
“Even Russia can be brought back within the framework of international law. Its aggression can be defeated,” the Ukrainian president told a conference in Sweden via video link on Sunday.
The war has shown Europe must develop joint weapons production to ensure the continent can “preserve itself” under any global situation that might arise, Mr Zelenskyy added.
“Two years of this war have proven that Europe needs its own sufficient arsenal for the defence of freedom, its own capabilities to ensure defence,” he said.
Mr Zelenskyy will continue to seek support from allies in 2024 and will welcome the support of Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Bilstrom, who told the conference the primary task of Sweden’s foreign policy in the coming years will be to support Ukraine.
Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa also pledged her country’s continued support for Ukraine when she visited Kyiv – and was forced to hold a news conference in a shelter due to an air raid alert.