In Ukraine, the new year was met with more sheltering from aerial bombardment
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Russia's defense ministry is accusing Ukraine of killing dozens of soldiers at an outpost near the city of Donetsk. Ukraine - Ukrainian sources have effectively confirmed this, except they say the death toll may be in the hundreds. NPR's Julian Hayda joins us now from Kyiv.
JULIAN HAYDA, BYLINE: Hi.
INSKEEP: Granting that truth is sometimes hard to come by in war, what do you know?
HAYDA: Well, Russia's defense ministry just came out with a statement about how they're keeping the Ukrainian counteroffensive at bay and how they're winning heroically. But buried in the third paragraph, they mentioned that 63 of their soldiers died as a result of Ukrainian rocket fire in a town called Makiivka. They accused the U.S. of supplying those weapons, which is very much on-brand. But it's one of the biggest admissions of Russian loss in a really long time, and that's pretty off-brand for them.
Now, this news came after Ukraine's strategic command claimed to have killed nearly 400 Russian conscripts on New Year's Eve, a claim that many at first thought was rather dubious. But then Russian officials in parts of occupied Ukraine took to social media to describe the carnage. One of them, Igor Girkin, warned Russian soldiers in the area this might happen again. Others said the death toll was so high because these Russian conscripts were up late partying that night in a school building, and then it collapsed on them. So it seems like the Russian defense ministry couldn't hide this anymore.
Now, Ukraine might be aiming for Makiivka because it's just east of the city of Donetsk, the largest city that Russian occupies - that Russia occupies in eastern Ukraine. Many in the Ukrainian military are hopeful to liberate that whole region within the next few months.
INSKEEP: And we're going to be talking about Ukraine's next steps in a moment. But let's stay on the battlefield now. What has happened in the last few days?
HAYDA: Well, Russia has attacked Ukraine on a number of occasions - four times in the last four days. The Russians appeared to be, at first, sending a message. But now since New Year's Eve, people are interpreting it as revenge. Ukrainian military intelligence analysts have been saying for weeks, some even months, that Russia is low on the kinds of weapons it needs to carry out its war in Ukraine, especially to attack infrastructure like power, water and heat. So Russia might be trying to dispel that notion.
But in the last week, there have been fewer missiles and more drones, and those just aren't as effective at knocking out infrastructure. Two weeks ago, the power was out for days at a time, for example. Now it's a few hours here and there, depending on the neighborhood. But the temps have been hovering around 50 degrees in most of the country. So it might just be easier to keep things running smoothly at the moment. But as it gets colder, Ukrainians will have a harder time keeping the infrastructure running if the Russians keep pounding Ukraine in the same way they have been since October.
INSKEEP: How are Ukrainians viewing the year now begun?
HAYDA: Well, despite all this, Ukrainians remain defiant. A new poll from the Razumkov Center, which is a pretty well-respected group that does opinion polling here in Kyiv, found that 9 in 10 Ukrainians believed in a total Russian defeat. And about half of those folks said that they believed Ukraine would win by the end of summer. Despite that overwhelming optimism, though, President Zelenskyy's New Year's address had some more sobering notes.
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PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Speaking Ukrainian).
HAYDA: He said, "we don't know what the new year has coming, what kind of attacks people should expect." Both sides have shifted their attention away from the south towards the east, namely a town called Bakhmut. The Russians have been trying to capture Bakhmut for months. They just haven't been able to. The fighting this week in the Donbas and the whole region has been very, very intense.
INSKEEP: NPR's Julian Hayda in Kyiv.
HAYDA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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