A strike that will not go "unpunished". Moscow accused the Ukrainian military of launching an airstrike on Belgorod, a Russian city near the border, on Saturday, December 30. The strikes killed at least 14 people, including two children, and wounded 108, a day after massive strikes killed 39 people in Ukraine.

"According to the latest information, 12 adults and two children died in Belgorod," the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations said on Telegram, adding that "108 people, including <> children, were injured."

Images posted online show burning cars, buildings with broken windows, and columns of black smoke rising into the horizon.

Ukraine regularly carries out strikes in Russia, especially in the regions closest to its territory, but the toll is usually much lower.

The Ministry of Defence said in a statement that the attack would not go "unpunished".

Rockets and missile debris

Russian forces managed to intercept two missiles and "most" of the rockets launched against the city, the Defense statement said, which avoided an "infinitely more serious" toll. However, several rockets and missile debris landed on Belgorod, he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was "informed" of the attack on "residential areas," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russian news agencies.

Kiev has not yet reacted to the Russian accusations.

Earlier, the governor of the Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, reported the death of two children in a Ukrainian strike in the regional capital.

Authorities did not say whether the casualties were included in the ministry's death toll or whether they were separate strikes.

For his part, the governor of Russia's border region of Bryansk, Alexander Bogomaz, said a Ukrainian attack had killed "a child born in 2014".

Bodies pulled from the rubble

Ukraine was still counting its dead on Saturday, after intense strikes the day before on several cities, including the capital Kyiv.

The wave of attacks, one of the heaviest since the start of the war nearly two years ago, targeted apartment buildings, a maternity hospital and a shopping mall, as well as industrial and military infrastructure.

"At the moment, there are unfortunately 39 deaths" across the country, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday, adding that about <> people had been injured.

"Nearly 120 towns and villages have been hit," he said, adding that search operations were continuing.

Relief operations in the aftermath of yesterday's Russian attack continue. Almost 120 cities and villages have been affected, with hundreds of civilian objects damaged.

I thank all of our State Emergency Service rescuers, municipal employees, police officers, and everyone who is... pic.twitter.com/bWFq2Wv0CU

— Volodymyr Zelenskyy / Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) December 30, 2023

In Kyiv alone, at least 16 people were killed on Friday, according to the local administration.

Bodies continued to be pulled from the rubble Saturday in the city, where deadly attacks had become rarer in recent months.

The attack was "the largest in terms of civilian casualties," Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Saturday, adding that January 1 would be a "day of mourning."

Air Force spokesman Yuri Ignat said it was "the most massive missile attack" of the conflict, excluding the first days of the war.

Depletion of Western aid

Friday's Russian strikes provoked strong international condemnation, with the UN secretary-general speaking out against "appalling attacks".

The attacks cap a difficult year for Ukraine, marked by the failure of its summer counteroffensive and a renewed momentum from Moscow's forces, which this week claimed the capture of the eastern front town of Marinka.

This news is all the more worrying for Kiev as Western aid is beginning to run out of steam, both in Europe and in the United States, raising the risk of a drying up of the flow of ammunition and funds.

Read alsoThe $300 billion in frozen Russian assets soon to be seized for the benefit of Ukraine?

On Saturday, Volodymyr Zelensky made a new appeal to his allies, assuring that arming Ukraine is "a way to protect lives". "Every manifestation of Russian terror proves that we cannot wait to provide assistance to those who are fighting," he said.

His remarks echo those of his American counterpart Joe Biden, who had called on his country's elected officials to "act without further delay" to help Kyiv.

Washington has just released a new tranche of $250 million, the last without a new vote in Congress, which is refusing to allocate more aid for the time being.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has vetoed a new EU aid package, an opposition that Europeans hope to resolve at a summit in early February 2024.

With AFP

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