Fed up with huddling for safety in their corridors and bathrooms during Russia’s aerial attacks, residents of one neighborhood in Kyiv took a different approach in the first moments of New Year’s Day.
Despite the risks, dozens of people in a district of high-rise apartment blocks went out onto their balconies and sang the Ukrainian national anthem just after midnight.
A bit off-key and raucous, with some voices sounding drunken, they recorded themselves in videos as a swarm of exploding drones buzzed over the capital in an attack that followed a missile barrage earlier on New Year’s Eve, killing at least one person and injuring more than 20. Others posted memes and exchanged jokes.
Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, labeled Russia a terrorist state. Air defenses fired through the night. A new system of searchlights, intended to spot nocturnal drones, swept Kyiv’s sky. Air-raid alerts sounded and booms echoed through the city’s streets. Still, in one central area of the capital, some New Year’s parties could be heard continuing even after the blasts.
The momentary good cheer masked some hard realities for a country that remains under assault.
Over the fall, Kyiv turned the tide in ground combat in the southeast, leadingseesaw fighting to resume. But whatever its successes on the battlefield, ten months into the war, Ukraine can do little to stop Russia from launching missile strikes, even if its air defenses lessen their impact.
There is little choice now for Ukrainians but to endure — to take whatever Russia can shoot at them, while keeping up their resolve and defiance.
In the New Year’s Eve attack, the Russian military fired 31 cruise missiles, the Ukrainian general staff headquarters said Sunday in a morning update on the war. A drone attack followed with 45 flying bombs launched overnight — 13 before the new year and 32 after midnight. The Ukrainian military said it shot all of them down. There were no means to independently confirm the statements.
In the capital, the authorities began the year collecting mangled metallic debris from the missiles and drones shot down over the city. Fragments landed oncars, in the road and at a subway stop, temporarily closing one line of the subway, officials said.
Ukraine has been developing long-range drones to strike back, and Russian airfields from which bombers take off to launch cruise missiles suffered drone attacks twice in December. But these are pinpricks compared with Moscow’s massive waves of strikes on Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure like power plants, electrical pylons and hydroelectric dams. There have been 11 since those attacks began in October.
Through the fall, Mr. Zelensky has persuaded allies to rush deliveries of several sophisticated air-defense systems to Ukraine.
In ground combat, movement has mostly stalled since the Ukrainian military pushed Russian forces from the west bank of the Dnipro River in the Kherson region, in southern Ukraine, in November.
The advance allowed Ukraine to move artillery forward. Now, many — though not all — Russian supply lines in southern Ukraine are within range of Ukrainian long-range artillery, which is hitting targets behind Russian lines, even as the lines themselves do not shift.
To the east in the Donbas region, Russia continues to press its only remaining offensive.
The Russian force is partly made up of units gathered by a private military contracting company, and includes convicts who have been promised pardons in exchange for fighting for Moscow in Ukraine. Trench warfare has swayed back and forth over outlying districts of the city of Bakhmut and nearby villages for months, with advances and retreats on both sides often measured in a few hundred yards.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research group, said over the weekend that the Russian attacks had slowed for lack of artillery ammunition. Movement was also slowed for both sides by wet, wintertime conditions that can confine tanks and other heavy armored vehicles to roads, lest they bog down in mud.
“I am convinced Ukraine has achieved irreversible momentum,” Lt. Gen. Frederick Hodges, the former American commanding general in Europe, said in an interview late last month. Pointing to the continuing Ukrainian strikes on supply lines, he said, “This is exactly how to set conditions for the next maneuver phase.”
But the missile war is less favorable for Ukraine.
For all their spirit of defiance and resolve, Ukrainians remain vulnerable. Sheltering underground, or in the corridors or bathrooms of their homes, they do what they can to protect themselves from the repeated missile barrages. Sometimes children are placed in iron bathtubs for extra protection from flying debris.
Military analysts say the attacks on critical infrastructure targets are intended to cut electricity and heat in the wintertime and demoralize the population. One exploding drone shot down over Kyiv had a taunting message written on a wing: “Happy New Year!!!” and the word “Boom,”according to a photograph published on social networking site. The photograph could not be independently verified.
Weeks of blackouts have taken a toll. Through the fall, net outflows of Ukrainians to Poland — already a major destination for millions of refugees — increased slightly.
The jokes mocking the Russian military over its setbacks may bolster Ukrainian spirits through the strikes, but they are often underpinned by seething anger.
In Kyiv, people voiced outrage at the holiday attack as they gathered Saturday afternoon at sites damaged by missile strikes or falling debris. The anger was all the more palpable because as Russia loses ground on the battlefield, it has begun aiming its missiles at targets without direct military value. Mr. Zelensky has called such strikes “revenge of the losers.”
During this holiday season, a popular Christmas tree decoration has been a figurine of Vladimir Putin. It is hung by a tiny noose.
After Mr. Putin delivered a New Year’s Eve address standing in front of Russian soldiers, a modified version of the image quickly circulated in Ukraine of the Russian president standing in front of a pile of black body bags.