Russia pummeled the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv with missiles and drones in the hours leading up to New Year’s Eve, in a brutal assault that contrasted sharply with the sense of normality that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia tried to project in his New Year’s address.
Mr. Putin’s address skipped any mention of the daily violence of the war, ignoring recent tit-for-tat assaults that included the strikes on Kharkiv, as well as a Ukrainian attack on the Russian city of Belgorod that left 24 people dead, Russian officials said. That attack appeared to be the deadliest single strike on Russian soil since Mr. Putin’s forces started the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
“I want to wish every Russian family all the best,” Mr. Putin said, in a message that was only four minutes long and delivered in the typical setting for the Russian leader’s end-of-year address, with the nighttime Kremlin illuminated in the background. “We are one country, one big family.”
The familiar staging evoked a return to business as usual after a striking New Year’s speech a year ago, in which an angry and defiant Mr. Putin spoke surrounded by Russian soldiers and attacked the West for “cynically using Ukraine.” This time, Mr. Putin only briefly addressed Russian soldiers in his speech, calling them “our heroes” who are “on the front line of the battle for truth and justice.” He did not mention Ukraine or the West.
His relatively calm message appeared to reflect his military’s improved battlefield position compared with the last months of 2022, when Russia’s humiliating retreat in northeast Ukraine precipitated the Kremlin’s unpopular and chaotic military draft. Now, Mr. Putin appears confident in his ability to continue waging war, bolstered by the failure of Ukraine’s counteroffensive and by flagging support for Ukraine in the West.
Moscow said it pounded Kharkiv from the skies in retaliation for what it said was a deadly Ukrainian air assault on Saturday on the Russian city of Belgorod.
Residents of Kharkiv, which is just 60 miles across the border from Belgorod, were jolted by multiple air-raid sirens overnight, as several waves of ballistic missiles and attack drones rained on the city center, injuring nearly 30 people and damaging private homes, hospitals and a hotel, according to Ukrainian officials.
“These are not military facilities, but cafes, residential buildings and offices,” Ihor Terekhov, Kharkiv’s mayor, said in a post on social media that included a video of firefighters trying to extinguish a blaze amid a pile of rubble.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the attacks on Kharkiv “struck decision-making centers and military facilities,” asserting, for instance, that the Kharkiv Palace Hotel, which a missile hit, was housing members of Ukraine’s armed forces and intelligence services. The strike left a hole the length of several stories in the hotel’s facade.
The hotel is one of the most famous in Kharkiv and foreign journalists often stayed there. The attack appeared to be the latest in a series of Russian missile strikes on venues popular with reporters. This past summer, Russian missiles struck a well-known restaurant and a hotel in the eastern cities of Kramatorsk and Pokrovsk.
The weekend air assaults in Ukraine and Russia capped a week of intensified attacks by both sides on land, sea and air, signaling that neither Kyiv nor Moscow intends to de-escalate the war. In recent days, Ukraine hit a Russian warship and said it had shot down five fighter jets, while Russian forces made small advances all along the front line.
“For all strikes in Odesa, Sumy region, Kyiv, and all our other cities and regions,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in his nightly address on Saturday, “there will be a fair responsibility of the terrorist state. Both political and very practical.”
The recent flare-up in the war began Friday, when Russia pounded Ukraine with a huge and deadly air assault that breached air defenses and wreaked havoc in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. It was, according to Mayor Vitali Klitschko, the deadliest attack on the city’s civilian population since the war started nearly two years ago.
Officials in Kyiv said overnight that rescue crews had found more bodies in the rubble, raising the death toll in Friday’s attack on the capital to 23. They have declared Jan. 1 a day of mourning.
Overall, the attacks against Ukraine on Friday killed some 40 people, wounded about 160 others and hit critical industrial and military infrastructure, as well as civilian buildings like hospitals and schools.
In response to the bombardment, Ukraine launched the attack on Belgorod, which killed at least 24 people and wounded nearly 110 others, according to local authorities.
Videos of the aftermath of the Belgorod bombardment showed people lying on pavements, cars on fire and shattered glass spread at the foot of damaged buildings — a striking echo of the kind of scenes that have been seen regularly in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government did not comment publicly on Saturday’s air assault, as is usually its policy for attacks on Russian territory. But an official from Ukraine’s intelligence services, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter, said that the strike had been in response to Russia’s attack on Friday. He added that only military facilities had been targeted and suggested that civilians had been killed by debris from downed Ukrainian missiles.
Russia said on Saturday that the attack against Belgorod would “not go unpunished.”
It took only a few hours for Moscow to strike back, targeting nearby Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, with what Ukrainian officials said appeared to be short-range Iskander ballistic missiles. Kharkiv is so close to the border with Russia that air-raid alarms often have no time to sound before missiles hit.
The Ukrainian Air Force said that Russia had also launched about 50 attack drones against Ukraine overnight, most of them directed at frontline areas. It added that it had shot down fewer than half of them, suggesting that many had hit their targets. The Ukrainian police said that two people had been killed by Russian shelling in Borova, a village near the eastern front.
Mr. Putin did not mention the latest violence in his New Year’s address. Instead, his annual message — a rite of passage in modern Russia, where it is aired just before midnight in every time zone — appeared to be aimed at sending a comforting signal of normality into Russian households on New Year’s Eve, the country’s central winter holiday.
Mr. Putin made no mention of the tens of thousands of Russians who died this year in the bloody battles for Ukrainian cities like Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
And he only obliquely evoked his narrative about an existential conflict with the West. “There is no force that is able to divide us, force us to forget the memory and faith of our fathers, or halt our development,” he said.
On Saturday night, scenes of devastation emerged from the aftermath of the attack on Kharkiv. The lobby of the Kharkiv Palace Hotel was strewed with debris from the collapsed floors, a white piano and red armchairs covered with rubble. Tables that were set for dinner in the hotel’s restaurant were swept by a gentle wind, as the restaurant’s windows had all been blown out.
In a nearby street, firefighters and city workers were busy clearing the streets of debris that had fallen from shattered facades, with shards of glass cracking under their feet.
“On New Year’s Eve, Russians want to intimidate our city,” Mr. Terekhov, the mayor, said on social media. “But we will not be afraid.”
Laura Boushnak contributed reporting from Kharkiv, and Vivek Shankar from Seoul.