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Territorial defence unit volunteers patrol the central square near a damaged skating rink in Russia's southwestern Belgorod region, on Jan. 10.OLGA MALTSEVA/Getty Images

A Russian city near the Ukrainian border cancelled its traditional Orthodox Epiphany festivities on Friday due to the threat of attacks as Kyiv’s forces pursue a new strategy with the war approaching its two-year milestone.

The city of Belgorod has scrapped events in which the faithful plunge into ponds and pools through holes in the ice on the feast of Epiphany every Jan. 19, the state news agency Tass reported, citing the regional emergencies ministry. The annual celebrations are widespread in Russia.

Cross-border attacks have become increasingly frequent in recent weeks in Belgorod, the largest Russian city near the border with about 340,000 people, and can be reached by relatively simple and movable weapons such as multiple rocket launchers. It is about 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

On Dec. 30, shelling in the centre of Belgorod killed 21 people and wounded 110, regional officials said, in what was one of the deadliest attacks on Russian soil since the start of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of its neighbour.

Border villages have been targeted sporadically during the war by Ukrainian artillery fire, rockets, mortar shells and drones launched from dense forests, where they are hard to detect. But until Thursday, no major public events were known to have been called off.

In Moscow, meanwhile, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed a U.S. proposal to resume a dialogue on nuclear arms control, saying it’s impossible while Washington offers military support to Ukraine.

Speaking at an annual news conference, Lavrov accused the West of fuelling global security risks by encouraging Ukraine to ramp up strikes on Russian territory and warned that Moscow will achieve its goals in the conflict despite Western assistance to Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pledged to hit more targets inside Russian border regions this year. The goal is to disrupt life and unsettle Russians, especially ahead of a March 17 election in Russia when President Vladimir Putin is seeking another six years in power.

Ten rockets fired from Ukraine were shot down, with one woman injured by falling wreckage, Belgorod regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said Thursday.

Long-range cross-border missile, drone and artillery strikes have been a feature of the war, especially when fighting on the front line eases off during winter.

Russian forces have repeatedly blasted civilian areas of Ukraine. On Thursday, a multistory building was hit in Kupiansk, in the eastern Kharkiv region, killing a 57-year-old woman and wounding two men, according to regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov.

Near Kupiansk, Russian troops also shelled the village of Maly Burluk, killing an elderly woman, Ukraine’s presidential office said. A 10-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl were wounded, it said.

In the southern city of Kherson, shelling killed a driver in his car and a passerby on the street. Seven people were wounded in the region, including an 81-year-old woman, according to the presidential office.

It was not possible to independently verify either side’s battlefield claims.

Ukraine’s air force said it intercepted 22 out of 33 Shahed drones launched by Russia overnight. The Kremlin’s forces also fired two S-300 missiles at the Kharkiv region for the second night in a row, officials said.

Ukraine has urged its Western allies to step up its weapon and ammunition supplies so it can keep up the battlefield pressure on Moscow.

France on Thursday announced more planned deliveries of its Caesar artillery system to Ukraine and said it is speeding up weapons manufacturing as it seeks to avoid depleting its own military stocks while continuing to support Kyiv.

“The logic of ceding materiel taken from the armies’ stocks is reaching its end,” French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu told Le Parisien. “From now on, the solution is to directly connect French defence industries with the Ukrainian army.”

France also launched a drive to fund the delivery of 78 Caesar self-propelled 155 mm howitzers to Ukraine this year. Ukraine has already paid for six of the guns itself and France will provide €50-million ($54-million) to deliver 12 more, Lecornu said separately in a speech. France is also seeking €280-million ($305-million) from other allies of Ukraine to pay for the 60 other Caesars, he said.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov said Russian forces are firing five times more artillery shells – 10 times more in some places – than Kyiv’s forces along the front lines, and stronger artillery “is one of our key needs to win this war.”

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