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A Christmas season without its traditional sparkle in Ukraine

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KYIV, Ukraine – Just a year ago, Sophia Square in Kyiv was given over to the large Christmas tree and thousands of lights that stretched across the square. In the final days of 2022, amid a war that has ravaged the country for 10 months, a more modest tree stands there, its blue and yellow lights barely breaking through the dimness of the square which is otherwise dark apart from the headlights cars .

In recent months, Russia has targeted energy infrastructure, aiming to cut off electricity and heating to Ukrainians, as the freezing winter advances. And although the Ukrainian government is trying to act as quickly as it can, it has been nearly impossible to restore power to everyone in the country, including the capital’s more than 3 million residents.

There are days when the streets of downtown Kyiv are lit up, but the authorities have imposed restrictions and scheduled power cuts, which means there is no traditional sparkling city during the winter season. Christmas.

But even in these dark times, some people have decided to show their resolve and save whatever they can during this holiday – like the Christmas tree, still proud even if it doesn’t have the sparkle of recent times. years.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko announced the installation of the Christmas tree, saying it was to be named “the tree of invincibility”.

“We have decided that we will not let Russia steal the celebration of Christmas and New Year from our children,” he said. The name, he added, was “because we Ukrainians cannot be broken”.

The “Tree of Invincibility” was inaugurated on December 19, the same day Russia launched a drone attack on Kyiv, but only damaged a power plant that did not cause a power outage. massive electricity in the city.

Unlike previous years when with the tens of thousands of light bulbs Sophia Square was full of music and happy people, now the only noise in the square is the sound of a generator powering the lights of the 12 meter tree (40 feet) . In addition, there is no star of Bethlehem but instead a trident, symbol of Ukraine.

Before the government of Kyiv decided to install the tree, there was a debate about whether it was appropriate in a year that has brought so much tragedy and horror. Similar discussions have taken place across the country, and some areas have decided not to have trees.

But now some people like the initiative.

“We are grateful to be able to see at least something in times like these,” Oleh Skakun, 56, said at the tree unveiling on Monday.

He said that every December 19, his wife’s birthday, they used to go to see the Christmas tree in the southern city of Kherson, not far from their home. Not this year, because their house, on the left bank of the Dnieper, is occupied by Russian forces, and they had to flee in August to Kyiv.

But despite their sadness, Skakun said they wanted to keep the tradition of visiting a Christmas tree.

“Twenty Russians now live in my house; they tortured people, they tortured my son,” said Larysa Skakun, 57. “But we came here to cheer ourselves up a bit, to see people, to party,” she added. tears.

Among the other cities that have also decided to put up a Christmas tree is Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, which for months found itself on the edge of the front line and constantly attacked by Russian missiles. There, instead of placing it in a plaza, it was erected inside the main subway station.

But for some Ukrainians, it’s hard to celebrate anything this Christmas.

Anna Holovina, 27, came to Sophia Square to see the tree, but said she kept thinking about her hometown in the Lugansk region, which has been occupied by Russian forces since 2014.

“I feel sadness. I feel pain. I don’t feel holidays at all,” she said. “My family is in Kyiv, but my hometown has been busy since eighth grade now.”

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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