Kyiv, Ukraine — Just a year ago, Sophia Square in Kyiv was all about the big Christmas tree and thousands of lights spreading across the square. In these last days of 2022, in the midst of a war that has been ravaging the country for 10 months, there stands a humbler tree whose blue and yellow lights barely break the darkness of the square, which is dark save for the headlights of the cars.
In recent months, Russia has targeted energy infrastructure, cutting off electricity and heating for Ukrainians as the freezing winter encroaches. And although the Ukrainian government is trying to act as quickly as possible, it has been virtually impossible to restore power to every single person in the country, including the capital’s more than 3 million residents.
There are days when the streets of downtown Kyiv are bright, but the authorities have imposed some restrictions and planned blackouts, meaning there is no traditional shiny city during the Christmas season.
But even in these bleak moments, some people have decided to show their determination and save what they can this holiday season – like the Christmas tree, which still stands proud even if it doesn’t have the brightness of recent years.
Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko announced the installation of the Christmas tree, saying it will be called the “Tree of Invincibility”.
“We have decided that Russia must not steal our children’s Christmas and New Year celebrations,” he said. The name, he added, is “because we Ukrainians cannot be broken”.
The “Tree of Invincibility” was dedicated on December 19, the same day Russia launched a drone attack on Kyiv but damaged only one power plant that did not cause a massive blackout in the city.
Unlike previous years when Sophia Square was filled with music and happy people along with tens of thousands of lightbulbs, now the only sound in the square is the sound of a generator powering the lights of the 12 meter (40 foot) tall tree. There is no Star of Bethlehem written on it, but a trident, the symbol of Ukraine.
In stark contrast, in the Russian-occupied city of Luhansk, a large Christmas tree was put up and on Friday night people came out to admire its bright lights and see entertainment, including dancers dressed in the colors of the Russian flag.
Before the Kyiv government decided to put up their tree, there was some debate as to whether this was appropriate in a year that brought with it so much tragedy and horror. Similar discussions took place across the country, and some regions decided not to have trees.
But now some people like the initiative.
“We are thankful that at times like this we can at least see something,” said Oleh Skakun, 56, at the unveiling of the tree on Monday.
He said that every December 19, his wife’s birthday, they would visit 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 troops and they had to flee to Kyiv in August.
But despite their sadness, Skakun said they wanted to keep the tradition of visiting a Christmas tree.
“Twenty Russians live in my house now; they tortured people, they tortured my son,” said Larysa Skakun, 57. “But we came here to cheer up a bit, to see the people, the celebration,” added she added in tears.
Other cities that have also decided to put up a Christmas tree include Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, which for months lay on the edge of the front line and was under constant attack from Russian missiles. There it was not set up in a square, but inside the 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 always thinks of her hometown in the Luhansk region, which has been occupied by Russian forces since 2014.
“I feel sadness. i feel pain I don’t feel the holiday at all,” she said. “My family lives in Kyiv, but my hometown has been occupied for the eighth year now.”
Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
https://abc7.com/ukraine-christmas-sophia-square-kyiv/12611655/ Christmas in Ukraine: The country looks like the “Tree of Invincibility” in the year of the war with Russia