KYIV, Ukraine — Literally a year ago, Sophia Square in Kyiv was surrounded by a big Christmas tree and thousands of lights that spilled over the square. In these final days of 2022, in the midst of a war that has ravaged the country for 10 months, there stands a more humble tree, its blue and yellow lights barely breaking the gloom of the square, which is otherwise dark except for the headlights of cars. .

In recent months, Russia has targeted the energy infrastructure in an effort to cut off electricity and heating to Ukrainians as the cold winter approaches. And although the government of Ukraine is trying to act as soon as possible, restoring electricity to every person in the country, including more than 3 million residents of the capital, is almost impossible.

There are days when there are lights on the streets in central Kyiv, but the authorities have imposed some restrictions and scheduled power cuts, meaning that the traditional Christmas season is not lit up by the city.

But even in these dark moments, some people have decided to show their determination and save what they can this holiday season – like the Christmas tree, which still stands proudly, even if it lacks the brightness of recent years.

The mayor of Kyiv, Vital Klitschko, announced the installation of a Christmas tree, which will be called the “tree of invincibility”.

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

The “Tree of Invincibility” was inaugurated on December 19, the same day that Russia carried out a drone strike on Kiev, but only damaged the power plant, which did not cause a massive blackout in the city.

Unlike in previous years, when along with 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 the generator powering the lights of the 12-meter (40-foot) tree. There is no Star of Bethlehem on its top, but instead a trident, the symbol of Ukraine.

In contrast, a large Christmas tree was erected in the Russian-occupied city of Luhansk, and on Friday evening people came out to admire its bright lights and watch the entertainment, including dancers dressed in the colors of the Russian flag.

Before the Kiev government decided to erect its tree, there was debate about whether it was appropriate in a year that brought so much tragedy and horror. Similar discussions have taken place across the country, with some regions opting to go treeless.

But now some people like the initiative.

“We are grateful that at such times we can at least see something,” said 56-year-old Oleg Skakun during the opening of the Christmas tree on Monday.

He said that every December 19, on his wife’s birthday, they went to see the Christmas tree in the southern city of Kherson, not far from their house. 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 the sadness, Skakun said that they want to preserve the tradition of going to the Christmas tree.

“I now have twenty Russians living with me, they tortured people, they tortured my son,” says 57-year-old Larisa Skakun. – But we came to cheer up a little, to see the people, for the holiday,” she added in tears.

Among the other cities that have also decided to put up a Christmas tree is Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, which for months was on the edge of the front line and constantly under fire from Russian missiles. There, instead of placing it in the square, it was placed inside the main metro station.

But for some Ukrainians, it is difficult to celebrate anything this Christmas.

Anna Golovina, 27, came to Sofia Square to look at the tree, but said she constantly thinks about her hometown in the Luhansk region, which has been occupied by Russian troops since 2014.

“I feel sadness. I feel pain. I don’t feel the holiday at all,” she said. “My family is in Kyiv, but my hometown has been occupied for the eighth year.”

Copyright © 2022, The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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