Despite the war, some Ukrainian families reunite on New Year’s Day
Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – For millions of Ukrainians, many of whom are under Russian bombardment and struggling with power and water shortages, New Year celebrations are being muted as Russia’s 10-month war rages on with no end in sight. Explosions resounded across the country as a fresh wave of Russian attacks was reported on Saturday.
But for some families, the new year is still a chance to reunite after months of being apart, albeit briefly.
On Saturday morning at Kiev Central Station, Mykyta, still in his uniform, clutched a bouquet of pink roses as he awaited the arrival of his wife Valeriia from Poland on platform 9. He hadn’t seen her in six months.
“It was really tough waiting so long,” he told The Associated Press after hugging and kissing Valeriia.
Nearby, another soldier, Vasyl Khomko, 42, joyfully met his daughter Yana and his wife Galyna, who are living in Slovakia because of the war but have returned to Kyiv to spend New Year’s Eve together.
The mood contrasted sharply with that of 10 months ago, when families were torn apart by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldier Vasyl Khomko, 42, hugs his daughter Yana as she arrives at the railway station in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday December 31, 2022. Khomko’s wife and daughter lived in Slovakia due to the war, but returned to Kyiv to spend New Year’s Eve together. (AP Photo/Roman Hrytsyna)
As early as February, fathers, husbands and sons were forced to stay behind while their wives, mothers and daughters with young children boarded trains to seek safety outside the country. Scenes of tearful farewells burned on television screens and newspaper front pages around the world.
But on the last day of the year, marked by brutal war, many returned to the capital to spend New Year’s Eve with loved ones, despite the ongoing Russian attacks.
Multiple explosions were heard across the country on Saturday and air defenses were activated in several regions. One of the explosions in Kyiv occurred in a residential area among the multi-storey buildings of the Solomianskyi district. One person was killed and three injured, said the capital’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko.
As Russian attacks continue to target power supplies, leaving millions without power, no major celebrations are expected and a curfew will be in place when the clock chimes in the New Year. But for most Ukrainians, being with their families is a luxury.
Valeriia initially sought refuge from the conflict in Spain, but later moved to Poland. When asked what her New Year’s plans were, she simply replied, “Just to be together.”
The couple declined to provide his family name for security reasons, as Mykyta has fought on the front lines in both southern and eastern Ukraine.
Dmytro welcomes Tatyana and her 5-month-old son Volodymyr at the train station as they arrive in Kyiv, Ukraine on Saturday, December 31, 2022 to spend New Year’s Eve together. (AP Photo/Roman Hrytsyna)
Another young couple reunited on platform 8. University student Arseniia Kolomiiets, 23, lives in Italy. Although she longed to see her boyfriend Daniel Liashchenko in Kyiv, Kolomiiets feared Russian missile and drone strikes.
“He was like, ‘Please come! Please come! Please come!’” she recalled. “I’ve decided that (being scared) is part, but being with loved ones over the holidays is the most important part. So I conquered my fear and here I am now.”
Despite having no electricity at home, Liashchenko said they are looking forward to welcoming in 2023 together with his family and their cat.
To ensure residents have light during their celebrations, the regional government of southwestern Ukraine’s Odessa province plans to curb the work of its most energy-intensive industries on December 31 and January 1.
Regional head Maksym Marchenko made the announcement via Telegram on Friday, saying that power engineers in the province had used all possible means to “remedy the consequences” of Thursday’s spate of Russian attacks on Ukraine and restore power.
In Kyiv, the recent attacks have left many on edge, unsure if the skies will be peaceful on the last day of the year.
“We hope there are no surprises today,” said Natalya Kontonenko, who traveled from Finland. It was the first time she saw her brother Serhii Kontonenko since the full-scale invasion began on February 24. Serhii and other relatives traveled from Mykolayiv to Kyiv to meet Natalya.
“We don’t worry about the power because we’re together and I think that’s the most important thing,” he said.