Conflicts & War

Millions in Ukraine celebrate New Year’s Eve far from home

Lviv, Ukraine, Jan 23 (EFE).- Several million internally displaced Ukrainians brought in the New Year away from their occupied or shelled homes, while trying to rebuild their lives amid sustained Russian attacks and rolling power cuts.

The arrival of 2023 in Ukraine was marked by a series of missile and kamikaze drone strikes across the country. 45 Iranian-produced drones were shot down by air defenses on New Year’s night alone.

As the air raid siren goes off and electricity supply is cut in her temporary accommodation in Lviv, Ganna, an internally displaced Ukrainian from Mariupol, remains unfazed. “We do not have to run to hide anywhere. It’s here where others flee, seeking safety in a park, and find relief in seeing how calm we remain”.

The park, or rather the internal refugee camp set up there, has been Ganna’s new home for the last seven months. A single room with two bunk beds where she lives together with her husband, two sons and a cat, is nearly 10 times smaller than their home in Mariupol, which was destroyed by a Russian bomb days after they fled the besieged city.

“There can be no forgiveness for what the Russians have done”, Ganna tells Efe as she looks back at how her life, as well as that of all the Ukrainians, has changed in the past year.

“Just imagine seeing a person lying on the ground without half of her head gone”, she says as she recalls the obliteration of Mariupol by Russian planes and artillery.

Amid vanishing hopes that the city would hold, part of her family undertook the arduous journey towards safety in the Ukrainian-controlled regions, with each of them only able to take small backpacks with them.

Her oldest son, who was only 34 years old, could not flee with them and died unexpectedly in Mariupol. “There are many like him, especially young men, who go to sleep and simply do not wake up anymore”, Ganna says, explaining that they cannot cope with the shock of the destruction and occupation of their city.

There are still a number of people whose destiny remains unknown, such as the godfather of her other son Bogdan. Ganna knows for sure that his 86-year-old father was shot in cold blood. “What danger could he pose to anyone?”, she asks, suggesting that he may have tried to protect his son.

“If not for the strenuous physical work in the park, I don’t know how I would have managed to weather it all”, she says.

Ganna also finds pride in her sons Bogdan and Yelisei who are studying at university and a local school respectively. The older one has also found a job and is already contributing to the family’s budget, which mostly relies on the total of 10 thousand UAH (250 euros) monthly payment from the state and Ganna’s salary.

She focuses on the warm welcome that she has received in Lviv, with locals offering accommodation and other forms of help, as well as the continued support from various humanitarian aid organizations and volunteers.

Ganna says that her family will likely go on to stay in Lviv even if Mariupol is liberated.

Together with her colleagues, she has just planted several thousand tulips and other flowers in the park. “When they grow next spring, it will look almost like the flower rainbow we used to have in our beautiful Mariupol. I will then have part of my home right next to me”.

Despite the mood being far from festive, Ganna and her family are still planning to go for a stroll to the city’s main Christmas tree.

She believes that it won’t be easy but Ukraine will retake all the Russian-occupied territory. “This is simply how it should be,” she says defiantly. EFE


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