| 19 June 2024, Wednesday |

Ukraine weighs heavy on minds in Moscow as New Year holiday nears

Ahead of the customary New Year’s celebrations, some Moscow residents claim they are finding it difficult to feel festive despite the fact that the Christmas markets are in full flow and sparkling ice sculptures welcome visitors to Gorky Park.

As people bought for food and presents this year, some stated in street interviews in the capital’s center that they had noticed the dearth of Western items.

One of the women, Maria, responded without hesitation when asked if the 10-month crisis in Ukraine had an impact on her mood.

“Directly. Yes. It is difficult to be cheerful when you understand that people out there are going through such awful times,” she said on a visit to Gorky Park one recent evening.

“To be honest with you, there is always hope that things will improve, but it seems like it won’t get better,” she added with a rueful smile.

Ivan, a man interviewed nearby, referred obliquely to the conflict but said he would still celebrate.

“A holiday remains a holiday. Even though some of our comrades are doing things somewhere I would rather they would not be doing, this is still a holiday for children, for grandparents. And it should remain so,” he said.

New Year’s Day is Russia’s main seasonal holiday, while Orthodox believers also celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7.

This year, reminders of the Ukraine conflict are inescapable. The Latin letters Z, V and O – symbols adopted by the Russian military – are brightly illuminated near the entrance to the famous park.

On Red Square, a pavilion has been set up for people to donate gifts and humanitarian aid to troops, with upbeat Soviet-era music playing outside.

Some of those interviewed said their seasonal shopping had been made harder by the impact of Western sanctions imposed against Russia over what President Vladimir Putin calls his “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Vladislav Pukharev, owner of a market selling New Year fir trees for people to decorate in their homes, said prices had gone up because the trees were harder to source and more expensive to deliver.

“People started to spend less. They are buying smaller trees than last year. But they do still buy natural trees,” he said.

Jewlery maker Evgeniya, however, said her sales at a seasonal market had sharply increased from last year.

Outside a supermarket, pensioner Natalia said “50% of goods” had disappeared from the shelves. Asked to describe her mood, she said: “Absolutely dreadful. I think everybody shares it.”

Student Matvey said he was missing Western brands and so had spent less on clothes this year. He said one of his friends had been drafted into the military and sent to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia invaded and annexed in 2014.

When the conflict started, he said, “I felt slightly empty. I did not know what to make of it. But then I kind of came to terms with it.”

A young woman, Natalia, said she had noticed far fewer cheeses were available, and she couldn’t buy her favorite Portuguese wine.

Leonid, her father, interjected: “What a disaster, Crimean wine is widely available. It’s excellent. Russian wine, ours.”

Even though it would be challenging, a number of people surveyed stated they would try to ring in the New Year in the customary manner.

“It deserves to be celebrated even though I’m not prepared to do so as usual. We must provide gifts and so on. We must combat this feeling of uncertainty, in my opinion “explained researcher Ekaterina.

Moscow resident Daniela Khazova mentioned having “mixed sentiments” this year at the tree market.

“The holiday hardly qualifies as a holiday any longer. But now, all I want is to be around my closest friends “She spoke.

  • Reuters