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New Year’s under shelling How residents of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region still manage to celebrate, even during wartime — in photos

Source: Meduza

For New Year’s, Meduza visited several villages and suburbs around Kharkiv, a city in Ukraine. Over the past two years, these places have gone through occupation, heavy fighting during their liberation, and near constant shelling. The humanitarian situation here is still very difficult: schools, houses, and most infrastructure has been destroyed, and there are often long power cuts during shelling. Is it even possible to celebrate New Year’s under such conditions? This photo series shows that yes — many Ukrainians, despite their difficult circumstances, still manage to maintain some elements of normal life, celebrate holidays, and keep their hope of a better future in the new year.

Symynivka village, Chuhuiv district, Kharkiv region. Mykyta, 12, rings in the new year in his house 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border with Russia and 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Kharkiv.
Symynivka is a small village that had just over 300 residents according to the last census in 2001. Mykyta’s mother Oksana, father Dmytro, and sister Khrystyna live here in a private rural house.
At the beginning of the Russian invasion in 2022, Symynivka, like the rest of Kharkiv region east of the Siverskyi Donets River, was occupied by Russia. Ukrainian forces managed to liberate the village during their counteroffensive in September 2022.
Khrystyna plays in the yard of her house. Like many children in Ukraine, Khrystyna and her brother Mykyta study online. Currently, all schooling in Kharkiv region is done online. However, in the city itself, several classrooms have been set up in metro stations.
Oksana and Mykyta cook dinner
New Year decorations in Oksana and Dmytro’s house. On December 31 and January 1, they had no power in their house. The power line was damaged by shelling. To avoid being left in the dark, the family uses battery-operated lanterns when necessary.
Dmytro, Oksana, and their son Mykyta in the only room of their rural house. Apart from the living room, the house has only a small kitchen. January 1, 2023.
Dmytro returned home from the front for three days to celebrate the New Year with his family. He had not seen his family since April 2023. However, on January 2, he had to return to his position near Kurakhove in the Donetsk region.
Dmitro and his son Mykyta working on repairs in the yard
Mykyta in his yard
Like residents of many Ukrainian villages, Oksana and Dmytro keep their own animals. They have ducks, chickens, and goats.
A motorcycle with a sidecar in a yard in the village of Symynivka
New Year’s decorations in a store in Symynivka. December 30, 2023.
Oksana and Dmytro’s daughter Khrystyna and their neighbor Vika
In addition to chickens, cats and a dog also live in Oksana and Dmytro’s house
The Siverskyi Donets River in the area of the Pechenihy reservoir
The village of Staryi Saltiv is located on the western, right bank of the Siverskyi Donets River about 50 kilometers (31 miles) away from Kharkiv.
Staryi Saltiv, like the rest of Kharkiv region east of the Siverskyi Donets River, was occupied by Russia in the beginning of the full-scale invasion. Ukrainian forces managed to liberate the village during their counteroffensive in September 2022. During the fighting, Staryi Saltiv was almost completely destroyed.
A bus stop in Staryi Saltiv. Local resident Sasha takes a Christmas tree home. December 30, 2023.
Staryi Saltiv residents with their pets
The destroyed Church of Faith, Hope, Love and the Mother Sophia. The foundation of the current church was laid in 2010, and it was completed in 2019. The grocery store shows traces of the former signboard written in Russian. December 30, 2023.
Maryna, a saleswoman, in a grocery store in the center of Staryi Saltiv
Staryi Saltiv residents Vadim and Oleksander at the table. December 31, 2023
A plastic sculpture damaged by shelling at the entrance to a store in Staryi Saltiv
Inside a house damaged by shelling in Staryi Saltiv
Repairing a destroyed house in Staryi Saltiv
A view of the village of Staryi Saltiv. In 2019, about 3,500 people lived in the village. Now, it’s mostly destroyed.
A destroyed house in the village of Mala Rohan. The village is located about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) east of Kharkiv. The village did not see intense ground combat, but it was periodically hit by shelling. In April 2022, a Russian Air Force Mi-8 transport helicopter was shot down in the area.
Serhii, a resident of Mala Rohan, carries a Christmas tree home. December 31, 2023.
A damaged house in the village of Verkhnya Pysarivka, which is located in the upper reaches of the Pechenihy reservoir on the left bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, about 13 kilometers (8 miles) from the Russian border.
Local resident Serhii returns from fishing on his boat. He managed to catch four big fish weighing about 6 kilograms (13 pounds) in the area of Verkhnya Pysarivka.
A destroyed bridge over the Siverskyi Donets River near the village of Verkhnya Pysarivka. The bridges over the Siverskyi Donets were blown up by Russian troops retreating to the east in May 2022. Similar destruction can be seen near Staryi Saltiv, where two bridges over the Pechenihy reservoir are located.
Sagebrush in the area of Verkhnya Pysarivka. The village is located among pine forests, which cover both banks of the Siverskyi Donets River.
Andriy, a resident of the village of Vasyshcheve and a Ukrainian Armed Forces veteran, in his home, located about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) south of Kharkiv. Andriy is 47 years old, and 10 days ago he finally returned home after undergoing eight surgeries after being wounded. December 31, 2023.
An icon of the Virgin Mary in Andriy’s house. Village of Vasyshcheve.
Andriy joined the AFU as a volunteer, fighting in the “Skala” battalion. During the counteroffensive near Orikhiv, his unit suffered heavy losses, only four out of 15 soldiers survived; all of them were seriously wounded. Like many of those who participated in the attempt to break through the minefields near Orikhiv, Andrei lost both of his legs below the knee. In addition, surgeons had to place implants in the bones of his shoulder blade. According to the veteran, he plans to return to the front as soon as he gets the opportunity to do so.
In one of the yards of Staryi Saltiv
Oleksii and his pet parrot. December 31, 2023.
Nadezhda, a resident of Staryi Saltiv, prepares New Year’s dinner on December 31, 2023. Nadezhda lives in this house with her two children, Oleksii and Yegor, who are nine and 14 years old respectively. After the liberation of their village, Nadezhda began doing volunteer work, helping to distribute humanitarian aid to the 50 or so residents who remained throughout the occupation of Saltivka. Nadezhda herself and her family went to the west of Ukraine during the occupation — first to Poltava and then to Vinnytsia. Both her sons, like almost all residents of the Kharkiv region, studied remotely. The Saltiv school was destroyed during the fighting and has not yet been fully restored — the same applies, according to Nadezhda, to 80% of the other buildings in the village.
Nadezhda’s house in Staryi Saltiv. On the windows, you can see curtains disguising the light (necessary due to their proximity to the front), as well as festive lights.
New Year’s Eve in Velyka Danylivka, a suburb north of Kharkiv. Like the Saltivka suburb a little to the east, the area has been subjected to intense and regular shelling by Russia throughout the war. The shelling continued the day before the new year: “Yesterday the Shaheds were flying over us. But Shaheds are not so terrible, it’s worse when S-300s are flying. And Grads. Eight houses around us were destroyed. We were lucky, only the fence and the bathhouse were damaged. But we still live here, even though it is scary sometimes,” a local resident tells Meduza.
Vanya, a local boy, holds a candle on New Year’s Eve. His neighbors share their memories: “In the first days of the war, we lived in the basement, there were 28 of us there. The children were crying, my daughter’s birthday had to be celebrated there too. [There was] nothing at all [to celebrate], just puff pastry, which we covered with condensed milk and stuck a candle into [to make an improvised cake].”
A road near the village of Fedorivka, located 40 kilometers (24 miles) east of Kharkiv and eight kilometers (five miles) west of Staryi Saltiv. January 31, 2023.

Photoediting by Katya Balaban. Translation by Ned Garvey.

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