I’ve spent many Christmas seasons in Ukraine.
Kiev at Christmas is a special place. Blue and white lights enfold the tree on Independence Square. Holiday revelers of all ages crowd the sidewalks and pose for photos with Father Frost, the Slavic version of Santa Claus. Snow softly blankets the dozens of villages surrounding the city in scenes reminiscent of Currier and Ives.
Last year, Christmas in Kiev was transformed into a grotesque dystopian nightmare, the scene framed by makeshift barricades. The hulks of burned out cars dotted the streets. The acrid smoke of burning tires hung in the air.
The lights of the great tree were gone. Posters of the jailed Yulia Tymoshenko plastered the tree, along with photos of the slain from the Maidan uprising. Father Frost was nowhere to be seen, replaced by young men and women in camouflage huddled around fires in oil drums. The only blue to be seen was the blue camo of Berkut, the despised riot police of the Yanukovich regime. The joy of Christmas had been replaced by the grim determination of the Maidan.
This season, the clownish Yanukovich is gone, fleeing to Russia in the middle of the night, with his dogs and his billions.
But joy has not returned to Kiev.
The lights are still out on the Khreshchatyk, many of the stores still closed. None of the stores are crowded. Shoppers aren’t buying. Everyone talks about the war and wonders whether the Russians will unleash the tanks poised on the border of Ukraine. They speak of their sons, lovers and fathers at the front. They worry about friends and families on the other side of the ragged line that slashes across eastern Ukraine.
Old women sit at little wooden tables and ask for donations to buy winter uniforms for the soldiers at the front.
The children sense the shift in the atmosphere and seem to smile less, laugh less, play less and cling to their parents more. The joy of Christmas has become the latest casualty of war.
Christmas has a more sinister aspect in the occupied East, where the thugs and criminals of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic have given their special Christmas gift to the citizens of occupied Ukraine: they have re-imposed the Soviet Criminal Code. The goons who call themselves police stop people on the streets and root through their bags. Any protester gets punched in the face or a kicked in the stomach. Christmas cheer—Donetsk style.
Christmas is even more painful for the refugees from the conflict. More than 640,000 of them have lost everything. Many of them huddle in camps and refugee centers, clinging to an uncertain future. They are not looking for holiday cheer this season. They have no hope of festive family events, no thoughts of gift-buying. They just want…another Christmas.
They are the reason for Save Ukraine Now.
We want to give them a gift, the gift of another Christmas. With your help, we can.