Ukraine, one Christmas ago

In Mariupol, 2022 was expected with confidence. Little Misha asked Grandfather Frost, Santa Claus, for a toy drone. Then came the war and the destruction of dreams. Drones are no longer played. And this year Misha won't ask Grandfather Frost for anything: «I would like to go back to before, but I can't. So why bother him?”

  ukraine-christmas-a-year-ago-today-51 Christmas in Mariupol, as it was last year and now

«I don't have the letter anymore», mother Olga justifies herself. “I kept it in a box with other memorabilia at the top of the wardrobe, but the house burned down and that too must have been destroyed. Misha, my little son, had written to Ded Moroz, Grandfather Frost, a Soviet version of Santa Claus. With us in Mariupol, the gifts, more than at Christmas, arrived on December 31st and on New Year's Eve 2021, it seems incredible to say it today, we didn't think about the war.

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THE LETTER – The city was serene, cheerful like Misha's little letter: “Dear Nonno Gelo, I think I was really good and even my dad says I could deserve the gift I asked you for last year. Look, I already have the boots and also the padded pants, so you could really accommodate me… I'm still asking you for a flying drone. My friend Boris has it, but it annoys me to ask him about him because the batteries wear out and then he complains that he can't play. I would like one of mine. See that, if you can, a four-propeller model has come out in the meantime. By the way, my sister says you don't exist so she doesn't write to you, so I warn you: she would like a purple fur coat. Mom agrees and she was good too and I love her too. Happy 2022. Yours Misha”».

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CHRISTMAS - In Mariupol, last year's Christmas was perhaps the most beautiful ever. The Ukrainian city on the Sea of ​​Azov was festively decorated. From Kiev, in recent days, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Voichuk flooded social media with a video on the Christmas decorations of Mariupol 2021. There was a wonderful tree that a play of lights made seem golden, the pilasters of the
theater were underlined by necklaces of light bulbs, bushes, doors, luminous deer made the park a magical place. There was the skating rink that looked like Rockefeller Center in New York. Whole buildings were framed in white lights with the windows changing hue to the rhythm of the bells. The snow made the atmosphere worthy of a Hollywood movie about elves and reindeer. They may have been images of the Tourist Board, turned into gold, with the right slow motion and tight shots to make the prose theater square look like a Christmas Disneyland, but it's a wonderful show.
Then just stop for a moment and that cascade of good feelings that makes everyone go back to being children, tears you apart. Because what was beautiful in Mariupol Christmas 2021 is no longer there. The decorated theater of lights was bombed. Hundreds of people died inside. No one really knows how many, we only know that it had become an air-raid shelter and that the people who escaped the first bombs thought they were safe right there where the Christmas tree had stood two months earlier and, in February, they had written of shield on the grass « » in Cyrillic: children. Written visible by any fighter-bomber pilot. Can it be unhooked where it says 'children'?

AND THE WORST… – Mamma Olga recalls the dinner on Orthodox Christmas Eve, January 6, 2022, 49 days before the invasion. «Twelve courses, one for each apostle, all lean, without meat, dairy products and eggs. A dime inside a potato varelniki (a sort of dumpling) that whoever finds it gets rich. After dinner, the children left the house to sing in front of their neighbors' doors and collect tips. This year we won't have the money for dinner or even enough pots to cook. We live as refugees in a too small apartment in Zaporizhzhya and we don't know the neighbors. The children will not sing.'
In Mariupol, however, the new pro-Russian authorities will try to show that normality is returning. But the theater is still in ruins. They are only now beginning to tear down the condominiums eaten up by the flames, where there are still people who continue to live there, in the cold, without water, with plastic sheeting instead of glass. Only telephones and electricity are back almost everywhere.
Before it was destroyed piece by piece in February, March and April of this year, Mariupol was in the best moment of its history. It hadn't been so beautiful as a Cossack port, a mining center, a steel town: its breath was perpetually poisoned by the fumes of the chimneys, the streets dirty with coal dust, mountains of mining waste everywhere. It was a place where Soviet filmmakers made apocalyptic films of polluted planets on the verge of extinction. Change had begun with the first pro-Russian invasion attempt in 2014. Mariupol had become the capital of free Donbass, the showcase of democratic Ukraine compared to the territory occupied by Moscow. 3D cinema, trendy clubs, concerts, rock, jazz,
universities, no longer just mines and steel mills. At Christmas 2021, the apotheosis with that luminous setup worthy of the village of Nonno Gelo. It was a brief, exhilarating moment, but brief. On February 24th the invasion, on the 27th the first bombs, on the 28th the siege, then a descent, day after day, towards the hell of hunger, of the dead abandoned on the street, of the massacres of civilians. «Misha», asked mother Olga, «don't you write to Grandfather Frost this year?». 'Mom, I'm grown up now,' the boy replied. “I wish you would take us back to Mariupol, that our house hadn't burned down and my drone was still intact. But I know he can't do it. So why bother him?'