Ukrainians celebrate their second New Year amid Russian attacks, and determination to maintain the country’s defense is mixed with grief and concern for the fate of their loved ones.

As the sun begins to set in Lviv, hundreds of small lights illuminate the city’s military cemetery. Festive garlands flicker, spread around small Christmas trees, and are reflected in photographs of some 500 soldiers, mostly men between 20 and 50, buried here.

For hundreds of their relatives, daily visits to the graves of their children, husbands and fathers have become an inalienable part of their lives, a way to ease the pain.

The last day of 2023, marked by aerial alarms and reports of Russian missiles and drones attacking cities across the country, was no exception.

“I feel better here, with my son,” explains a woman as she looks at the carefully decorated grave of a young man.

Taras Chaika, a successful lawyer, volunteered to enlist in the army on the first day of the Russian invasion, his mother Alla tells Efe. A 29-year-old officer and hero of Ukraine was killed near Liman, Donetsk region, while leading his men on a mission.

Time passes but the pain after 677 days of war does not diminish, shares Alla.

More people continue to arrive and she greets her one-year-old niece Adelina. Some sit in silence. Others light the candles and share their experience of a recent drone attack.

“This is not like any other cemetery. Here you never feel scared or unsafe, even in the dark. Because these are our defenders,” says Alla.

Everyone should support the Ukrainian soldiers, she says, so that fewer mothers have to feel their pain. “My only wish for 2024 is that we finally win and that there is peace,” she emphasizes.

New Year’s Eve was unusually quiet in Lviv and the streets were empty waiting for the midnight curfew.

Those who could enter 2024 in their own homes had little desire to celebrate. Many eagerly awaited a brief message from their loved ones on the front lines, a simple ” ” (used by soldiers to communicate that they are alive) or “I’m fine.”

“There is no Christmas tree at home. I don’t feel anything today. It’s not life,” says Katerina, whose husband is in the so-called “zero” zone of the front, just hundreds of meters from the Russian positions.

Those awaiting the return of thousands of Ukrainian prisoners of war cannot even think about receiving a brief message from their loved ones, who remain in complete isolation somewhere in Russia.

“I regained my freedom in 2023. My only wish for 2024 is that everyone else regains it,” writes Valeria Subotina, who was captured at the Azovstal metallurgical plant in Mariupol along with almost 2,500 soldiers and exchanged last spring.

Others are joined online by their relatives displaced from abroad. An aerial alarm serves as a reminder of why millions of people cannot return home even as the Ukrainian army manages to repel the Russians in the east and south.

Pavlo, who lives in the suburban district of Bilogorshcha, can do little when an air raid alarm sounds late at night. There is no shelter nearby and the locals are no longer fazed by the hundreds of times they heard the sirens.

A few hours after finishing New Year’s Eve dinner, he wakes up to the sound of an explosion nearby. His children and his wife can only hope for the best as Pavl√≥ rushes to park the family vehicle further away to protect it.

Several minutes later another explosion sounds, this time much louder, as the nearby building, a museum, is hit by Russian drones.

The smoke is still visible just one or two meters away, as Pavló and other volunteers prepare to clear the debris. Nobody seems shocked.

“No one is hurt. Everything else can be solved,” they explain to Efe with determination.