© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A person in protective face mask walks along the harbour waterfront across from the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, October 6, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
By Stella Qiu and Stefaniia Bern
(Reuters) -With fireworks planned in Paris, hopes for an end to war in Kyiv, and a return to post-COVID normality in Australia and China, Europe and Asia bid farewell to 2022.
It was a year marked for many by the conflict in Ukraine, economic stresses and the effects of global warming. But it was also a year that saw a dramatic soccer World Cup, rapid technological change, and efforts to meet climate challenges.
For Ukraine, there seemed to be no end in sight to the fighting that began when Russia invaded in February. On Saturday alone, Russia fired more than 20 cruise missiles, Ukrainian officials said, with explosions reported throughout the country.
Evening curfews remained in place nationwide, making the celebration of the beginning of 2023 impossible in many public spaces. Several regional governors posted messages on social media warning residents not to break restrictions on New Year’s Eve.
In Kyiv, though, people gathered near the city’s central Christmas tree as midnight approached.
“We are not giving up. They couldn’t ruin our celebrations,” said 36-year-old Yaryna, celebrating with her husband, tinsel and fairy lights wrapped around her.
Oksana Mozorenko, 35, said her family had tried to celebrate Christmas to make it “a real holiday” but added: “I would really like this year to be over.”
In a video message to mark the New Year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Time Magazine’s 2022 Person of the Year, said: “I want to wish all of us one thing – victory.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin devoted his New Year’s address to rallying the Russian people behind his troops fighting in Ukraine.
Festivities in Moscow were muted, without the usual fireworks on Red Square.
“One should not pretend that nothing is happening – our people are dying (in Ukraine),” said 68-year-old Yelena Popova. “A holiday is being celebrated, but there must be limits.” Many Muscovites said they hoped for peace in 2023.
Paris was set to stage its first New Year fireworks since 2019, with 500,000 people expected to gather on the Champs-Elysees avenue to watch.
Like many places, the Czech capital Prague was feeling the pinch economically and so did not hold a fireworks display.
“Holding celebrations did not seem appropriate,” said city hall spokesman Vit Hofman, citing “the unfavourable economic situation of many Prague households” and the need for the city to save money.
Heavy rain and high winds meant firework shows in the Netherlands’ main cities were cancelled.
But several European cities were experiencing record warmth for the time of year. The Czech Hydrometeorological Institute said it was seeing the warmest New Year’s Eve on record, with the temperature in Prague’s centre, where records go back 247 years, reaching 17.7 Celsius (63.9 Fahrenheit).
It was also the warmest New Year’s Eve ever recorded in France, official weather forecaster Meteo France said.
In Croatia, dozens of cities, including the capital Zagreb, cancelled fireworks displays after pet lovers warned about their damaging effects, calling for more environmentally aware celebrations.
The Adriatic town of Rovinj planned to replace fireworks with laser shows and Zagreb was putting on confetti, visual effects and music.
‘SYDNEY IS BACK’
Earlier, Australia kicked off the celebrations with its first restriction-free New Year’s Eve after two years of COVID disruptions.
Sydney welcomed the New Year with a typically dazzling fireworks display, which for the first time featured a rainbow waterfall off the Harbour Bridge.
“This New Year’s Eve we are saying Sydney is back as we kick off festivities around the world and bring in the New Year with a bang,” said Clover Moore, lord mayor of the city.
Pandemic-era curbs on celebrations were lifted this year after Australia, like many countries around the world, re-opened its borders and removed social distancing restrictions.
In China, rigorous COVID restrictions were lifted only in December as the government reversed its “zero-COVID” policy, a switch that has led to soaring infections and meant some people were in no mood to celebrate.
“This virus should just go and die, cannot believe this year I cannot even find a healthy friend that can go out with me and celebrate the passage into the New Year,” wrote one social media user based in eastern Shandong province.
But in the city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began three years ago, tens of thousands of people gathered to enjoy themselves despite a heavy security presence.
Barricades were erected and hundreds of police officers stood guard. Officers shuttled people away from at least one popular New Year’s Eve gathering point and used loudspeakers to blast out a message on a loop advising people not to gather. But the large crowds of revellers took no notice.
In Shanghai, many thronged the historic riverside walkway, the Bund.
“We’ve all travelled in from Chengdu to celebrate in Shanghai,” said Da Dai, a 28-year-old digital media executive who was visiting with two friends. “We’ve already had COVID, so now feel it’s safe to enjoy ourselves.”
In Hong Kong, days after limits were lifted on group gatherings, tens of thousands of people met near the city’s Victoria Harbour for a countdown to midnight. Lights beamed from some of the biggest harbour-front buildings.
It was the city’s biggest New Year’s Eve celebration in several years. The event was cancelled in 2019 due to often violent social unrest, then scaled down in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
Malaysia’s government cancelled its New Year countdown and fireworks event at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur after flooding across the nation displaced tens of thousands of people and a landslide killed 31 people this month.
Celebrations at the capital’s Petronas Twin Towers were pared back with no performances or fireworks.
Reuters 2022 Year in Review