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Ukraine marks the end of a year almost entirely spent under attack

ALINA SELYUKH, HOST:

It's a somber and frightening New Year's Eve in Kyiv, marking the end of a year almost entirely under attack. Today, Russia unleashed another barrage of airstrikes on Ukraine's capital city. This follows hits to the country's critical infrastructure earlier this week. And yet some Ukrainians are still trying to celebrate. NPR's Tim Mak joins us now from Kyiv. Hi, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

SELYUKH: It's the end of the year and nearly a year since Russia's invasion of Ukraine started. This far into it, where do things stand?

MAK: Well, 10 months in, it's not like almost anyone expected when the war started in February. Kyiv was supposed to be controlled by Russian troops within days. And instead Kyiv is solidly within Ukrainian control. Actually, the mayor of Kyiv said in the last day that the population in Kyiv is now returning to close to its prewar total.

But that's the capital city. Fighting continues in the east and south of the country. There's fighting over towns in the eastern region of Donbas with not much value other than the land that's actually being held by either side. It seems right now that there's a stalemate at the moment. And amid that, Russia is relying on airstrikes. Dozens of rockets and missiles were fired on Ukrainian cities on Thursday. It's a larger barrage than it's been in the past. As they have been for months, the Russian military is targeting energy infrastructure, and that's been leaving millions of Ukrainians marking the new year without power and heat.

SELYUKH: The new year is supposed to be the time to look forward at what's to come. Does anyone see an end to the war?

MAK: You know, this is something that people have been mentioning a lot in interviews recently - what would the end of the war even mean for them? Is that when the fighting ends or when justice is achieved for the wrongs that they believe have happened here? And this week, I visited what people call the missile graveyard in Kharkiv. That's a city in northeast Ukraine where the Russian border is just over 20 miles away. The missile graveyard is a place where the local government has gathered all the remnants of missiles and rockets and shells that have fallen in the city. There's evidence there of more than 3,000 alleged strikes on that city alone. That's according to the local prosecutor. Brigadier General Serhiy Melnyk is in charge of the defense of Kharkiv. And he also has a legal background.

SERHIY MELNYK: (Non-English language spoken).

MAK: He says that right now, the main priority for their investigators is to gather evidence of which commanders were in charge of strikes against the civilians of their city. The prosecutor general of Ukraine covering the entire country has opened investigations into more than 60,000 cases of alleged war crimes in the country so far.

SELYUKH: New Year's Eve in Kyiv - normally a big holiday, right? Is there any kind of celebrating at all?

MAK: Well, you're right. Kyiv is normally a bustling, exciting city on a night like this. But it's important to note that martial law's still in place. And in Kyiv, the curfew is at 11 p.m. And fireworks are banned here and in places closer to the front line like Kharkiv. Now, that hasn't stopped some people from trying, though. There's this viral video that's making the rounds on social media in which a woman in Kyiv reacts to someone setting off loud fireworks in her neighborhood. So amid these loud bangs, she said she thinks she nearly had a heart attack and begins cursing at the people setting them off. It's a reflection of why fireworks are banned because in Kyiv, loud explosions can mean death. So many people here are obviously traumatized by the events of the past year.

SELYUKH: That's NPR's Tim Mak in Kyiv. Tim, thank you.

MAK: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF AIRIEL SONG, "IN YOUR ROOM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.