World steps into 2023 after turbulent year
The world’s eight billion people have begun ushering in 2023 and bidding farewell to a turbulent 12 months marked by war in Europe, stinging price rises, Lionel Messi’s World Cup glory and the deaths of Queen Elizabeth, Pele and former pope Benedict.
Many are ready to party on New Year’s Eve after a few pandemic-dampened years, setting aside pinched budgets and a virus that is increasingly forgotten but not gone.
Sydney was among the first major cities to ring in 2023, restaking its claim as the “New Year’s Eve capital of the world” after two years of lockdowns and coronavirus-muted festivities.
Australia’s borders have reopened and throngs of revellers gathered along Sydney’s sparkling harbour to watch 100,000 pyrotechnics light up the southern sky.
A crowd that had been projected to surpass one million watched as a spectacular 12-minute display showered the waterway and illuminated the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
“It’s been a fairly good year for us; getting past Covid of course is great,” David Hugh-Paterson, 52, told AFP as he waited in a growing crowd near the Sydney Opera House.
Sydney authorities expected almost half a billion more people would see the festivities online or on television.
For some, 2022 was a year of Wordles, the Great Resignation, a new Taylor Swift album, an Oscar slap and billionaire meltdowns.
It also saw the deaths of Queen Elizabeth II, Brazilian football icon Pele, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jiang Zemin, and Shinzo Abe. Former pope Benedict XVI also died on New Year’s Eve.
The global population surpassed the historic milestone of eight billion people in November.
But 2022 is most likely to be remembered for armed conflict returning to Europe -- a continent that was the crucible of two world wars.
More than 300 days into Russia’s botched invasion of Ukraine, about 7,000 civilians have been killed and 10,000 more injured, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
About 16 million Ukrainians have fled their homes.
For those who remain, an 11:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew will be in place amid periodic blackouts and Russian missile barrages.
The latest Russian strikes on Saturday targeted several regions, with at least one person killed and several wounded in Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said.
While some Ukrainians will mark New Year with quiet candlelit prayers, others intend to party through the night in a collective show of resolve.
Filmmaker Yaroslav Mutenko, 23, was defiant after a shell hit the four-star Hotel Alfavito near his Kyiv apartment, saying the blast would not stop him going to a friend to party.
“Our enemies, the Russians, can destroy our calm but they cannot destroy our spirit,” he said.
In past years, “people always stayed with us until three or four in the morning, so staying here for another hour or two will not be a problem”, said Kyiv restaurateur Tetyana Mytrofanov.
There seems to be a dulled appetite for grand celebrations in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Moscow has cancelled its traditional fireworks show after Mayor Sergei Sobyanin asked residents to vote on how to mark the occasion.
Muscovites such as Irina Shapovalova, a 51-year-old nursery worker, said their main wish for 2023 was for “a peaceful sky above our heads”.
Putin said in a New Year’s address that “moral, historical rightness” is on Russia’s side as the country faces international condemnation over the war.
As Russia’s Far East regions rang in the New Year, the Russian leader delivered his traditional midnight speech standing among soldiers who fought in Ukraine, according to Russian news agencies.
London was meanwhile welcoming crowds to its official New Year’s Eve fireworks display for the first time since the pandemic with around 100,000 ticket holders expected to attend the spectacle.
Edinburgh’s world-renowned Hogmanay celebrations also were returning for the first time in three-years.
In Vienna, some 1850 guests were readying for the traditional New Year’s Day Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein Wien. Due to coronavirus restrictions last year, attendance was limited to 1,000 guests.
The new year will kick off with a new leader in Brazil, where Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva takes the reins on Sunday following his razor-thin win in October polls.
However, China begins 2023 battling a surge in Covid infections after unwinding restrictions to contain the virus.
While vaccines have allowed life to return to semi-normal in most parts of the world, the virus is continuing to thwart China’s attempts to move on.
Hospitals in the world’s most populous nation have been overwhelmed by an explosion of cases following the decision to lift strict “zero-Covid” rules.
New Year’s Eve parties are still planned in innumerable bars, theatres and malls.
But authorities in Shanghai have said there will be no formal activities on the city’s famed Bund waterfront.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told the country in a televised New Year’s Eve address that, despite the outbreak, “the light of hope is right in front of us”.