Muscovites mark muted New Year without fireworks, hope for peace

MOSCOW (Reuters) - People in the centre of Moscow prepared late on Saturday to mark a somewhat muted New Year's Eve without the usual fireworks and celebrations on Red Square, with many saying they wanted peace in 2023.

Authorities closed off the famous cobbled square in the heart of Moscow, citing restrictions to fight COVID-19, and increased the number of police in nearby side streets.

New Year's Day is Russia's main seasonal holiday, while Orthodox believers also celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7.

"We hope that there will be a predictable year, we hope there will be world peace, as strange as it may sound in such a situation," said Moscow resident Alexander Tsvetov.

"We hope that people will be happy, on each side of this conflict, and there will be peace," he continued, in a reference to what President Vladimir Putin calls the 10-month "special military operation" in Ukraine.

Deprived of the chance to gather on Red Square and watch a traditional New Year's Eve firework display, people walked along the wet streets, looking at Christmas markets, brightly lit storefront displays and trees set up with baubles.

New laws adopted in March prescribe fines and jail terms for discrediting or spreading "deliberately false information" about the armed forces.

"I am sure that those very - to put it mildly - unexpected, harsh, aggressive events, will surely moderate. Next year there will be a turn for the better, for sure," predicted 68-year-old Yelena Popova.

The canceled fireworks display, she said, was an act of solidarity with what was happening in Ukraine.

"One should not pretend that nothing is happening - our people are dying there. A holiday is being celebrated, but there must be limits," she said.

Tatyana, a woman who did not give her full name, said she hoped for "world peace, clear skies, happiness and health for everyone." Russian troops were undoubtedly having a hard time "so spiritually we are supporting them", she said.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by David Ljunggren and Daniel Wallis)