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One Year of War in Ukraine

I arrived in Ukraine at the end of January 2022, nearly a month before the Russian soldiers arrived. The city lay under a blanket of snow, and it appeared peaceful, but there was something else in the air, too.

The 'All for Victory tent' in the centre of Kharkiv is still in the same place as it has been since 2014. Camouflage nets are being made by students and volunteers. It is something that belongs to everyday life in the Donbas region. The war here, officially referred to as ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation) by Kyiv, is already in its eighth year, and camouflage nets are needed.

On February 12, we move onto Mariupol. My colleagues and I travel first through eastern Ukraine, but Mariupol will always remain in my memory as something extraordinary. When we arrive in the city, it is as if no one believes that the Russians are really going to invade. The bars are full of young people, the restaurants are buzzing, and in the ice rink, parents are teaching their children how to skate. Young people dance in Bilniy Naliv (White Filling), the Ukrainian cider bar.

But the outward appearance sof life as usual vanishes as soon as I peek under the lid.
In mid-February, the Azov battalion begins military training for citizen volunteers. About a hundred people learn first aid and how to operate a machine gun. Never before has such training been conducted.

On February 16, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declares Unity Day. Various sources have cited it as the probable start of the Russian invasion. People gather in Mariupol with Ukrainian flags and celebrate. They hope and believe there will be peace.
But it is becoming more and more obvious that Russia really is preparing for war. On Tuesday, February 22, Ukrainians of all ages take to the streets of their cities to express their opposition to Russian aggression. They recite patriotic verses and sing the national anthem.

The next day, students of Mariupol School Number 68 on Livoberezhna Street, just a short distance from the frontline -- behind which Russian-backed separatists are awaiting orders -- practice an evacuation drill to their underground bomb shelter. This was something they do regularly. They have no idea that in a few days’ time, their school will be destroyed by a Russian rocket.
It is the 24th of February, and the Russian invasion has begun. We can hear shelling, and it coming closer. We need gas. We are standing in a long line in front of the gas station. We can only twenty litres. We have also run out of cash. We stand in another line at the ATM, where we manage to withdraw 1,000 hryvna several times over. In one shot it’s impossible. We are not the only ones who fear that soon, nothing will work.

There are long queues in the shops. We endure them patiently and stock up on water and food. No one knows what will happen tomorrow or the day after. In the evening, we witness sad scenes at the local train station. Women and children leave, men stay behind. We have stayed on. On February 26, a single cafe remains open in the centre of Mariupol, where one and a half million people lived before the war. Now, the streets are empty of people, the shops are closed, the doors are barricaded, the windows are boarded up. Shooting can be heard from the area of the port of Mariupol. The Russians have chosen it as one of their priority targets.

People donate blood. The hospital can't take so many volunteers. It handles two hundred donors a day. The siren sounds, and everything has to stop, and we and the paramedics hastily move to the basement.

It is the morning of February 27, and we have decided to leave the city. The only way out leads to Zaporizhzhia. On the edge of Mariupol, we pass destroyed military equipment and civilian cars hit by missiles. At the checkpoint, the Ukrainian soldiers warn us that we must not leave the road – there are mines everywhere.

The road is full of mud from heavy military vehicles, and we are afraid, fearing mines in every lump of soil. In the end, we make it through, and reach Dnipro in the afternoon. For the inhabitants of Mariupol, this turns out to be the last 'safe' day to leave. The next day, there are Russian checkpoints along the road we took.

February 24 marks exactly one year since the start of the Russian invasion. The Kremlin thought it would occupy all of Ukraine in a few days. But the Ukrainians resisted the Russians, and doing so they have won admiration and support across the world.

Russia does not comply with the Geneva Accords. It is waging an unimaginably brutal war, medieval, destructive, and ruthless in the way it targets civilians.

The war has never really been about the 'de-Nazification' of Ukraine, as Russian President Vladimir Putin initially declared. It is a war of hatred., perhaps best expressed by a Russian occupier who wrote on the wall of a Ukrainian living room: 'Who allowed you to live better than us?'
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