As I enter Ukraine, the streets are darkish.
It is taken a day to get right here and it feels surreal to lastly be standing in a rustic at conflict.
Ten hours earlier I boarded a airplane from London to Kraków in Poland. From there, it is a three hour drive to the Ukraine border.
I am right here with a staff of journalists from Newsround to learn the way youngsters are doing, a yr after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As we begin our journey in the direction of the border, it begins to snow.
Crossing into Ukraine is surprisingly simple. Our automobile is parked up subsequent to a white van painted with a Polish and Ukrainian flag. It is carrying garments, bottles of water and different important provides.
Each automobile is checked. I hand over my paperwork and we wait.
Lower than quarter-hour later, the engine is on and we’re on the transfer. The tyres of our automotive transfer ahead slowly onto Ukrainian soil.
After months of planning, that is the second I have been ready for and my coronary heart begins to beat sooner.
Minutes later, the automotive stops. I step outdoors to document a fast video on my cellphone. The air is chilly and it is so quiet.
I have a look round however there’s not a lot to see at nighttime.
We proceed the drive to town of Lviv in western Ukraine.
There are many homes set again from the principle street. Persons are indoors, attempting to remain heat – it is bitterly chilly outdoors.
There are not any lights on, as a substitute I can see candles flicker in home windows as we drive previous a row of homes. There is a blackout, which implies individuals on this a part of the nation aren’t getting electrical energy tonight.
The following morning, I am up early and again within the automotive.
The journey to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital metropolis is seven hours lengthy.
Similar to the UK, there are petrol stations and quick meals eating places all alongside the motorway, however there’s one thing totally different that I’ve by no means seen earlier than.
Buildings destroyed, house blocks badly broken and warehouses burned to the bottom.
It is all proof of a conflict, one thing I’ve by no means seen with my very own eyes.
This conflict – the most important in Europe since World Battle Two – is now a yr previous. A yr since Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered his armies to invade Ukraine.
Final yr, 13-year-old Viola needed to escape her house in the midst of the evening after her village was taken over by Russian troopers.
“We did not even have time to look again at our home and we did not know the place we have been going,” she says.
Viola tells me how the Russian troopers destroyed every thing. “One evening, we felt an enormous explosion, it lit up my bed room, shaking the home and waking us up.
“We stored operating by different individuals’s gardens with the sound of bullets whistling close to our ft.”
Viola, her youthful sister and mum managed to flee and have been evacuated to a safer a part of Ukraine.
She invited me to check out the place her home as soon as stood. There are not any bricks, doorways or home windows. A twisted pile of metallic, some previous pots and pans and charred wooden is all that is left.
The recollections of what occurred listed below are onerous for Viola to relive, however like numerous the kids I’ve met in Ukraine, she is decided to hold on with the issues that make her glad, like taking part in the piano and spending time together with her canine.
We stored operating by different individuals’s gardens with the sound of bullets whistling close to our ft.
Later that evening, I return to our lodge within the centre of Kyiv. All the road lights are off so individuals carry torches to see the place they are going. Large church buildings with golden domes at the moment are shrouded in darkness.
Many households in Ukraine reside totally different lives now.
I’ve come to fulfill 11-year-old Dimitri. His city was additionally occupied by Russian troopers.
When the preventing began, his household and their neighbours hid in garages on the sting of city, hoping they may be safer. They have been flawed.
When the Russian shelling started, a younger boy and his father within the storage subsequent door have been killed.
Dimitri’s house was additionally hit by a missile.
“I might by no means think about that such a state of affairs would occur,” he tells me. “I might by no means think about that there can be a conflict and I might completely by no means think about that my flat can be burned.”
Dimitri’s household needed to discover some place else to cover.
They made their strategy to a basement in a close-by pre-school constructing – the place they stayed on and off for 2 months, sharing the area with 270 others. The circumstances have been tough – meals and clear water have been restricted.
He instructed me: “We spent a number of time within the basement – it was chilly and gloomy, in fact we might see many individuals, mother and father, children fearful about their family members, in fact we might hear the blasts that made us much more scared.”
I adopted Dimitri down the steps to see the basement for myself. It smells damp and it’s totally chilly.
The group not too long ago painted the partitions within the basement to attempt to brighten up the place.
Dimitri tells me it seems so a lot better now. Final yr, the basement had no electrical energy or web.
We’d hear the blasts that made us much more scared
Contained in the basement, there are many rooms with small beds for youngsters, toys to play with and bottles of water and meals.
There are not any home windows, that is the place individuals come after they hear air raid sirens.
Dimitri exhibits me the mattress he slept in when he needed to keep within the basement for weeks.
He mentioned: “I’ve modified lots throughout these previous 12 months. I began to grasp how good it’s to have a house.”
Plenty of youngsters in Ukraine miss going to highschool.
Both ongoing preventing or college buildings being destroyed means on-line classes solely, and for others, even that is not possible – there isn’t any college of any type.
I meet up with youngsters who’ve simply returned to the classroom within the metropolis of Zhytomyr.
My digicam operator picks up his digicam and begins to document the kids listening to their instructor.
Seconds later, the lesson is interrupted by a wierd noise.
It is an air raid siren, a sound that is onerous to explain and one thing I’ve by no means skilled earlier than.
The loud warning rings out throughout town and different components of Ukraine to let the inhabitants know that an air raid is anticipated.
We start to observe the kids into the college basement the place we keep for 2 hours.
I ask one of many boys how he feels. “I really feel a bit scared and in addition a bit fearful for my kinfolk and myself and for all my mates,” he says.
Underground, classes proceed and youngsters dance and play video games.
Lecturers attempt to distract them from their worries – that is one thing they’re used to now.
The following morning, I am woken up in my lodge room by the sound of one other air raid siren. My cellphone goes off, messages from the staff telling me to get down into the lodge’s basement as shortly as doable.
For the following 4 hours, we keep underground. The lodge’s automotive park has been changed into a shelter.
Over the course of the morning, Russia ship a contemporary wave of missiles over Ukraine. One lands lower than 10 miles from our lodge inflicting harm to buildings and killing civilians.
The conflict leaves little alternative for youngsters to have a traditional childhood and do all of the issues they take pleasure in.
I visited a gaggle that has been set as much as assist them chill out. It is a spot they will speak, play and create. Issues are put to at least one facet, for a couple of hours at the very least, with just a little assist from Bise, a really energetic canine.
Sofia has been coming to those after-school teams and tells me: “Kids will keep in mind this conflict endlessly, a few of them should take counselling for a very long time, fixing their issues.
“I believe it should not have occurred to the kids.”
I depart Ukraine after greater than every week travelling round, speaking to youngsters and I am overwhelmed by their honesty and what they’ve endured.
I’ve additionally seen communities come collectively. They’re defending one another.
No one is aware of what the long-term affect on youngsters will probably be – and no person is aware of when this conflict goes to finish.
However what is obvious is that the kids I’ve met, regardless of every thing, have hope and a willpower to hold on.
I depart Ukraine realizing that in the future I’ll return.
You may watch the 30-minute documentary Ukraine: The Kids’s Story on the BBC iPlayer.
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