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 warfare.
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 how kids are doing, a 12 months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As we begin our journey in direction of the border, it begins to snow.
Crossing into Ukraine is surprisingly easy. 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 automobile 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 automobile stops. I step exterior to file 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 the town of Lviv in western Ukraine.
There are many homes set again from the primary highway. Individuals are indoors, attempting to remain heat – it is bitterly chilly exterior.
There are not any lights on, as an alternative I can see candles flicker in home windows as we drive previous a row of homes. There is a blackout, which implies folks on this a part of the nation aren’t getting electrical energy tonight.
The subsequent morning, I am up early and again within the automobile.
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, condominium blocks badly broken and warehouses burned to the bottom.
It is all proof of a warfare, one thing I’ve by no means seen with my very own eyes.
This warfare – the most important in Europe since World Conflict Two – is now a 12 months previous. A 12 months since Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered his armies to invade Ukraine.
Final 12 months, 13-year-old Viola needed to escape her residence in the course of the night time 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 all the things. “One night time, we felt an enormous explosion, it lit up my bed room, shaking the home and waking us up.
“We saved operating by way of different folks’s gardens with the sound of bullets whistling close to our toes.”
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 reminiscences of what occurred listed here are laborious for Viola to relive, however like a lot of the youngsters I’ve met in Ukraine, she is set to hold on with the issues that make her glad, like taking part in the piano and spending time along with her canine.
We saved operating by way of different folks’s gardens with the sound of bullets whistling close to our toes.
Later that night time, I return to our lodge within the centre of Kyiv. All the road lights are off so folks carry torches to see the place they are going. Large church buildings with golden domes are actually shrouded in darkness.
Many households in Ukraine live totally different lives now.
I’ve come to satisfy 11-year-old Dimitri. His city was additionally occupied by Russian troopers.
When the combating began, his household and their neighbours hid in garages on the sting of city, hoping they could be safer. They have been fallacious.
When the Russian shelling started, a younger boy and his father within the storage subsequent door have been killed.
Dimitri’s condominium was additionally hit by a missile.
“I may by no means think about that such a scenario would occur,” he tells me. “I may by no means think about that there can be a warfare and I may completely by no means think about that my flat can be burned.”
Dimitri’s household needed to discover someplace else to cover.
They made their approach 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 situations have been troublesome – meals and clear water have been restricted.
He informed me: “We spent a number of time within the basement – it was chilly and gloomy, after all we may see many individuals, mother and father, youngsters nervous about their family members, after all 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 neighborhood just lately painted the partitions within the basement to attempt to brighten up the place.
Dimitri tells me it appears to be like so a lot better now. Final 12 months, the basement had no electrical energy or web.
We might hear the blasts that made us much more scared
Contained in the basement, there are many rooms with small beds for kids, toys to play with and bottles of water and meals.
There are not any home windows, that is the place folks come after they hear air raid sirens.
Dimitri reveals me the mattress he slept in when he needed to keep within the basement for weeks.
He mentioned: “I’ve modified so much throughout these previous 12 months. I began to know how good it’s to have a house.”
A lot of kids in Ukraine miss going to high school.
Both ongoing combating or faculty buildings being destroyed means on-line classes solely, and for others, even that is unattainable – there isn’t any faculty of any kind.
I meet up with kids who’ve simply returned to the classroom within the metropolis of Zhytomyr.
My digital camera operator picks up his digital camera and begins to file the youngsters listening to their instructor.
Seconds later, the lesson is interrupted by a wierd noise.
It is an air raid siren, a sound that is laborious to explain and one thing I’ve by no means skilled earlier than.
The loud warning rings out throughout the town and different components of Ukraine to let the inhabitants know that an air raid is anticipated.
We start to observe the youngsters 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 likewise a bit nervous for my kinfolk and myself and for all my associates,” 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 subsequent 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 rapidly as doable.
For the following 4 hours, we keep underground. The lodge’s automobile park has been was a shelter.
Over the course of the morning, Russia ship a recent wave of missiles over Ukraine. One lands lower than 10 miles from our lodge inflicting harm to buildings and killing civilians.
The warfare leaves little alternative for kids to have a standard childhood and do all of the issues they get pleasure from.
I visited a gaggle that has been set as much as assist them calm down. It is a spot they’ll discuss, play and create. Issues are put to at least one aspect, for just a few hours at the least, with a little bit assist from Bise, a really energetic canine.
Sofia has been coming to those after-school teams and tells me: “Youngsters will keep in mind this warfare without end, a few of them must take counselling for a very long time, fixing their issues.
“I believe it should not have occurred to the youngsters.”
I depart Ukraine after greater than every week travelling round, speaking to kids 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 person is aware of what the long-term impression on kids shall be – and no person is aware of when this warfare goes to finish.
However what is obvious is that the youngsters I’ve met, regardless of all the things, have hope and a dedication to hold on.
I depart Ukraine realizing that in the future I’ll return.
You’ll be able to watch the 30-minute documentary Ukraine: The Youngsters’s Story on the BBC iPlayer.