Angelina Potopenko has been living underground since the start of the war. A bomb shelter basement beneath a blood bank in Kharkiv has been her home for almost 12 months. It is where she sleeps, eats, studies and plays.
Most of her friends have long since gone and some days she goes to the local playground on her own.
“My close friend left, and we were actually friends for over five years and I'm very sad because now we can only talk over the phone,” she says.
“At the moment I only have one friend. Or maybe one and a half.” she says as she shows me her toy rabbit and teddy bear.
It is no life for an 11-year-old girl but, in war, almost everything becomes routine eventually. Even if it is far from normal.
“A few days after the start of war, we were staying on the third floor and there were a lot of [blood] donors there, the line was long all the way to the shop next door. I was sitting there drawing some pictures,” she tells me.
All of a sudden my Mom opened the door very sharply and shouted: "Angelina, run!" I couldn't understand what was going on, I only saw people running out of different rooms.”
A camera nearby caught the moment the shells landed, multiple strikes raining down around the blood bank.
"So I just ran like everyone else. I couldn't understand anything, I just heard the sounds of shots or explosions. I was very scared but I couldn't understand anything.
Only later I was told that missiles were fired, and a lot of people had been killed -- the donors.”
Angelina’s story is remarkable but not unusual. This is a country of heroes, of victims, of fighters, volunteers, mass graves and war-torn towns. It is a nation devastated by war and a people whose lives have changed indelibly.
Almost up until the very eve of war most Ukrainians didn’t believe an invasion was coming, despite the presence of 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders and the increasingly detailed and dire warnings from the U.S. intelligence community.
We were woken shortly after three o’clock in the morning on Feb. 24 by the news desk in New York and told Vladimir Putin was about to address the nation. Given the early hour in Moscow this could only mean one thing.
We watched aghast at Putin’s long and often wild speech justifying the start of what he called a special military operation. In reality he was declaring war, ordering the largest invasion and military operation in Europe since the end of the Second World War.
Within moments of the speech ending we heard the first shells explode in Kyiv. By day break Russian troops were landing at the Hostomel airport on the outskirts of the city and by day two our team could even see Putin’s men on the outskirts of the city.
It looked to be a fait accompli. With Russian troops bearing down on Kyiv and other cities and overwhelming firepower at his disposal it seemed only a matter of time before Putin would prevail.
Yet almost one year later it wasn’t Vladimir Putin walking the streets of the capital but Joe Biden.
The Ukrainians mounted an astonishing defense of Kyiv, handing the Kremlin its first major defeat and forcing it to retreat. Over the year the Russian advance has been repelled in multiple towns and villages across Ukraine.
The “second most powerful army in the world” was beset by incompetence, weakened by corruption and disastrous tactical moves. Above all Vladimir Putin made two major strategic blunders. He totally underestimated the reconstituted Ukrainian forces and the national will to resist and he equally underestimated the resolve and unity of the United States and its allies to support Ukraine militarily.
But the cost has been immense. Tens of thousands have died, including more than 8,000 civilians. More than 8 million people have fled as refugees.
One year on, the fighting has become a grueling war of attrition, especially in the east of the country. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he hopes 2023 will be the year the war ends but with both sides dug in and unwilling to accept anything other than victory it is hard to see how it ends any time soon.