A year after my first visit to the war-torn Ukraine, I am back in Maidan Square in the heart of Kiev, in the same place I stood on the first day of Russia’s total invasion of the country. Most of the barricades have disappeared, and there are no piles of sandbags.

But I discovered that what hasn’t changed is the extraordinary resilience that Ukrainians continue to show, despite everything.

In cities destroyed by war, I came to hear personal stories of those whose lives and families were torn apart, but who refuse to lose hope.

Irpin School: Bomb protection and weapons training

Irpin, the gateway to the Ukrainian capital, was one of the hardest hit towns during the Russian offensive against the Kiev region. A year later, residents are trying to return to some semblance of normality.

Like every morning, the children rush to start the day at the Myria Lyceum school. Evacuated and bombed during the Battle of Kiev, the establishment reopened its doors in the fall for the start of the academic year.

Everything has been planned in case of air raids or power outages, which are still frequent.

“All children are organized with their teachers, they know where to go (and) in which shelter,” explained principal Ivan Myronovych Ptashnyk.

In order not to overcrowd the shelters in the event of an alarm, even the children who can come to school alternate between classroom and distance learning. Many of these students were displaced overseas or across the country before returning to school.

Teenagers need to learn how to handle guns. A legacy from the Soviet era that made them smile before the war. No longer.

“Unfortunately, we have to learn that, to defend our Ukraine, our homes and our families,” says 16-year-old Anastasia.

Gorenka: People and companies determined to continue

Village of Gorenkain Bucha district, was ravaged during the Russian occupation. This is where young volunteers come from Brave to rebuild NGO have come to clear the rubble.

This wave of solidarity has given hope to Tetiana, a local resident whose family home has been destroyed.

“They brought me back from another world,” she told Euronews. “Now we are cleaning up so that we can then rebuild.”

Before the war, Gorenka was home to many companies employing thousands of people. Most of them were destroyed, but not all.

Resuming production as quickly as possible was crucial for mobile model maker Ugears, which has more than 200 employees, even in times of war.

“I think it’s important for Ukraine because it gives pride, and makes it clear that we are unbreakable, and that we can rise again, despite all the destruction,” said Robert Mikolaiev, head of engineering.

A birthday in a Borodyanka shelter

Borodyanka is about fifty kilometers from Kiev, and the most bombed city in the region. The residents of what remains of one of its ravaged neighborhoods have nothing left. Thousands of people have been displaced.

Some have found refuge in temporary accommodation centres, financed by Poland.

When we visit one of them, volunteers from The Food Foundation delivers goods to the community there. They surprise Tamara, one of the residents, with a bouquet of red roses.

“Today is my birthday,” says Tamara to Valérie Gauriat.

“A year ago we sat around a table, there was music. We shared pleasant memories. And now I don’t know what to remember. There is nothing to remember. We are just waiting for victory. We hope it will come soon, because we can’t take it anymore,” she concludes, her voice cracking.

Kharkiv: Equip the troops

Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine, witnessed months of intense fighting before the Ukrainian army forced Russian troops to withdraw completely from the region last September.

But it is a resistance that Ukraine’s second city has paid a high price for.

A few months later, tensions are still high in Kharkiv. About thirty kilometers from the Russian border, it continues to be under fire from Russian missiles.

Natalya Poniatovska is the manager of a workshop that has adapted to the war. She made women’s clothes before the war.

Now she and her team are putting their skills to the service of the Ukrainian army.

“Who would have thought we’d go from this, feathers and frills, to that, for the military?” she told Euronews.

Backpacks, bulletproof vests, cases for satellites or for solar panels, stretchers or thermal underwear are just some of the items that are made here to order and delivered to the front line.

“We make everything that serves the war, like these backpacks, for the Armed Forces battery charging stations – one station is mounted…in the bag,” Natalya explained.

“The Army told us that twenty-nine men who were surrounded managed to escape because they were able to wear the device that prevented them from being detected.”

“Thanks to that, they’re all alive and well. That’s why we’re proud of what we do! What motivates the team is to win this war. We’re not here just waiting for victory, we’re working to make it . happen as soon as possible. I have a three-year-old grandson. I want him to grow up in a free Ukraine. That’s the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning,” she confides, tears welling up in her eyes.

Saltivka’s “unbreakability points”

The suburb of Saltivka is only twenty kilometers from the Russian border and is the gateway to the city of Kharkiv.

The extent of the destruction is impressive. Before the war, the area had about 40,000 inhabitants. Only two to three thousand remain.

Olga can’t hold back her tears as she stares at the rubble of one of the destroyed buildings. Her husband was killed in Saltivka on his way to the gas station.

“They destroyed everything.” she exclaims. “They left us without our loved ones, without parents, without husbands, without sons. Without our former life. Without work … without anything. »

The reconstruction is ongoing, but the task is enormous, and the future is uncertain. Daily life is a challenge for those who stayed behind.

For many, humanitarian aid is the only way to survive.

So-called “unbreakability points” have also been set up here in tents or shelters, as in all parts of Ukraine. There, people can find some warmth and recharge their batteries, in every sense of the word.

That’s where we meet Oleksii, 21, who comes here regularly, to charge his phone, have a hot drink or simply watch TV.

“It is impossible to restore the water and gas networks, nor any service. It will not get better as long as there is war.” he says.

If the European community and the world hear me, I would like to call on them to take more decisive action, right now, before the Russians massively mobilize new troops on our territory,” the 21-year-old pleaded.

“We are at a moment when we could stop this war now, with strong action. But we need your help and decisive action on your part,” concludes Oleksii.