War in Ukraine: 'While failing to destroy his neighbour, Putin has succeeded in destroying Russia'
A BBC Russian reporter reflects on the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has brought irrevocable upheaval to the lives of millions of people, including his own.
By Ilya Barabanov.
On the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, BBC Russian reporter Ilya Barabanov reflects on a conflict which has brought irrevocable upheaval to the lives of millions of people, including him.
The start of 2022 was filled with unease but in my case this was not linked to the talk of impending war. Two mercenaries from Yevgeny Prigozhin's Wagner Group were suing me for defamation. My wife and I discussed whether we might have to leave Russia. Little did we know what the future would bring.
The mercenaries' case had been brought on by an investigation my colleague from BBC Arabic, Nader Ibrahim, and I made together, looking into the presence of Russian mercenaries in Libya in 2019-2020.
We showed proof that not only had they been there, fighting against the UN-backed government and supporting General Khalifa Haftar, but that they had also committed war crimes against civilians.
Following the release of the film and an article describing these findings, the two mercenaries who had been named by us took the BBC and me to court in Moscow.
In January 2022, the case was still ongoing and I was worried it would drag on and even with the help of qualified lawyers I would not be able to protect my reputation - or even my freedom.
Six months later one of the plaintiffs, who had claimed he was never part of Wagner Group, was killed fighting in Ukraine as a Wagner mercenary. The other one lost his case against us.
I still ended up leaving Russia but for very different reasons.
In early February 2022, as the Russian military presence was growing on Ukraine's borders and talk of war was intensifying, I arrived in Kyiv to report on the growing tension.
But deep down I still didn't believe the war would really happen. I kept telling my wife that two weeks later I'd be back home, in Moscow.
On 14 February, another BBC reporter Slava Khomenko and I went to the town of Vovchansk in Kharkiv region, close to the border with Russia.
Ten days later this town would be under Russian occupation, but at the time local residents didn't entertain such a possibility.
When Slava and I pressed them, asking what they would do if an invasion did happen after all, they shrugged fatalistically and said: "We survived the Germans one way or another." They were talking about World War Two.
On the way back to Kyiv we stopped by a road sign to the town of Peremoha, Ukrainian for "victory", and took photos next to it.
Since neither of us thought the war was going to start, we thought this would remind us of those anxiety-filled days.
On 24 February I was woken in my hotel room in Kyiv when a member of staff knocked on the door with the words: "Sir, we seem to be under bombardment."
The war had started.
I went down the hotel's bomb shelter and watched the kids of a Spanish tourist couple play around, seeing what was happening as a fun adventure.
They couldn't understand the notion of air raid sirens and also why they were not able to go outside.
In the next few days I spent a lot of time in the flat of a Kyiv friend of mine, where lots of journalists gathered, sharing information and talking.
The flat was bustling, but the rest of that part of Kyiv, Podil, normally a busy area filled with life and energy, seemed dead.
My friend's flat had a balcony facing north - we stood there, looking towards the towns of Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin. We could hear the roar of weaponry and knew that the Russian army was trying to take those areas.
Six weeks later, when the Russian forces withdrew from those towns and villages - presenting this withdrawal as a "step of good will" - the world would learn about the atrocious war crimes these forces had committed there.
The Russian authorities though, following their long-standing tradition, would claim this was a fake story "concocted by western security services".
Late on 28 February I crossed from Ukraine into Moldova across the Dniester river.
I had already realised that going home to Moscow would now be impossible. After reporting facts about the war Russia was waging on Ukraine, I would risk being put behind bars for many years.
Moldova was filled with Ukrainian refugees and local residents were anxiously following the news from the front.
Many worried that should Putin's troops reach Odesa, then their small country would be an easy target for Russian occupation. At that point it was still not clear whether Ukraine would be able to resist Moscow's aggression.
I took a train from Moldova into Romania. It was also full of refugees. A four-year-old girl asked me: "We will go back home soon, right?" I didn't know what to say.
When the train stopped at a station, a barman from the restaurant car and I smoked together on the platform.
"All these people," he said thoughtfully, "trying to run away, trains filled to the brim with refugees. Who did Putin think he was trying to help with this war?"
I didn't know what to say to that either, and a year later I still don't.
Bucharest, Belgrade, Istanbul, Vienna, Prague, Riga - my emigration was similar to the route taken by people leaving Russia after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Over a hundred years ago it was aristocrats and White Guard officers leaving. Now it was IT specialists, doctors and journalists.
Since the start of the invasion, Russia has adopted laws which ban independent journalism in any shape or form.
After one year of this war, it is clear that Vladimir Putin has failed in his main objective - to destroy Ukraine.
What he has succeeded at, however, is destroying Russia, its middle class, its intelligentsia and its cultural elites.
We will never be able to return to Moscow the way it was before the war.
But I would be very keen to return to post-Putin Russia. And then take a trip into post-war Ukraine to see Donetsk, Mariupol and Crimea, no longer occupied by Russia.