Opinion: Beauty of Ukrainian spirit continues to grow despite Russia's brutal occupation

One day of war was too many.  One year is almost impossible to believe. 

I say almost because you only have to drive through the bombed cities of Ukraine, look in the tortured eyes of those who lived under Russian occupation, or witness the tears of a young refugee desperate to see her dad again, to know how real every day of this year has felt for Ukrainians. 

The war has stolen so much from the country, but there is a growing numbness to it all. 

Almost as if they have no fear left to feel, Ukrainians now live with ironclad determination. 

In most places, the air raid sirens sound and no one sprints to shelter anymore. 

I thought I was going mad when I first heard artillery being fired.

I felt certain it was what I thought it was, but no one seemed to be reacting. 

These days, the rumble of artillery is almost elevator music to Ukrainians in the far east, at least.  

The sound of a bomb dropping nearby elicits a raised eyebrow, and a "be careful", at best. 

In Kharkiv, where relentless shelling kept people underground for months on end - this feels like a relief.

Ukraine is a big country. Driving from the far west to the east takes two full days and at least a week's worth of lukewarm petrol station hotdogs. 

When you visit the east, the war changes. The fighting is fiercer, but it's also more complicated. 

Ukrainians there are physically closer to Russia than Kyiv, they speak Russian, and have family and friends across the border.

In towns like Izyum, where the occupiers are accused of torturing locals, rumours swirl about who in the town helped the invaders, trading loyalty for safety. 

Some in the east describe themselves as citizens of Ukraine, but as Russian nationals.

While one woman will tell of her brother being tortured to death, another will tell you the torture chambers were merely prisons for law-breaking residents. 

Others curse the betrayal of their old friends; Russians who for many generations fought on the same side as Ukraine, and now cross the border as enemies. 

The pain inflicted by this war though, is not refuted by anyone. 

In liberated towns, Ukrainians run for a free loaf of bread and walk home with it, playing a dangerous game of hopscotch through minefields. 

But all across the country, the gardens around towns are kept in pristine condition. 

The grass is cut tidily and it's not unusual to see perfectly pruned roses surrounded by obliterated buildings. 

"What does this tell you about my people?" - One man asked me. "Even while at war, as missiles hit our country, we are mowing the lawns and trimming our hedges..."

"We are not like the Russians," he said. "We care for our land and our people."

Neither the land nor the people will ever be the same here - the war has taken its toll and this winter has been bitter and brutal. 

The spring fighting is promising to be worse.  

But the beauty of the Ukrainian spirit has proven it won't just survive, it will grow, in even the toughest conditions.

Lisette Reymer is Newshub's Europe correspondent.