IT’S that time of year again when one pauses and reflects. A time when we look back on the events that shaped our lives, the world in which we live and what might lie ahead in the coming year.

As a foreign affairs journalist and photographer, far and away the event that most shaped my past year and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future is the war in Ukraine.

Just the other day, I read in The Economist magazine that according to data compiled by various analytics firms, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine accounted for one quarter of news reading hours this past year.

To put this another way, the war in Ukraine has totally dominated news coverage, accounting for 278 million hours out of the 1 billion hours spent reading reporting – a similar share to Covid’s in 2021.

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In fact, on the very day the Russian invasion began back in February 24, it’s estimated that some 6.4m audience news reading hours were spent focusing on the story.

Such figures speak for themselves in terms of the resonance the war has had on people worldwide. It’s a story that has gripped us all in one way or another. A story in which the events that unfolded very nearly upended the world and still terrifyingly have the capacity to do so.

My own personal memories this past year of the war are almost entirely inhabited by those many ordinary Ukrainians I met during my visits to the country. I say “ordinary” but that is to do them a disservice.

For the simple fact is that each and every individual Ukrainian I encountered these past 11 months or so has been extraordinary in their own right.

War has a habit of doing this, for if I’ve learned one thing these past 40 years while covering the world’s conflicts, it’s the way most of our fellow human beings have the capacity to rise above the worst others can do.

Right now, Ukrainians are carrying that torch for humanity. Every day, undaunted, they display courage, resourcefulness and compassion in the face of tremendous hardship, loss, pain and suffering inflicted on their country by Russian president Vladimir Putin’s madcap military adventure.

Casting my mind back these past months, I recall in those early weeks of the war seeing in the city of Borodyanka a ruined landscape where apartment blocks and those civilians inside were indiscriminately shelled and rocketed. It was a pattern that was to be repeated across Ukraine.

It was there that I met 36-year-old Natalia Kovalchuk and her five-year-old daughter Uliyana in a playpark barely yards from the monument to the great 19th-century Ukrainian poet and patriot Taras Shevchenko.

Natalia told me of those terrifying days when war first came to the city and how they hid in the basement as Russian tanks and soldiers roamed the streets.

Like so many Ukrainians, this will be a winter of terrible hardship for Natalia and her daughter, not least because her husband was killed while serving on the frontlines in the earliest days of the war.

In the ruins of places like Borodyanka, the fate of the living is sometimes as uncertain as those of the missing, of whom there are many. One such person was Ovadenko Olexandra, an 84-year-old local woman whose gentle face peered out from a photograph on a tattered poster outside what remained of her home.

She had been sheltering in the basement of the apartment block during a Russian bombardment on March 3 and after a lull in the explosions had ventured up outside never to be seen again, according to the message on the poster.

A relative had left a telephone number on the poster seeking information on what might have happened to her or where she might be if – though it is unlikely – Ovadenko is still alive.

Multiply such stories countless times across this vast country and you begin to get some idea of the pain and loss Ukrainians have endured this past year. That things will be any better or perhaps even worse in the coming year is anybody’s guess.

Having followed Ukraine’s tumultuous events from as far back as 2014, I’m under no illusion of the capacity for things to get much worse before they get better.

As we approach one year on in Russia’s war in Ukraine, it’s worth pausing to consider the lessons it has already taught the world.

The first of these, as many military analysts point out, is that “big war is back”. Put another way, Ukraine is proof that major conventional war between developed nations is possible and that it’s as brutal as it’s always been.

The war, too, is a stark reminder of just how fragile peace is and just how easy and quickly we can find ourselves in the midst of genuine catastrophe.

Fought out against the shadow of nuclear weapons, it’s a sobering reminder that the unimaginable is possible and of how little we understand about how our world and geopolitics works. For too long now, it seems we have based our thinking on the belief that this “couldn’t happen again”.

The war has also taught us the futility and dangers of appeasing aggressors, in this case the fascism of Putin’s authoritarian regime. In the same instance, it is proof that there is no substitute for real leadership of the kind shown by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

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At the same time, the war has revealed yet more evidence of how badly the international system so often fails all victims of mass atrocities.

But above all else, though, as I look back on my time in Ukraine this past year, I’ve realised the extent to which we, the citizens of the world, have underestimated the yearning for and value of freedom.

The Ukrainian people, with their fearless and unflinching commitment to defending and protecting that freedom, have opened our eyes to what it sometimes takes to do so.

For that, I am grateful for the sacrifices made by every one of them. We should all be.