Liz Corbin is director of news for the European Broadcasting Union. This is an edited version of a story that first appeared on EBU.

I stood at the back of the TV news gallery, like I have done hundreds if not thousands of times before, enjoying the last moments before broadcast. The team makes the final preparations for the programme and it is just like any control room in any TV news operation. 15:59:00 – is the lead story there? Is the presenter ready? Sound – check, make-up – check, cameras – check. 15:59:30 calm and silence begin to descend. In the beating heart of TV News, it is always the same. Except this time it was not.

Suspilne News control room about to go on air at 16:00:00

15:59:35 the countdown and headlines are my favourite moments. Suddenly, cutting across everything the tannoy sounds. It is an air alert – a real threat of a Russian missile attack on the Ukrainian capital.

And then, the daily miracle I had only ever heard about takes place in front of me. The staff calmly leave their positions and head for the basement. Their entire gallery, studio, playout system, radio mics and presenter talkback systems are replicated in their bunker facilities.

16:04:30 everyone is in place. Final checks are repeated. A new opening script is on autocue. A map graphic is ready to explain the breaking news and the interruption.

16:06:00 cue presenter. We are on air. The host explains that the air alert is across the whole country. A plane capable of firing hypersonic missiles which could reach any part of Ukraine in minutes has taken off in Belarus. The whole country. Just take that in for a moment. A country of 40 million people is told to take shelter: in a basement, or a place with two walls between them and the outside, in a metro station, wherever they can. And it happens every single day, often at night, often much more than once.

That was my first air alert in Ukraine. Despite years of training and deploying journalists to war zones, it was also my first day in a country at war. So yes the adrenaline was pumping, but to see the Suspilne staff handle the situation with such professionalism and expertise was an honour.

It was also a "gentle" introduction to air alerts for this visitor. No missiles were fired, it was all over shortly before the bulletin came off air at 16:15:00. What was to come was quite different.

The next morning, we head east. I am travelling with Angelina Kariakina, who was head of news when the full-scale invasion happened, and now adviser to the Suspilne CEO. I have known her since the beginning of 2022, and there are few people I admire more.

We are going to meet Slava Mavrychev, head of Suspilne's Eastern hub, based in Kharkiv. Even by Suspilne's standards he is a hero. His colleagues hold him in the utmost regard: "one of the strongest editors in the whole company" said one, "he’s incredible" said his director general. And like all the best heroes, Slava is too busy surviving and working to know about any of this.

The city is quiet. You know that this city should be a place where everyone complains about the traffic, where the cafés should be busy, and the central square (the second largest in Europe apparently) should be a bustling hub where it’s impossible to find a parking spot. But not today.

On first glance, there is nothing obviously odd. But I know that building, why do I know it? I have never been to Kharkiv. And then I realise – it was from a dashcam video from 2022. Cars were driving past the city hall and suddenly you saw it. A missile plummeting from the sky, slamming into the right-hand corner of the building, an enormous explosion. The famous façade I’m standing in front of now, disappeared into the smoke. And the façade is all that remains. Behind it the building is destroyed. Work has started to clear it up but it’s a mammoth task and there are other priorities.

On another side of the square, a modern upmarket hotel, all blue glass and promise of a luxurious experience. Another illusion. We walk round the side to see how the missile gored the building, ripping through 8 of its 11 floors. A ZDF (EBU Member) journalist was injured here.

We were in Kharkiv for 5 hours. In that time there were 7 air alerts. Slava is a journalist but now also an amateur military expert. It helps keep him and his colleagues alive. My phone goes off – the app yelling at me about the latest alert. He checks his Telegram groups. This one is at the border, he says, that one is further west, no need to worry. We go down to a basement café anyway, and hang out until he says it’s safe.

We head for the Suspilne office. No longer in the prestigious complex under their TV tower. That became too high risk a while ago. We walk through the streets where every third building is completely wrecked. Slava suddenly breaks into a run and tells us to hurry. We dive through a door and rush down to the basement. That one went over our heads, he says. In Kharkiv, 30km from the border, you don’t have long to take cover.

In fact, this was not a random door, we have arrived at the office – the emergency newsroom which Slava bans the team from working in. It is too much of a risk to have everyone working together. But this is where they can come in if they have nowhere else or nowhere safe. There are desks and power. It is cold, probably a bit damp. The walls are bare brick and there’s a sofa. It looks and feels like a bunker from another era.

But it has good wifi. Knowing I would be here at the same time as the EBU's senior leadership committee meeting was taking place in Geneva, we fire up Microsoft Teams and dial in. Slava tells the SLC what it is like to operate in Kharkiv and how he manages the risk for his team. He tells us that when there is a strike at night, it is him that goes to the scene with his camera – if he sends a reporter it means there will be no reporter during the day and he cannot afford that.

Slava Mavrychev and Angelina Kariakina talking to the EBU Senior Leadership Committee from the Suspilne Kharkiv bomb shelter

Noel Curran (EBU Director General) asks, how can we help, what do you need? "Sleep," Slava replies. He tells us knowing they have the EBU's support is a huge comfort. In fact, what Slava needs as well as sleep is power banks. Two days after our visit huge overnight strikes plunged the city into darkness, literally and in terms of connectivity. I had taken him some wine and 4 eurovision power banks from our stocks in Geneva – he was definitely more excited about the latter.

When it is safe we venture upstairs. Slava shows us a more comfortable office space, they recently refurbished it, only for a missile to hit the building next door which collapsed ceilings, damaged the heating system and smashed all their new windows on 31 December 2023.

Later in the day we drop Slava at a metro station. I would have known him for 5 hours, but saying goodbye leaves me with a deep regret. I had asked him why he stayed – why not come out for a bit, take a break? He said he knew that if he came out, lost the adrenaline, the pace of the job, he would not be able to go back. And he did not want to abandon his home city, plus, who else would do his job? He finds it hard enough to recruit and retain journalists, and with all his experience it would be tough for someone else to come in fresh and keep this team safe.

On the long car journey back to Kyiv, Angelina and I talk about those who stay. In the West we know most about those who left. We think about the Suspilne journalists in Kherson who managed to operate in secret under Russian occupation – sending pictures and messages when they could, at great personal risk. Because not everyone can run away, not everyone wants to, and they must live their lives. Ukrainians are fighting for the freedom to do this, but they do not press pause on life while praying for peace. The human capacity to keep going in the most dreadful of circumstances is constantly amazing to an outsider.

But of course, so many Ukrainians are not living where they want to. Some live abroad but even the ones who stayed are often IDPs (Internally Displaced People). Families separated. What struck me on this visit was how many have been displaced more than once by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and its people. Mariya Frey is the Suspilne Board Member responsible for news. She dreams of the sea and returning to her home city Mariupol. She left the East for Kyiv when this war started in 2014. She had lived with the threat of Russia to the extent that in 2022 she had a grab bag constantly ready at the door. In the early hours of 24 February she grabbed it, put her children in the car and drove west to Lviv. She called the newsroom on the way offering to report from the roads about all the people fleeing west.

After Kyiv and Kharkiv I take the same road, to go and see Suspilne's second centre in Lviv. I was supposed to travel by train, but that morning Russia launched 31 missiles at Kyiv so I was delayed in the bunker of my hotel. The air defences shot down all 31 of those missiles. But still 17 people were injured as the remnants rained down on houses and apartments. One of the damaged apartments belonged to a Suspilne employee who had thankfully sheltered in a Metro station – it is not the first time the company has had to support their staff when this happens, another level of pastoral care most broadcasters thankfully do not have to think about.

How the Kyiv missile attack unfolded

I was only a few minutes late for the train, but nothing stops Ukrainian trains. Ukrainians are fiercely proud of how the railways have supported them through these past two years, and so they should be. They run on time to the minute, no matter what is flying around them.

The road to Lviv is straight and flat. Hour after hour of huge arable fields with black with fertile soil. I can see why the war caused hunger and chaos in the world’s grain markets.

You know you are reaching Lviv when the ground starts to rise. The foothills of the Carpathian mountains, where Suspilne colleagues tell me I should come for skiing next winter. As we enter the town, I see something very special up ahead. The TV tower. It is always exciting for anyone who works in broadcasting to see the TV tower, but this one is special. I text my colleagues a picture: "Never have you seen a more important TV tower. Greetings from Lviv."

On 25 February Mariya joined the whole Suspilne Board to create the Lviv reserve news operation and they started broadcasting as part of Ukraine’s "news marathon". They hastily created a new newsroom, and the master control room was upgraded, all making them capable of replacing the headquarters in Kyiv should the worst happen there.

Soon we are back in my favourite place, the control room and studio. They have received funding from all sorts of benefactors to make this possible, and the set and equipment could be found in the best resourced broadcasters of Paris or Tokyo. Mariya tells me it took them a while to work out how use it all.

Mariya Frey shows Liz Corbin the control room at Suspilne Lviv

Protecting Ukrainian culture is also a priority for a growing team at the Suspilne centre in Lviv. Taisiia Turchyn and her team have a mammoth job to digitise and protect the TV and Radio archives.

Down in the storeroom, shelf after shelf of films show the scale of the task. Taisiia is young, we joke whether she will finish this before she retires. And she tells me it is a challenge, they lack the equipment for many of this media. Soviet era film needs Soviet era machines to play it on and they do not have them. You can buy them from Russia, but "we're not going to do that".

But the archives are not just about the distant past. One of the team is archiving material shot just yesterday, making sure all the news footage from the war is properly recorded and searchable. This archivist is from the occupied territories in the east. I only imagine how difficult it is for her to do this work.

It is my final night. The next day I will take an early train to Poland. I pack my grab bag one more time and put it by the door. I am tired from the air alert the previous night and fall asleep quickly. At 2.30am the now familiar air alert sounds from my phone. I get up, slip on my shoes, grab the bag and head to the basement.

Slowly I am joined by staff, other guests, two children and their parents. It is cold, we try to sleep on the hard chairs but in reality people chat in whispers and scroll Telegram. I watch as Russia uses every weapon at its disposal: hypersonic, cruise and ballistic missiles, and deadly drones which have become the weapon of choice in this war. They hit every region of Ukraine, targeting the power infrastructure, plunging towns and cities into darkness. This is the night Kharkiv is hit by 15 waves of ballistic missiles – my heart breaks for Slava and his colleagues.

And it is at this moment I feel just one of the ways this war affects everyone in Ukraine. When morning comes, they will take their exhausted children to school, they will go to work and they will keep going. The exhaustion is part of everyday life. They are tired of this war, they are tired from fear and grief and anger and constantly disturbed nights. But they are not giving up. Suspilne staff, just like everyone else, do not know when, how or even if this will end, but they know their job: it is to entertain, educate and inform. It is also to live.

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