The day is overcast with a drizzle that renders autumn cold and bitter. One just wonders what December winter will be like. It's the 11th November 2023. At 0719 we leave Airport Hotel Recepja in Warsaw, Poland, on a bus for the 800 km drive to Kyiv, Ukraine.

The group of 15 journalists from various African countries has landed in Poland en-route to Ukraine at the invitation of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. We gather in the hotel lobby before Oksana Rikora.

Oksana is the officer from the Ukraine Ministry of Foreign Affairs responsible for arranging meetings during the tour. She is accompanied by Anastasia Hudz, the Ministry's logistical partner.

Our brief is simple and straightforward - to sign the declaration form committing us to observe and comply with all restrictions in place in Ukraine as we are visiting during a time of war.

Before we left our respective countries we had already signed forms to apply for bullet proof vests. Now, as we sign these forms, the reality and gravity of the assignment slowly hits home in my mind. There's a real chance I may never return back home!

Now that I think of it I begin to recall how almost everyone that I told I was going to Ukraine had responded with shock, aghast at such news!

There was Phenyo who I bumped in at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (SSKIA) on the morning of Thursday 8th November. He was on the same Air Botswana flight with me to OR Tambo en-route to Lusaka, Zambia.

"Wa go dirang koo MaErno o batla go re golega?"

And then I had phoned one of my directors, Titus Mbuya in OR Tambo protesting that the per diem the company had given me for the 10-day trip was a pittance. It was all consumed by transport fares – Gautrain and metered taxi – from OR Tambo to Hatfield Pretoria and back!

He, also, like Phenyo, wondered why I would want to venture into a war-torn country.

My cousin Mma Lerato whom I had phoned asking for accommodation in Jo’burg while I apply for Visas for Poland and Ukraine at the embassies in Pretoria, was also baffled that I was going to Ukraine.

But others, like my son, Mothusi Levy - father to my only granddaughter, Nayang Sedie - whom I love so dearly, had cheered me on.

Some 50km after we departed Warsaw, we stop as the AI system requires the driver to rest after a prescribed distance failing which it shuts the engine. We use the 30 minutes break to catch up on current affairs in our respective countries.

The political parties in Ukraine include Volodymir Zelensky's Servant of the People, and the European Solidarity led by the 5th President Petro Poroshenko.

We reach the Polish border with Ukraine - Rabaruska - at 1240 pm and dispense with the clearance procedures in 30 minutes. At 1330hrs we have finished on the Ukrainian side and begin the six hour-long drive to Kyiv.

My first impression is that all is well - the mist of rain covers the trail of trucks lining to cross into Poland. The same was true on the other side, in-fact we crossed the Polish side during a carrier strike over EU trade disputes.

We sit for lunch at restaurant Rata to enjoy 'mushroom cappuccino' bread and salad as well as uzvare (juice distilled from fruits), and derone (potato pancake) - just after crossing the border.

We arrive in Kyiv at exactly 11pm, drop Oksana off and drive for 11 minutes to Holiday Inn hotel, our home for the Saturday night.

On Sunday 12th November we have breakfast at 7:30 am and at 8:00am sharp we leave the hotel for Bucha, Borodyanka, Irpin, and then to Odesa.

Bucha is a Kyiv satellite town located north-west of the Ukrainian capital. Bucha became notoriously famous in 2022 for its key role in the Battle for Kyiv after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The mass killing of civilians by the Russian Army is also known by the name of Bucha (“Bucha massacre”)

According to Kostiantyn Moroz, the deputy mayor of Borodyanka, the most vicious battles in Bucha lasted from the beginning of the invasion till 31 March 2022 ending up with the withdrawal of Russian forces from the town.

We get an opportunity to see some of the damages inflicted on the infrastructure in Bucha, Irpin and Borodyanka. The heart-warming takeaway part for me is the fact that reconstruction and restoration works are under full swing.

At 0851hrs we leave Holiday Inn on our way to Irpin.

We are now joined by Andrii Strashnyi from the Press Centre of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the excursion. Kyiv, he assures us, is the safest city in Ukraine, but he will not vouch for our safety of Odesa.

The best bet, he says, is to stay in our groups, wear our military vests and helmets as well as comply with the security measures in place.

We observe the damaged vehicles, buildings and bridge but now that reconstruction and rebuilding is in full swing, some of the residents that had fled Bucha when Russian armoured tanks occupied their streets, are gradually returning.

We get an opportunity to visit the Holy Apostle Andrew Church in Irpin where Andriy Halavin, who has been the priest here since 1996 tells us of the horrors and atrocities committed by the Russia soldiers. He is joined by Viktoriia Danilova who works for the city council.

Once we are done with these sightings, we embark on the 500 km journey to Odesa, and some 40kms before we arrive in Odesa we get a tyre burst at night. Oksana warns us for our safety, not to cross the road to the other side.

It sets us back 40 minutes. We are pretty worried that we could be vulnerable to attacks here.

But God-wiling we finally reach our destination – Hotel Mozart named after the famed musical genius on Lanzheroniva’ka Street.

The next day Monday 13 November 2023 we set off for Odesa Port where we learn from Denys Karpov, the general manager of the Odesa seaport and Dimitriy Barinov – the deputy head of Ukrainian Sea Ports, about the Onyx missile strikes on the port and the implications for the Black Sea Grain Deal.

After this we visit the Cathedral of Transfiguration Church, where Father Myroslav tells us about the Onyx missile attack that hit the church in July this year. We also tour the church to see the extent of the damage.

We then go to the city centre to see another random business building that was hit, and finally we return to Kyiv. The next day – Tuesday, we will meet Ukrainian President, Volodymr Zelensky.