The city of Mariupol saw fearsome battles between Russian and Ukrainian forces until May last year, when President Vladimir Putin claimed victory.
The standoff left the city in ruins, with the total death toll still not fully counted.
CGTN Europe witnessed some of the final fighting there last year. Now we have returned to see what has changed since then.
At the entrance of the city, visitors are greeted by two huge concrete signs reading 'Mariupol.' One is in Greek, a nod to Mariupol's once large ethnic Greek community. Another is in Russian. Both are painted in the Russian tricolor.
The towering structures show no signs of the fighting that raged here, having been totally rebuilt, just like the buildings behind them. Today, much of Mariupol looks like a huge construction site.
"The first thing we did was with the multi-apartment buildings," says Ivan Atamanov, an official from Mariupol's administration, which is now run by Russian-backed officials.
"We had to prepare them so the people could get through the winter," he adds. "Besides that, we prepared a fund for the citizens that couldn't rebuild their individual homes, so they could survive the winter with heating."
In another part of the city, a fully finished apartment complex already has new tenants. Lyudmila Petrovna, in her late sixties, is one such tenant.
"We have survived something that I don't know how it was possible to survive in that situation. I was left with nothing." Lyudmila told CGTN Europe.
"I had nothing after that. But they gave me an apartment, they gave me a pension. Do you understand? And life is being rebuilt here. People have become more relaxed, and we are very happy now," she says.
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Signs of life are returning to Mariupol, but not everywhere. The devastation is still visible throughout the city, and relics of the fighting remain.
That includes the remnants of Ukrainian T-64 tank near the famed Azovstal steel plant, where Ukrainian troops made their final stand against Russia soldiers.
The plant itself, as well as the hundreds of homes close by, also bare witness to the standoff.
The message "live people" was handwritten on a half-destroyed gate of one of the homes close to the factory last year. It was an attempt to try to save those inside during the fighting. Ten months later, there is nobody inside.
But for some locals, the picture may be better than it appears on the surface.
"Tell the entire world that we thought there would be nothing here, nobody would build anything," says Lyudmila. "But I want to say now: thanks to Putin, thanks to Russia, and thanks to the Russian people. I am grateful to them, we are all grateful."
It seems important to the new Russian authorities in Mariupol to show they are doing their best to return life to normal in the city as quickly as possible.
The question is, just how long will it take for this city to be fully rebuilt considering the scale of devastation, if ever.
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