Recently, I’ve been giving interviews about my new book, I Will Show You How It Was: The Story of Wartime Kyiv. People tend to ask the same question: What motivated you to tell this story, and to tell it in the way you did?

I always give the same answer: it’s the astonishing acts of enthusiasm, defiance, and courage that I saw with my own eyes in February and March 2022, when Russia first attacked the capital of Ukraine. This is a real story of how the best things about human nature had a very surprising victory over the evil that seemed to be invincible, all-powerful, and inescapable.

The months of international crises that preceded the Battle of Kyiv felt like the lead-up to doomsday. A giant gathering storm that was slowly suffocating our little world full of things that we love in our everyday lives. The Kremlin was openly amassing a giant army against Ukraine. Russia was boldly poking fun at the West’s desperate diplomatic attempts and licking its lips at its upcoming triumphant march through its former colony, which would be desolated, demoralized, and put back on its knees in no time.

Just before the invasion, half of the world gave Ukraine no chance of resisting. Will Kyiv fall within 48 or 72 hours?

The months of international crises that preceded the Battle of Kyiv felt like the lead-up to doomsday.

In February 2022, foreign embassies were hastily leaving Kyiv. All air traffic halted. As Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, said in an interview, top officials at the White House, including President Biden, were sending him sympathetic glances, clapping him on the back, and suggesting that the minister take care of his family in that dark hour.

This was supposed to be the end of a European nation, of everything that we Ukrainians had managed to achieve since the Euromaidan revolution, in 2014—the all-out reforms, rapid Westernization, and the cultural upsurge. The end of everything that made us a country different from what we were a decade ago, a declining Russian colony ruled by a puppet government.

What do you do when you know that everything you see and love as you walk through the streets of your city is doomed to burn in a raging fire of war? When you see improvised mass graves in a parking lot next to your house or next to the charred remains of your nearest supermarket? What if your favorite cycling route running through a quiet suburban street turns into a scorched graveyard of destroyed armored vehicles and human limbs scattered all around?

They say war makes people reveal their true selves. When the unimaginable eventually happened and a giant army came to the gates of Ukraine, my people responded with unbelievable heroism and unity. We stood for what was right, no matter the chances of success. I will never forget the scene of a Ukrainian warfighter carrying an NLAW anti-tank weapon on his shoulder, walking among ambushed and destroyed Russian vehicles to the sound of brutally intense gunfire. This happened near a roundabout close to the town of Ivankiv, almost an hour’s drive from Kyiv.

It sent shivers down one’s spine to see regular Ukrainians in Obolon, a district in northern Kyiv, getting automatic rifles from the police to join the fight and meet the invading army in their streets. Our country’s top hip-hop star, Andriy Khlyvniuk of Boombox, sang a patriotic hymn, a cappella, as a member of a just-formed local armed home-guard unit. A young woman played guitar for kids sitting on the floor of a Kyiv metro station, which was being used as a bomb shelter. One of our top stand-up comedians, Felix Redka, did free performances to entertain and lift the spirit of people in shelters.

When the unimaginable eventually happened and a giant army came to the gates of Ukraine, my people responded with unbelievable heroism and unity.

When the darkest hour came, my people did not agree that “there’s nothing to be done” or that “resistance is futile.”

This all culminated in the last days of March 2022, when a Ukrainian military unit sent a drone to surveil the Russian-occupied, northwestern outskirts of Kyiv, and confirmed that no hostile targets were present in the area. Following more than a month of brutal battling, Russian forces—exhausted, degraded, and bleeding out—withdrew from the Kyiv region to avoid a catastrophic defeat in a Ukrainian counterstrike.

We journalists rushed to follow the military and see desolated battlefields of hundreds of eviscerated Russian armored vehicles. To our greatest horror, we also found multiple mass graves and execution sites left behind by the defeated occupational army. What was supposed to be Vladimir Putin’s triumphant march ended up a disastrous failure, with entire units of elite Russian paratroopers scattered dead in the streets of Hostomel, along roads leading to blown-up bridges into Kyiv.

I often think back to those days, and I insist on calling the Battle of Kyiv a historic miracle—the one made possible thanks to the spirit of my people. We had hope, and we made hard moral choices. It paid off.

This is why I wrote my book. As many of us worry about Ukraine’s future, we could use some hope—and a bit of the spirit of the Battle of Kyiv.

Illia Ponomarenko is a Ukrainian journalist, war reporter, and defense analyst for the Kyiv Independent