The moment a Russian tank aims at ITV News car in last convoy out of Mariupol
I’m the third and hopefully last member of this ITV News team to catch Covid.
Most of the symptoms have passed but the brain fog lingers. Combine that with the mist surrounding Mariupol yesterday and you had a correspondent very slow on the uptake.
There was silence in the van as we crept along the main road west and the unmistakable shape of a main battle tank revealed itself through the gloom.
The last Ukrainian checkpoint on the edge of Mariupol was only five miles behind us, so this had to be Ukrainian armour.
Cameraman Sean Swan has always been the sharp one. “They’re Russians,” he said, with certainty.
“There’s a white Z on one of the tanks,” confirmed our brilliant producer Natalie Wright.
Sean then proceeded to secretly film an entire report from the back seat of the van.
Senior International Correspondent John Irvine and his team film the moment Russian tanks turn their turrets on the last convoy out of Mariupol
We had left Mariupol because broadcasting from the city had become virtually impossible for us. No electricity, internet, running water, or fuel.
We had been there for three weeks and all of us had come to admire its citizens. Their friendliness, composure and defiance was something to behold.
Mariupol has a large Greek community and Athens had tried to get assurances that a convoy led by their Consul would be granted safe passage out.
Watch John Irvine's report from Tuesday where the team hear from people living inside the strategic city of Mariupol
There were about 30 vehicles carrying a ragtag of diplomats, Greek citizens and foreign journalists.
The Consul’s first big challenge of the day was to talk us through the column of Russian tanks. He was calm and consummate, and would be a reassuring leader throughout this day.
Initially the soldiers appeared relaxed, but suddenly something spooked them.
The turret of the lead tank turned our way. We were literally looking down the barrel. Then soldiers knelt and aimed their rifles at our convoy. My brain wasn’t quite so foggy any more.
Luckily things calmed down and the Russian soldiers approached our vehicle.
They were greeted with big smiles and cheery hellos. Sean and I got out and opened the boot. One of the Russians pointed at four cases which we dutifully put on the tarmac and opened.
They rummaged a bit and then nodded. We were free to proceed.
The Russian column stretched a long way down the road. Dozens of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and lorries were parked either side. There were hundreds of soldiers. One gestured that he needed cigarettes. But we weren’t stopping for anyone.
The next hurdle was to find a passable road that would take us back into Ukrainian held territory.
First we went west. It was a good road, but suddenly part of it was missing. A bridge had been destroyed. Turn around.
Down a minor road. The crack of rifle fire. Turn around.
We were burning up valuable diesel and getting nowhere. The spectre of having to return to battered Mariupol was looming larger.
At the fourth time of asking we found a viable way out. First we tip-toed. The convoy stopped frequently to wait for stragglers and to assess the danger posed by the sound of battle further ahead.
Then we began to speed up. We passed burning houses, swerved to avoid the detritus of battle, got through a second Russian convoy and reached the point of no return. The sun would soon set. Time to floor it.
With half an hour until curfew we reached the relative safety of somewhere I can’t spell.
The hotel has electricity, running water and wi-fi.
When the sirens sounded, concerned staff ran to our rooms insisting we go downstairs to take cover in the basement.
We thanked them and refused point blank. We had work to do, we told them.
They implored once more.
“We’ve just come from Mariupol,” I reasoned.
That gave them pause. Then their nods meant fair enough, you need to tell the world.