When Nataliie Pidruchna learned she was to be housed on a ship for an unknown length of time during what was already a period of great uncertainty, she was frightened.

Nataliie and her husband, Serhii Pidruchnyer, fled the war in Ukraine to bring their two children to safety in Scotland - but never expected to be living on a cruise ship.

"We were afraid. We said to each other, 'No, we don't want a ship - what we will do when we are with children?' It's terrible. Whoa, no, not ship. 

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"Most people we knew were afraid about this idea. But when we come to the welcome hub, there was some people from the ship there and they tell us that it's a nice place with nice food. 

"And so we think that this will be good idea because you can stay in Edinburgh, and Edinburgh is a lovely place."

That was a year ago and, in the 12 months since, Nataliie's life has changed immeasurably, not least because of her work with children on board.

READ MORE: Love and loss on board the Glasgow Ukrainian cruise ship

The Herald was given exclusive access to the MS Victoria in the days before she was due to sail from her berth, out past New Haven and a tearful farewell from her former residents.

Entering through the cavernous car deck, crew, guests and anyone working on the ship, travel up in an elevator to the main decks above.

The doors slide open to a confrontation of glinting gold metal and endless mirrors. 

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Along a carpeted hall in one direction is a dining room and social space while along in the other direction is the ballroom: a sign above the door reads Starlight Cabaret Nightclub and Casino. 

On the cruise ship MS Victoria, every detail has been designed for passenger comfort - and it was quickly clear to Nataliie that her fears had been misplaced.

She added: "My relatives were so worried: Where are you? Where are you? 

"And when we take photos for them, they said 'How amazing'. They were really happy that we are here.

"First, when we came on board, we think that it is a reality show. It can't be true. It's all for us? These amazing different dishes, these golden stairs. It's all for us?"

Not long after she boarded MS Victoria a momentary meeting would also change her perception of life on the vessel - and help her change the lives of her fellow guests.

Joyce Landry, co-founder of Landry & Kling, which supplied the ship to the Scottish Government, saw Nataliie across the dining room and the two happened to lock eyes.

It was around three weeks since Ukrainians had been coming aboard and Joyce was concerned about the 200 children - and the prediction that this number would soon rise to 400.

After the trial of travelling to Scotland, their experiences of the war and having lived in hotels, it was natural that the children would be running around to let off steam in their new home.

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Joyce, from New England, said: "They were using the ship as a playground, which was lovely as they felt settled here. But obviously concerning.

"We decided to create some children's programming and while I was thinking through how we were going to do this, Nataliie walks on with her family, carrying her luggage, and we just caught eyes with each other across the dining room."

Joyce asked Nataliie if she would like to help, she said yes and was hired on the spot.

Joyce added: "You know sometimes you make a connection with somebody?

"She looked up and I looked over at the exact same moment. 

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"And I could tell just from that moment that she had gumption."

The business owner also saw leadership qualities in Nataliie and tasked her with finding five or six other Ukrainians on board to become involved.

Within a day she had found a child psychologist, a teacher, a former physical education teacher, a dance instructor, and a choirmaster.

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They chose a name, printed t shirts and the children's programme was founded with holiday, weekend and after school activities to keep young guests gainfully employed. 

Joyce said: "It allowed the adults to prepare themselves for their new community in Scotland not worried about their children. 

"We watched children and adults walk on the ship, apprehensive, afraid, reliving what they had just gone through and within a very short time they relaxed, they started smiling. 

"And the kids were playing, just like kids, so they became kids again."

In Ukraine, Nataliie was a social worker in a school and she also organised children's parties.

She was keen to work in Scotland and immediately threw herself into the children's club, organising hobbies, activities, dance and sport lessons, theatre classes and special events to celebrate occasions such as St Nicholas' Day and Easter. 

The choir was invited to perform at the Lyceum Theatre and at a Ukraine Constitution Day ceremony on the steps of the Ukrainian Council in Edinburgh.

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As well as fun, the activities allowed young people to have a safe space with trusted adults to talk about their worries and fears.   

Nataliie said: "Because the children speak with us like we are their friends they can tell us anything. Children trust us." 

Joyce added: "The trauma showed up when we gave them the materials to paint, that's when we started to see just how much this experience of having to leave their home country put on them.

"Some of them drew very dark images, but they had the light because they all had hope."

The Scottish Government chartered a second vessel, the MS Ambition, to be docked near Glasgow for Ukrainian refugees on the west coast.

Joyce, who was splitting time between the two ships, repeated the children's club model with another guest, Olga, and the scheme was a success there too.

Joyce added: "Performing has been a big part of this programme. These children are so ingrained in the arts from a very young age: they sing they dance, they do acrobatics, ballet at a very high level. 

"So missing their teachers was part of the sadness of when we saw them when they first came on board. 

"What we did is we helped to support that by providing dance teachers, music teachers, vocal teachers, and bringing them back into their craft again so that they could start performing.

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"And these kids are fearless, they get out on stage in front of 500 people with a microphone."

In response to this success, Joyce has now founded Mission of Innocents, a charity that will help children globally who have been displaced by war, political unrest and climate change.

All the residents of MS Victoria and MS Ambition have now been rehoused; MS Ambition left Glasgow in March while MS Victoria sails late on Monday night.

As Ambition set off, her former residents gathered to wave farewell, singing the Ukrainian national anthem, and this scene will be repeated for Victoria. 

Some 75 families from Ambition, including Olga, have been rehoused in Coatbridge and so Mission of Innocence already has a thriving children's project in the North Lanarkshire town.

Nataliie will continue to be employed by Mission of Innocents and is running a scheme in Leith for young people who have been rehoused in Edinburgh. 

Work has made all the difference for her. "I feel free," she said. "I can buy for my children what we want. We can now know that we have a future, that we have some benefits from this."

She says people in Ukraine know less about Scotland than England, other than the rain and cold, but she has been overwhelmed by the kindness of people here.

Her daughter, Kateryna, six, and son, Stanislav, 10, are well settled at primary school in Edinburgh but homesickness and missing his grandparents mean Stanislav is spending July back in Ukraine.

The family, from near Lviv, which recently suffered a heavy attack from Russian troops, will return for medical and dental visits but feel Scotland is now home until Ukraine sees peace. 

Nataliie said: "I pray every day but it's a very terrible situation there now; you think every day it must end soon. But no, it's worse and worse from every day.

"It was very, very difficult to stay there and we are happy here, especially this wonderful place [the ship]."

The family is currently living in a hotel but waiting for council housing to become available and they have high hopes for a future in Scotland. 

Friends have been moved to Aberdeen, Fife and elsewhere so they are pleased to remain in Edinburgh. 

Serhii is running a football project for young people and hopes to receive sponsorship from Hibernian football club. 

Nataliie added: "My dream is to see peace in Ukraine and to be safe in Ukraine. But now, we will stay here and continue our work. 

"It's all that I dream, to continue this work. Everyone dreams to have your corner, your home and and start living again."