As we approach the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the media spotlight has occasionally dimmed. Published in association with the UN Refugee Agency, You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska serves as a heartfelt reminder, while offering young readers a window into the war through the eyes of a child. Yeva’s diary documents the early days of the invasion in her home city of Kharkiv, and her escape to safety, often via the kindness of strangers. Supplemented with photos, verbatim text messages from her left-behind friends, and news headlines, it’s a humbling read.
Yeva’s pre-invasion diary charts the ordinary (and retrospectively delightful) life of a 12-year-old girl in Kharkiv. Living with her granny, Iryna, Yeva’s days are a whirl of school and playdates, in this beautiful city close to the Russian border. This changes forever on Thursday 24th February 2022, when Yeva’s diary entry tells us that she was rudely awakened at 5.10am by a deafening, metallic sound, ‘like a car being crushed into scrap metal.’
Granny is standing by the window, watching missiles flying over the fields. It is the beginning of sandbags, conflagration, food shortages, and bombed kindergartens.
‘No one had told us what we should do if a war broke out.’
Unprepared and terrified, Yeva and her granny head for the building’s basement and in the company of their neighbours, listen out for tanks and shelling, while feverishly WhatsApping family and friends. As it turns out, the messaging platform is one of the stars of the show, keeping Yeva in contact with her schoolmates and loved ones during the dark days to come.
Fleeing Kharkiv, the pair become refugees, crossing the continent in a moving tale that we are privileged to read because of a serendipitous encounter with a Channel 4 news crew.
‘We are only children,’ Yeva tells us, ‘and we deserve to live a life of peace…’
A unique and essential read.
You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska is published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 240 page.