You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska

Everyone has been moved by this year’s events in Ukraine. I personally have friends over there – one who I haven’t heard from for months now – and we have all seen the news reports of the Russians bombing Ukraine, President Zelensky being defiant against Putin’s threats. But this book – You Don’t Know What War Is – gives us another perspective, as twelve-year-old Yeva Skalietska shares her thoughts with us. The diary she kept from February to May 2022 follow events we watched in the News, but this is a first-hand account from a child who was there.

For starters, it’s a beautifully produced and presented book. The cover is blue and yellow – Ukraine’s national colours – with the country’s famous sunflowers on there. There are flaps at the front and back of the book, which can be used as bookmarks while you are reading. The foreword is written by the famous author Michael Morpurgo and there’s a map of Kharkiv (Yeva’s home city). The text is presented alongside news headlines, reproductions of text messages and photos from Yeva’s life.

The diary begins on February 14th – Yeva’s 12th birthday. Life is normal, she goes to school, her friends say ‘Happy birthday!’ to her and she is looking forward to her party at the local bowling alley. She lives with her Granny Iryna and they have a family birthday tea with other relatives. She’s like many other kids her age all over the world – she likes painting, plays the piano and is learning English. Kharkiv sounds amazing with its zoo, dolphinarium, gardens and the famous Gorky Park – a city full of culture, somewhere I would have loved to visit…

Then on February 24th, everything changes.

Yeva writes “I’ve grown up hearing about war, but I’ve never been in one. I was terrified.”

For quite a short book (240 pages), it is a powerful read. I follow quite a few Ukrainians on Twitter who tweet about their daily life in the war, but reading things from the perspective of Yeva who is just twelve, it really feels so evil that a young girl’s life is ruined by this political act. You can see the mental strain she is under, as she suddenly fears for her life. Her home no longer feels safe, but then, where is safe now?

Despite the tragedy behind the book, Yeva’s story isn’t all negative. I love the way she communicates with her classmates on their phones, you can see how they are trying to keep each other’s spirits up amongst all the terror and uncertainty. They chat about what is happening where they are and as the days continue, they update each other on where they flee to, if they leave Kharkiv. (At the end of the book, some of her friends write updates on their situations.) Although she’s only a child, Yeva tries to see the positives, enjoying some sunshine or telling people not to despair. The resilience shown here is one we have seen from many Ukrainians over the past nine months.

This is an important book and I highly recommend it.


*Featured on This Morning, Steph’s Packed Lunch, Radio 4: Today and Channel 4 News*

Everyone knows the word ‘war’. But very few understand what it truly means. When you find you have to face it, you feel totally lost, walled in by fright and despair. Until you’ve been there, you don’t know what war is.

This is the gripping and moving diary of young Ukrainian refugee Yeva Skalietska. It follows twelve days in Ukraine that changed 12-year-old Yeva’s life forever. She was woken in the early hours to the terrifying sounds of shelling. Russia had invaded Ukraine, and her beloved Kharkiv home was no longer the safe haven it should have been. It was while she was forced to seek shelter in a damp, cramped basement that Yeva decided to write down her story. And it is a story the world needs to hear.

Yeva captured the nation’s heart when she was featured on Channel 4 News with her granny as they fled Ukraine for Dublin. In You Don’t Know What War Is, Yeva records what is happening hour-by-hour as she seeks safety and travels from Kharkiv to Dublin. Each eye-opening diary entry is supplemented by personal photographs, excerpts of messages between Yeva and her friends and daily headlines from around the world, while three beautifully detailed maps (by Kharkiv-native Olga Shtonda) help the reader track Yeva and her granny’s journey. You Don’t Know What War Is is a powerful insight into what conflict is like through the eyes of a child and an essential read for adults and older children alike.

Published in association with the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, with a foreword by Michael Morpurgo.
‘Everyone, absolutely everyone, should read it. You will love Yeva.’ Christy Lefteri, No.1 international bestselling author of The Beekeeper of Aleppo
‘Yeva speaks a truth all of us must listen to’ Michael Morpurgo, award-winning author of War Horse
‘Exhilarating, shattering, heartbreaking, brilliant’ Roddy Doyle, Booker Prize-winning author
‘The most important story of our times’ Viv Groskop, podcaster and writer
‘A herstory of Ukraine’ Olia Hercules, Ukrainian chef and food writer

Published by karenlouisehollis

53, lives in Lincoln, England. Published writer, book blogger and reviewer, mum, grandma, cat owner, vegetarian. Loves reading and sewing. My novel is out - WELCOME TO WHITLOCK CLOSE.

One thought on “You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: