Reviews /

You Don’t Know What War Is

Authored by Yeva Skalietska (translated by Cindy Joseph-Pearson)
Illustrated by Olga Shtonda (maps)
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

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You Don’t Know What War Is is a moving diary written by a young Ukrainian girl at the beginning of the Russian invasion.

Yeva, 12 years old, lives happily in the city of Kharkiv with her Granny Iryna. Kharkiv is not far from the border with Russia. The diary begins just before the Russian invasion to give the reader a sense of daily life in normal times.

The February 2022 invasion changes everything. Kharkiv is the first to feel the destructive effects of the Russian bombardment. Yeva describes the reaction of herself, her friends and her community as they look for safe places in basements and schools. There is complete bewilderment amongst Yeva and her friends at this tragedy happening to the Ukrainian people – why does one country want to invade another and destroy it?

Yeva documents her leaving of her beloved home to find a place of safety. We travel with her across Ukraine through into Hungary and finally to Ireland. Along the way Yeva and Iryna are met with kindness and help. Even the fact their papers are not in order is not a hindrance to their escape.

Even though Yeva balks at the term, this is a story of how ordinary people become refugees. The pain of leaving home into the unknown is well described. Yeva is lucky in one sense that she finds a safe country, has plenty of useful help along the way and is given a nice place to live in Ireland, settling quickly into her new school. This contrasts with the experience of many other refugees around the world.

Yeva writes simply and clearly about her experiences. Her voice is strong as are those of the friends she invites to contribute their experiences in the final section. The book deserves to be read by young and old and would be an excellent book for young people to read from age 10 upwards both individually as well as discussed together in school.

Highly recommended.