Wednesday, November 23, 2022

You Don't Know What War Is

You Don't Know What War Is / Yeva Skalietska
NY: Union Square & Co, c2022
128 p.

This is a story of the experience of the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine from the viewpoint of a 12 year old girl. Any story told with the bare facts of daily experience, without benefit of hindsight, with a child's clear voice is compelling; this reminds me of Zlata's Diary or even Anne Frank's in some parts. 

Yeva Skalietka had just turned 12 when the conflict started in February of this year. The story begins on her 12th birthday in early February, in Kharkiv where she had lived with her grandmother since she was a young child. A few weeks after this delightful experience, bombs start falling. 

She reveals their first few weeks sheltering in a basement bomb shelter, and then with a friend of her grandmother's farther away from the centre of the attacks. But the attacks keep growing, and eventually they are able to take a train to Western Ukraine, and from there to a refugee centre in Poland. And then, after some effort, they find a way to get to Ireland. They now live in Dublin, where Yeva is attending school and settling in to a new life - the diary ends there and there is a hopeful note to it. 

Throughout, she talks about her schoolfriends from Ukraine; they have a classroom chat and keep in touch, sharing their experiences of bombings and the dangers they see, as well as joking around and keeping one another's spirits up. Their daily lives have suddenly changed utterly, but they try to keep some sense of normalcy among themselves. She also shares her artistic side - she loves painting and creating, and finds that these practices help her manage the anxiety of bombs and explosions. 

It's a straightforward diary, moving from the beginnings of war through all the logistical issues that led to them getting to Ireland, and her own experiences in a safe country. She describes the fractured awareness of life in a safe place while also knowing her friends are still under attack. It's an illuminating read, and one that will be accessible to younger readers as well as adults. Definitely one to look out for. 

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