You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska

You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska is a short diary kept by a 12 year old Ukrainian girl who fled Ukraine after russia’s full-scale invasion. I hoped that I would enjoy it when I saw it on the shelves at the library and, unfortunately, I didn’t. Because of the topic I will write a slightly longer review. I would comment on specific things and I don’t consider them spoilers, just aspects to point out if anyone who reads this review might want to read the book and might not be up to date with the latest russian propaganda nonsense.

First of all the diary looks like a blog, especially after she left Ukraine. She and her grandmother left within two weeks of the invasion starting. She only just turned 12, and she and her grandmother lived in Kharkiv, close to the russian border. They took shelter in a basement, moved, their beautiful flat was bombed, and they left. They managed to reach Hungary and from there they went to Ireland.

You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska

Yeva and her grandmother, like many others living in Kharkiv were russian speakers. It is obvious that they were under the influence of russian propaganda, such as being used as human shields or that Ukrainian tanks were in the city. I think she started to change her views, but it could have been made a bit clearer what she thinks.

Ukrainians are not and were not using civilians as human shields (some russians did though), tanks are in cities in all urban warfare situations (russian propaganda and peaceniks were saying that there shouldn’t be any Ukrainian tanks in the cities). Public buildings can be used for military purposes if there aren’t any civilians left in them (not in the book, but as a general fact). The editors should have mentioned that this was not true in the notes at the end of the book, but didn’t.

While this is not important enough to make me want to give the book such a low rating, there are two other things. Firstly, Yeva is not too young to write something of more consistence. She vaguely mentions her parents, she talks about fear, but she must have felt all sort of emotions she never talks about. This was supposed to be a diary and not a blog, so it missed the intimacy of a diary.

Secondly, the notes at the end are just cringe and incorrect. For example, Odesa (not with 2 s as is the russian transliteration and which was used in the book) is not on the Red Sea. The sea does have a colour, but it is black.
Cluster bombs are not banned under Geneva convention as it is noted in the book. There is the Dublin convention, which was signed by many countries, but it is not signed by russia, Ukraine, US, and other countries neighbouring russia. Of course, Britain signed it because cluster bombs are used for clearing trenches (a nice way of saying blowing up invaders) and if an aggressor state has managed to dig up trenches in Britain… this means the war is already lost with the Royal Navy and the RAF being long gone.
I don’t think it’s controversial to say that using any types of weapons on civilians is banned under Geneva convention (I will not go into the principle of proportionality, which covers what is acceptable as collateral casualties). russia did use cluster bombs on civilian targets, including Kharkiv, which is a war crime.

I think the journalists from Channel 4 encouraged her to write more like a blog than a diary. Also, some of the proceeds will go to UNCHR UK. I can’t see Ukrainians being happy with that. All these international organisations proved time and time again that they are too scared (let’s go with that and not other alternatives) to be properly engaged on the ground in Ukraine (with the exception of some Ukrainian based branches). I would have imagined a pro-Ukrainian stance would have been to donate to an Ukrainian charity, such as U24 for reconstruction. Most of the negative aspects are in relation to what others did and not her or her grandmother. I am happy that she got out and that she is now living in safety in Ireland.

You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska

Details about the picture: –
My rating: 2/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: yes-ish
Published by: Bloomsbury
Year it was published: 2022
Format: Paperback
Genre(s): diary-memoir
Pages: 240

About the author: Yeva Skalietska is an Ukrainian girl who grew up living with her grandmother in Kharkiv, near the Russian border. She loves learning languages, bowling, playing the piano, and painting. Yeva wrote a diary of her experiences of fleeing war in Ukraine aged 12, in 2022.
Website & Social Media Links: –



3 thoughts on “You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska”

  • Ah, you’ve really summed up what wasn’t great about the book. You’re right that it’s more of a blog and not a proper diary full of emotions.
    Thanks for noting the Russian propaganda elements too- you are very knowledgeable so notice things I completely missed.
    I also thought the writing about her parents was very lacking too.
    I wasn’t aware of the funding element too!
    Kezzie recently posted…TARDIS Tuesday- Clara from Dark WaterMy Profile

  • For me, the Diary of Anne Frank seems to be the benchmark for stories like this. And I’d never really thought about it before, but there truly is a difference between a diary and a blog (and blog is more like a journal in virtual form). I appreciate your review.
    Kelly recently posted…The Midwich Cuckoos by John WyndhamMy Profile

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