REVIEW: You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska

In brief: The real life story of Yeva and her granny in Kharkiv, Ukraine as war breaks out and they leave their home.

The good: Very vivid and heartbreaking.

The not-so-good: I would have liked to know what happened to Yeva’s friend, Myron.

Why I chose it: History repeats itself – my grandma had to leave Ukraine due to war too. Thanks to Bloomsbury for the copy.

Year: 2022

Pages: 239

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s

Setting: Ukraine, Hungary and Ireland

Original language: Ukrainian & Russian

Translator: Cindy Joseph-Pearson

I’ve been following the war in Ukraine since it started many months ago. I’m been impressed by the tenacity and strength of the Ukrainian people in the face of severe adversity. I’ve also enjoyed the skills of the Ukrainian grandmas, from throwing jars of pickles at drones to taking rounds of ammunition from the enemy while they slept. (Having had a Ukrainian grandma myself, I know they excel at loyalty).

Yeva is 12 year old girl, living in Kharkiv with her granny. It’s a typical life of a schoolgirl, until it isn’t. The bombs and missiles arrive without warning, and suddenly life has changed. It’s not about going to school and playing, but hiding in the basement praying for safety. Yeva’s contact with her friends is reduced to via a group chat and the area around her flat is getting dangerous. Even crossing the city to safety is fraught with danger. The everyday life of the people of Kharkiv, and all over Ukraine changes to one of survival. Yeva and her granny feel they have to leave their home and cross Ukraine with the hope of getting to Europe. Their journey is scary but small moments, like when Yeva realises with wonder she’s in Europe will make you smile through the tears.

Yeva’s diary is mixed in its telling. Thoughts and observations of war that are wise beyond her years are interspersed with ‘typical’ thoughts of a 12 year old girl – birthday parties, toys and her friends. I would have liked to hear more about her initial reaction to where she and her granny were going (seems a bit strange that she kept that secret from her diary) but their resettling is told in detail. Their story is emotional, compelling and an insight into the effects of war on regular day. I agree with the title – no, I don’t know what war is. I only know a small amount of what my own grandparents went through, but I know that it’s not something kids should suffer through. I enjoyed ‘catching up’ with some of Yeva’s schoolfriends at the end, and how their families managed. (Myron, who seemed quite cheeky on the group chat, wasn’t in it. I hope he’s okay).

This slim read is powerful and punches above its weight. It’s not just a children’s read, but for adults too.

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2 thoughts on “REVIEW: You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska

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  1. This sounds as though it would be an emotive story. I read about the Ukrainian Grandmas throwing jars of pickles at the drones. Good on them. Your Grandma sounds lovely.

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