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

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.


This is a short yet extremely touching book that everyone should read. You really do not know what war is until you have experienced it yourself. Thankfully, many of us will avoid that dreadful experience but that doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on those who do. We might be limited to what we can do to stop the war in Ukraine but we can take the time to understand the many displaced Ukrainians who now live on our countries. Books like this are very important for us to empathise correctly with others and can help us avoid any aggression towards people and what we believe they have or haven’t gone through and what they “deserve” from our governments as a result.

Yeva is such a beautiful, intelligent soul. She writes with such clarity and depth to help us get a true understanding of her experience of war in Ukraine. Yet, there are moments where her writing shows her as the child she is. This makes the book even more moving, the innocence of Yeva and her friends lost thanks to the cruel actions of others.

While You Don’t Know What War Is is primarily made up of diary entries, we are also provided with What’s App group chats between Yeva and her friends. Also, each chapter begins with the news headlines corresponding to the date, which provides a contrast to how we were viewing the situation around the world in comparison to those who were living through it. There injections into the diary are a stark reminder this is non-fiction we are reading and makes the book even more harrowing.

You Don’t Know What War Is is available to buy now.

I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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