#BookReview: You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska @KidsBloomsbury @NetGalley #UkraineRussiaWar

Hi everyone! Today, I have a book review for a young, debut author: Yeva Skalietska.

I received a free Advanced Review Copy of this book from NetGalley >>>

About the Book:

Book cover for You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska

Everyone knows the word ‘war’. But very few understand what it truly means. When you find you have to face it, you feel totally lost, walled in by fright and despair. Until you’ve been there, you don’t know what war is.

This is the gripping, urgent 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 and her granny were forced to seek shelter in a damp, cramped basement that Yeva decided to write down her story. And it is a story that 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 through Europe. 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.


My Review:


Utterly Compelling

Many thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ) for a free ARC of this book.

You Don’t Know What War Is, is the dairy of a 12-year-old Ukrainian girl, Yeva Skalietska, and it covers her experiences of war from her birthday—a few days before Russia invaded—through the early days of the invasion and heavy shelling of Kharkiv, and onward to after she and her grandmother have become two of the many refugees fleeing their home country.

From the foreword by Michael Morpurgo: ‘Yeva’s utterly compelling story stays with us: one young writer’s descent from everyday life into hell, and ultimately into salvation.’

Yeva’s experience and diary records certainly do stay with the reader. Her first entry shows us her youth and innocence… ‘I wake up early on the morning of 14 February. Today is my birthday. I’m twelve—almost a teenager!’ … Her excitement is palpable. Then, mere days later, Yeva writes: ‘All of a sudden, a massive rocket flew by and exploded with such force that I felt my heart go cold in my chest.’

The diary feels authentic with many of the words and phrases presented as you would expect from a twelve-year-old, and it seems the editors have, largely, left Yeva’s words untouched and true to her experience and expression. The only time I felt any intrusion into this was the point at which the reader is told: ‘I’ve been keeping a secret from this diary ever since we met the reporters.’ … This revelation was huge and would have changed how Yeva and her grandmother experienced and felt about all the events that had led up to that secret and beyond. For me, this undermined the authenticity of the read massively. I would have much preferred that the revelation had been given its proper place and significance in the telling of events. Being given this news when Yeva heard it, and getting her actual reaction, would have been real and brilliant. As it is, it feels jarring and deceptive. Was this an editorial decision? … I don’t know. But, for me, it would enhance rather than mar my experience of this read if the significant event was told in sequence.

As well as Yeva’s entries, we also see text messages between her and her friends. And this gives the reader more insight into how individual experiences of war can differ depending on viewpoint and location. Photographs, hand drawn maps, international news headlines, and detailed notes also help to add to the understanding of Yeva’s journey through Ukraine, Hungary, and eventually to Ireland.

Here are some lines which show this young writer’s skill …

‘Everything that seemed hard or bad in the past, becomes trivial.’

And …

‘Evenings are full of the unknown and swallow me whole with fear.’

And …

‘Do you enjoy fighting in cities, destroying everything in your wake, instead of fighting in the battlefields?’ … A great question, I feel!

The diary closes with short entries from some of Yeva’s friends, which I think is a wonderful thing to do. You Don’t Know What War Is gets five stars from me.


NOTE ON RATINGS: I consider a 3-star rating a positive review. Picky about which books I give 5 stars to, I reserve this highest rating for the stories I find stunning and which moved me.

4 STARS: I WOULD PULL AN ALL-NIGHTER — Go read this book.
3 STARS: IT WAS GOOD! — An okay read. Didn’t love it. Didn’t hate it.
2 STARS: I MAY HAVE LIKED A FEW THINGS —Lacking in some areas: writing, characterisation, and/or problematic plot lines.
1 STAR: NOT MY CUP OF TEA —Lots of issues with this book.

I’d love to hear what you think of this review. Thanks for stopping by 🙂


For anyone interested, here are the Amazon links …

UK … https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08R8XRTB2/

US … https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1454949694/


38 Comments on “#BookReview: You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska @KidsBloomsbury @NetGalley #UkraineRussiaWar

    • I’m sure the experiences you’ve just had make this incredibly real for you. Thanks, Jacqui! 💕🙂

  1. I add Ukraine to my prayers every night. Yeva was forced to leave not only her country behind, but her childhood, as well. This sounds like a compelling read, Harmony, thanks.

  2. This sounds like a book I want to read, though I should probably wait until I’m in a better place, myself, so I can handle the painful and tragic parts of it. I’m adding it to my list, and definitely plan to check it out, when I can handle it. I’m truly impressed that a 12-year old girl was inspired to keep a diary of what she’s gone through. (Makes me think of Anne Frank).

    Thanks for a great review, Harmony. And I hope you’re having a good day! ❤️🤗❤️

    • She’s an inspiration for sure. Thanks, Marcia. Hope you had a great weekend 💕🙂

    • It is both heart wrenching and optimistic. I admire this young woman so much. Thanks, Toni 💕🙂

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this book, Harmony. It sounds riveting and scary, even more so as a diary of a real child’s real experience. These stories need to be told. Awesome review and recommendation. I’ll keep my eye open for this one.

  4. Thank you for sharing this book review today. I hope we never know what it is like to live through a war. I hope this young girl finds peace.

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and this book. It sounds like an important one to read.

  6. This must have been an intense read. I can’t even imagine what Yeva went through, but I would like to know more. It sounds like a book everyone should read.

  7. This sounds like a heart-wrenching tale that would be hard to discern between truth and fiction. Thank you for sharing, Harmony!

    • It’s all truth with no fiction. This is a moving, factual diary record of a child caught up in an awful war. The only editorial intrusion I could see was the withholding of ‘the big secret’. Thanks for stopping by, Jan 🙂

    • It shows the loss, the courage, and the brave perseverance. Thanks, Joan 💕🙂

    • I love that this comes from a different perspective than the adult ones. Thanks, Craig 💕🙂

  8. Harmony, this sounds like a powerful and important read. I hadn’t heard about this book before.Thank you spotlighting it and sharing your review.

    • It gives an important insight into the effects on the young people of Ukraine for sure. Thanks, Mae 💕🙂

  9. A wonderful review Harmony and a great introduction to a book that might have escaped my notice otherwise. This young lady’s voice is one that should be heard instead off the lies that emanate from the leader of those who invaded her country who claims it is his own Country and not a Sovereign Nation and that civilians are not targeted..