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'My hands were shaking': Young girl shares diary from the early days of the war in Ukraine

Yeva Skalietska. (Ger Holland)
Yeva Skalietska. (Ger Holland)

More than 7 million refugees have been recorded across Europe due to the war in Ukraine.

The lead refugee agency for the United Nations says two-thirds of those who’ve left Ukraine are children — but we don’t often hear their stories. Yeva Skalietska, a 12-year-old girl from Ukraine, has been keeping a diary since the early days of the war there. She’s one of the lucky ones who made it out with her grandmother, but she doesn’t know when it will be safe to return.

Her diary has been adapted into a new book called “You Don’t Know What War Is: The Diary of a Young Girl from Ukraine.” Skalietska writes about having a panic attack as she fled home with her grandmother on the first day of the war.

After leaving home, Skalietska and other children from her block played games to distract themselves, but struggled to share their feelings.

“It was painful to share our emotions but we tried to support each other,” Skalietska says. “I started keeping a diary because it was for me easier to write my emotions, everything that happened with me through the fear that I lived through.”

Yeva Skalietska and her grandmother Irina Skalietska. (Ger Holland)

Skalietska’s grandmother had been raising her in Kharkiv. Thanks to her grandmother’s friends, the two made it out of Ukraine to Ireland. Now, she’s attending school in Ireland, which is very different from Ukraine. The weather changes more often than she’s used to and now she needs to know English.

Some of Skalietska’s friends remain in Kharkiv. She keeps in touch with them via text. One day, Skalietska hopes to return home and see them again. But her apartment, where she spent all of her childhood, is destroyed.

“I understand that it will not be like before,” she says. “Maybe I will [go] back to see what’s happened with my city. And I know there is no future there because university, schools, everything is destroyed and very dangerous in forests and rivers and even in the normal roads, because everywhere is bombs.”

Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Catherine Welch. Allison Hagan adapted it for the web.

Book excerpt: ‘You Don’t Know What War Is: The Diary of a Young Girl from Ukraine’

By Yeva Skalietska

Excerpted from “You Don’t Know What War Is: The Diary of a Young Girl from Ukraine” by Yeva Skalietska. Copyright © 2022. Used with permission of the publisher, Union Square & Co. All rights reserved.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.