A young girl who has documented her flight from Ukraine to Ireland in a new book says she could not believe that war had started until she saw that “missiles were flying over the fields”.
12-year-old Yeva Skalietska’s new book, ‘You Don’t Know What War Is: The diary of a young girl from Ukraine’ documents the outbreak of the war and her flight across Europe with her grandmother.
It has been hugely successful in the weeks since its release and Hollywood star Keira Knightley is now pencilled in to narrate the audiobook.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Yeva said she had no idea what was to come as she celebrated her 12th birthday just days before the invasion began.
“I was a normal schoolgirl,” she said. “I attended school, I studied and I had a lot of hobbies – I played on the piano and once a week, I attended my teacher in my city.
“I was painting - my neighbour taught me how to paint – and I loved bowling and I sometimes played with my friends. On my birthday, February 19th, five days before the war, it was like the best day, I spent it bowling with my friends.”
"Missiles were flying over the fields"
She said there were “a lot of rumours” about the prospect of war – but she didn’t believe it was possible.
“We actually didn’t believe that because we have relatives there,” she said. “My father, and my great-grandmother, they live in Russia and we have a lot of friends there.
“So, there is no sense to war but everything changed on February 24th.
“I couldn’t believe that war had started but when we saw missiles were flying over the fields, we were just afraid.
“When my grandmother said that it is real, Putin is starting a war with Ukraine, I knew she was telling the truth but I couldn’t believe it.”
Yeva said one thing she remembers about the outbreak of war was the dust in the basement her neighbours were using as a makeshift bomb shelter.
“There was sand and dust everywhere,” she said.
“Sometimes when there were bombings, they were so terrifying and I didn’t know where to hide so I sat with my grandmother and only with her I felt safe.”
"A terrible day"
When her apartment was destroyed by a Russian missile, Yeva and her grandmother decided they had to escape.
“That was a terrible day,” she said.
“We got news that our apartment had been bombed. Something in my soul and in my heart … I spent all my childhood there.
“I remember how I would do my homework in the kitchen, how I was painting in the living room and when I got news that our kitchen was bombed - and three walls were bombed - I was crying a lot.
“In the evening, the drones were dropping bombs. My grandma, she saw this huge drone and she just fell to the floor. We didn’t want to go to the shelter because we knew that if a bomb dropped in my house, the shelter would be [destroyed].
"Very warm welcome"
After fleeing to the west of Ukraine with her grandmother before eventually travelling to Ireland, Yeva said they received a “very warm” welcome here.
“We came to a family and we had a very warm meeting,” she said. “The next day, when we arrived in Dublin, a lot of neighbours came.
“Even my grandmother, she didn’t understand English, but she knew the people were happy to see us. They welcomed us warmly and they were so sincere.”
Yeva told Pat she speaks with her friends back in Ukraine every week – and all of them are extremely worried for those that are still in Kharkiv.
“My friends in Dnipro are so worried about the situation in Kharkiv,” she said. “They miss the days when it was peaceful skies and we were together.
“Those who are in Kharkiv are so afraid and they stay in their district and it is so terrifying because they can hear the drones.”
She said she doesn’t know when she will return home, noting: “It is easy to destroy in a few seconds but to rebuild, it will take a few years or even decades.”
“I hope when everything will be rebuilt and bombs will be removed and it will be safe like it was before, I hope to visit my friends and I hope to visit my classmates to see how they are getting on,” she said.