A Ukrainian photographer is using TikTok to transform the devastation of a war zone into beauty.
In the distance, sirens blare. Everywhere she turns, she sees destruction. Windows are damaged, and fragments of wood and construction debris litter the streets. The streets are strangely deserted.
This is the scene that Ukrainian photographer Valeria Shashenok sees on a daily basis as she walks down the street in Chernihiv, Ukraine. Shashenok, her mother, father, and dog “Tory,” are taking refuge in an underground bunker in the northern Ukrainian city. Her nearest and dearest have already departed.
However, rather than wallow in the carnage surrounding her, Shashenok has converted the fight into art.
Shashenok is documenting her daily existence on TikTok. Her videos have gone viral, garnering millions of views in certain cases.
Shashenok dances to “Che La Luna” in the video that made her famous, captioned “My ordinary day in a bomb bunker.” As her dog hides beneath a blanket, she uses a heat gun similar to a hair dryer. Her mother cooks on the floor, using a pot.
In another video, Shashenok is seen standing in front of a heap of rubble. As stated in the caption, “Today, Putin demolished one or more historic structures in my city. It was a cinema that remained open during World War II.” Then she displays enormous windows nearby with smashed glass on the ground. “Windows blew out of surrounding houses as a result of the force of the strike.”
In another, she photographs the empty shelves of a grocery shop with the caption: “If you want to buy food in a supermarket amid Ukraine’s war.”
When CNN’s Pamela Brown questioned Shashenok on Sunday why she began sharing these videos on Tik Tok, Shashenok stated, “I feel as though it is my responsibility to demonstrate how it seems in real life. That this is genuine life, and that I am present.”
Additionally, she stated, “Numerous Russians have written to express their solidarity with you. There is a great deal of bogus news in Russia. And the majority of people in my country do not believe that we are at war. My aim (is) to demonstrate to the entire globe that it is happening right now in real life, and that you can witness (the) fight (o)n Tik Tok right now.”
Tik Tok announced Sunday that it would suspend several functionalities in Russia in light of the country’s new “fake news” law.
Despite her growing celebrity, Shashenok is concerned about the future of her country. “Every day, I live with hope that the conflict will finish tomorrow, but everything is deteriorating.” On Sunday, Shashenok wrote to CNN’s Meanwhile in America. “Everyone is terrified (for) their lives,” she wrote to CNN on Monday.
Hopes for safe evacuation pathways for people from a number of cities, notably Chernihiv, have been repeatedly crushed in recent days, with Ukraine blaming Russia of striking escape routes.
Shashenok’s family, like many others in Ukraine, is afraid to flee as proof of Russian atrocities against Ukrainian citizens mounts. When asked by CNN on Monday if she and her family would flee during a planned ceasefire, Shashenok responded, “If Russian troops do not kill civilians tomorrow, absolutely, I will leave on (the) 9th (of) March.” When questioned again Tuesday, Shashenok stated that her family had no immediate intentions to leave the bunker.
Even in the face of increasing Russian brutality, Shashenok retains lofty ambitions. On Monday, she told CNN that Tik Tok is now her future.
“Perhaps I can travel to the United States and work as a Tik Tok journalist,” she speculated.
Shashenok is motivated by the prospect of a fresh life and a new beginning. “Individuals must value liberty. It is the most vital (thing) we own.”