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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Fiona Sturges

You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska audiobook review – a child’s-eye view from Ukraine

Keira Knightley
Nuanced performance … Keira Knightley. Photograph: Michael Buckner/Deadline/REX/Shutterstock

“Everyone knows the word ‘war’, but few people understand what it truly means,” notes 12-year-old Yeva Skalietska in You Don’t Know What War Is. Yeva is from Kharkiv, Ukraine, and this is her diary, providing a first-hand account of the early weeks of the Russian invasion. Before the war, Yeva would go bowling with friends, go to school and do her homework. But on the morning of 24 February 2022, she was woken by loud metallic noises echoing through the streets. When she looked out of the window of her flat, she saw a rocket go past and explode “with such force I felt my heart go cold in my chest”.

She and her grandmother, Iryna, quickly joined the residents of their building in the dusty basement, where they fashioned beds out of blankets and bits of cardboard and listened to the bombs dropping outside. The diary goes on to chronicle Yeva and Iryna’s movements as they flee, first to a friend’s house on the other side of the city and later over the border to Budapest. Eventually, with the help of a news team from Channel 4, the pair make contact with a family in Dublin who offer to take them in.

Keira Knightley is the narrator, delivering a nuanced performance that captures Yeva’s fear and devastation at seeing her city destroyed and at being separated from friends and family. The audiobook also features a foreword written and read by Michael Morpurgo, who observes that Yeva’s diary “is a reminder that war is not a story told by journalists, nor by TV or films or history or fiction. It is lived, day-by-day, night-by-night.”

• You Don’t Know What War Is is available from Bloomsbury, 2hr 40min.

Further listening

The Peripheral
William Gibson, Audible Studios, 14hr 5min
Lorelei King narrates the first book in the sci-fi writer’s Jackpot Trilogy, recently adapted for TV, about a young woman and her military veteran brother whose love of video games leads them to move between two realities.

Arifa Akbar, Sceptre, 8hr 48min
In this terrifically moving memoir, Akbar looks back on her relationship with her older sister, Fauzia, who died from a strange illness in her mid-40s. Actor Shazia Nicholls reads.

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