Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Valeria Shashenok was a freelance photographer whose portfolio included travel shots, portraits of couples, and the occasional selfie. But as the Ukrainian crisis has unfolded, the 20-year-old has gone from documenting the finer parts of life to showing the harsh realities of living in Ukraine during the war.
Through social media videos, primarily on TikTok, Shashenok has been sharing life as it is now. This includes living in a bomb shelter (with her parents, dog, and two family friends) sans electricity while documenting the rubble inflicted by the Russian military.
Shashenok juxtaposes the heartbreaking scenes from her everyday life with humor, adding an absurdist twist to all of her posts. While in the underground shelter, she takes stock of who and what’s there. She calls, for instance, the water basin a “jacuzzi for hot girls” and her mom a “personal Michelin restaurant.” When the shelter loses electricity, a video features cuts of distressing dark scenes (literally and figuratively) with music that can only be described as breezy and carefree. “Heaven” is the caption.
The creator began making these TikToks as a way to depict what’s happening in her country. “I’m that person who always ragged on everything with humor. It’s the best way to show people the problem,” Shashenok says. “I’m that person who always sees light in the dark, and it’s a nice way to do something for my country.”
Although she stayed in Ukraine for weeks after the start of the war, Shashenok’s latest TikTok shows that she has made it out of the country and to Warsaw, Poland. In her typical style, she documented the journey—which was arduous, to say the least—that started on a train and ended in her friend’s arms. “It’s the most horrible trip in my life!” She writes in the video. “Thanks Putin” and includes three smiling emojis with hearts around their faces.
By creating these videos about the war, Shashenok wants people abroad to have a different perspective than what might be depicted elsewhere in the media. “They need to know that Ukrainian people are the strongest,” she explains. “I wanted to show that one man, one Russian man, president, stupid man, destroyed my native country. And I am a small girl who can’t stop this man. I wanted to show what really happened. How I see, in my style.”
Valeria Shashenok went from being a freelance photographer to chronicling the harsh realities of living in Ukraine during the war.
@valerisssh I spent my childhood here, thanks Russia #stopwar ♬ ylang ylang – solartunne
@valerisssh Third Word War! Putin, thank u #ukraine #stopwar #russiastop ♬ Je te laisserai des mots – Patrick Watson
Her TikTok videos include dark humor, such as making a video about “things in our bomb shelter that make sense.”
@valerissshTypical situation in Ukraine♬ Che La Luna – Louis Prima
@valerisssh Russian government, thanks u! #stopwar #ukraine ♬ Tarantella – Mulberry Street
Shashenok makes these videos as a way to really show people what's happening in her country.
@valerisssh Living my best life Thanks Russia! #ukraine #stopwar #russiastop ♬ Che La Luna – Louis Prima
@valerissshWelcome to my 5 stars hotel ♬ original sound – allrapperlations
The videos show how the situation is deteriorating the longer the war carries on.
@valerissshChernihiv❤️♬ I miss the old Kanye – _
@valerissshI hate Russia♬ Госудáрственный гимн Росси́йской Федерáции – Национальный Гимн России – Россия – The One World Ensemble
Although Shashenok stayed in Ukraine for weeks after the invasion, she has recently left the country and landed in Warsaw, Poland.
@valerissshIt’s the most horrible trip! Thanks Russia♬ Celebrate the Good Times – Mason