Twenty-year-old Valeria Shashenok rose to fame when she started documenting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Tik Tok last February.
From electricity blackouts to supermarket shortages and bombed buildings, more than a million people have followed Valeria’s stories on Tik Tok, as she used the social media channel to tell the stories of everyday life in Ukraine.
“I am part of a generation that was born with a phone in their hands, so when the war broke out I decided to start making videos about living in a bomb shelter with my family,” explains Valeria in a video call with Euronews.
As well as posting serious content, humour became Valeria’s secret weapon online. In one of her viral videos filmed in a bunker with her family, she puts a heat gun to the test as a hairdryer.
“I was inspired by the ‘things that make sense in Italy’ Tik Tok trend, where users film funny clips of everyday life — I decided to do the same but for the war in Ukraine”.
Valeria, who is also a photographer, has now amassed a following of 150,000 people on Instagram in addition to her Tik Tok fans.
Her audience includes digital-native Gen Z-ers, as well as a new set of viewers she attracted online.
“I got messages from people in their sixties and seventies saying they had made a Tik Tok account just to watch me!”.
Valeria fled Ukraine 10 months ago now. In September, she returned to see her family who still live in Chernihiv, a town close to the Russian border, located in northern Ukraine.
“Being back home was so special, they were the best two months of my life.”
“I miss my family, they are all physically together — but I know that mentally they are are very damaged. Last year my uncle’s house was totally destroyed by a bomb — the war is a reality for them.”
Despite her upbeat attitude and warm smiles, the war in Ukraine has taken a toll on Valeria.
“I try to always stay positive in life but deep down I am hurting. Sometimes I feel crazy angry or so sad, I never knew I could feel emotions like this,” she says.
After spending some time in Italy and Germany, Valeria decided she wanted to settle in UK — a wish which was granted by one of her followers.
“A follower replied to an Instagram story I posted about searching for a room. I am now living with his lovely family in London and have been granted a three-year visa to stay in the UK”.
Life away from Ukraine
Since leaving Ukraine, Valeria has used social media platform to share her life as a young refugee navigating her way across Europe.
During the autumn she was even invited to tour the European Parliament in Strasbourg and meet Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska.
“We didn’t really get to speak but I got a picture! I really feel she is a role model for young women as she is so confident and doing such important work. I follow her on Instagram and I have watched every single interview of her with President Zelenskyy,” Valeria confesses with a giggle.
As for the future, Valeria has put her big dreams of becoming a fashion photographer on hold for now.
“I always wanted to be a photographer for Vogue but now I hope to move back to Ukraine and help rebuild my country. I hope the war will end this year,” she says with a sigh — before clenching her arm to the camera in a show of strength.