On February 24th 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. The world was silent as the inflicted fear spread. TikTok is an app that is the base for many of our modern-day trends and fads, but we usually don’t associate this social media platform with real-time documentation of a war. Valeria Shashenok, a Ukrainian photographer, has used her platform to create videos on how her life has changed because of the conflict. In such a modern era, we are now able to consume media that is produced from people whose situations differ from our own. Social media acts as a way to raise awareness while providing perspective for active viewers.
Valeria has gained millions of followers and views on her videos that outline her daily life as a Ukrainian in Ukraine. She provides light-hearted takes on a serious situation, engaging the eyes of casual TikTok users. During her videos, she downplays the circumstance she’s in, poking fun at parts of her day such as the innovative ways her father decides to make their morning coffee. However, some of her most popular videos show a different, more heart-wrenching side of her life, from living in an underground bunker to showing the destruction of her town when she deems her neighbourhood safe to go outside. While the cruel and blunt imagery is toned down with her playful wit, the pain and hurt from the situation is still clearly evident.
Her journey as a refugee is nowhere near glamorous or even fits the mould of the typical TikTokers that frequent the app.
What makes Valeria’s journey and her content so engaging is her consistency and how she is able to bring her audience on an intimate journey. Later in March, Valeria became a Ukrainian refugee, fleeing to Poland and eventually to Milan. She recorded the journey as well as the shifting of her own life as she gained more and more popularity and began to gain attention in larger news media platforms. Amidst her platform’s growing popularity she stays grounded, always framing her content as an outlet for awareness. Her journey as a refugee is nowhere near glamorous or even fits the mould of the typical TikTokers that frequent the app. The journey is also not an isolated one, as her content exposes the hardships that thousands of Ukrainians are facing every day.
On a video-sharing platform where trends, fashion, and dances become popular, we are also able to view the lives of individuals from a war-torn country in real time. On such an accessible app, we are being fed stories and seeing lives unfold that would not otherwise be seen. It begins to give us more perspective. As we have the ability to actively keep up with someone’s journey through an unfiltered and unprocessed lens, we gain the ability to sympathise with the content and even take action. This new age idea of online activism and awareness is something that we are still trying to navigate. Though it is still something to be looked at critically, the intentions behind internet activism stem from a genuine place. From being online, we come to recognize the implications the internet and specifically TikTok has on Gen Z awareness and perspective. It is our version of T.V. news, as the videos scattered across our For You pages grab our attention for 60 seconds, informing and encouraging us to become more attentive to the world around us. This generation is given so many outlets of self-expression, and it’s how we take those tools and use them that matters.
The violence in Ukraine is still persisting, and there are so many families and individuals that are in need of help. As Valeria Shashenok documents these aspects of her life, her story parallels thousands of others who are going through a similar situation. If you are interested, here are some resources for charities and donations providing relief to Ukraine.