Ukrainian photographer uses TikTok to turn war zone destruction into art

This is the scene that the Ukrainian photographer Valeria Shashenok witnesses every day as she walks down the street in Chernihiv, war-torn Ukraine. Shashenok takes refuge in an underground bunker with his mother, father and dog “Tory” in the northern Ukrainian city. His close friends have already fled.

But instead of wallowing in the destruction that surrounds him, Shashenok has turned war into art.

Shashenok uses TikTok to document his daily life. His videos have gone viral, with some getting millions of views.

In the video that made her famous, Shashenok dances to “Che La Luna” with the caption “My typical day in a bomb shelter.” She uses a heat gun as a hair dryer while her dog hides under a blanket. Her mother cooks in a pot on the floor.

In another video, Shashenok stands in front of a pile of rubble. The caption reads: “Today Putin destroyed one of the old buildings in my town. It was a cinema that survived WWII.” Then she points to large windows nearby, broken glass on the floor. “The windows also blew out due to the force of the impact in nearby houses.”

In yet another, she shows the bare shelves of a grocery store with the caption: “If you want to buy food from a supermarket during the war in Ukraine.”

When asked by CNN’s Pamela Brown on Sunday why she started posting these videos on Tik Tok, Shashenok said, “I think it’s like my mission to show people what it’s like in real life. This is real life, and here I am.”

She continued: “A lot of Russians write to me that we are with you. … In Russia (there is) a lot of fake news. And most people don’t believe that in my country we have a war. . .. My mission (is) to show (to) the whole world that this is happening now in real life, and you can now see (the) war (o)n Tik Tok.”

Tik Tok announced on Sunday that it would suspend certain features in Russia in light of the country’s new “fake news” law criminalizing misinformation.
But even with growing fame, Shashenok worries about the fate of his country. “Every day I live with the hope that tomorrow the war will end, but everything gets worse.” Shachenok wrote to CNN’s Meanwhile in America on Sunday. On Monday, she wrote to CNN, “Everyone is scared (for) their life.”

In recent days, hopes of opening safe evacuation corridors for civilians out of a number of towns, including Chernihiv, have been repeatedly dashed, with Ukraine accusing Russia of attacking the routes of evacuation.

Like many people in Ukraine, Shashenok’s family is reluctant to leave as evidence of Russian violence against Ukrainian civilians mounts. Asked by CNN on Monday if she and her family would try to flee during a planned ceasefire, Shashenok said, “If Russian troops don’t kill civilians tomorrow, yes, I will go on (the) 9 ( Of March.” Questioned again on Tuesday, Shashenok said her family had no plans to leave the bunker yet.

Even with the fear of encroaching on Russia’s violence, Shashenok still has big dreams. She told CNN on Monday that Tik Tok is now her future.

“Maybe I (could) come (to) the United States and work as a Tik Tok reporter,” she said.

The hope for a new life and a fresh start is what keeps Shashenok going. “People have to value freedom. It’s the most important (thing) we have.”

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