Ukrainian TikTokers and YouTubers offer insight into life during the war

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  • Many young people have turned to TikTok and YouTube to understand the Ukrainian conflict.
  • “I just want foreigners to see (…) how Ukrainians are feeling right now,” said a YouTuber.
  • Many creators keep their posts light so that Ukraine “stays in people’s minds”, added a Kyiv-based TikToker.

Travel vlogger Johnny Jen has lived all over the world. Scrolling through his YouTube timeline, you’ll see videos of him on a party bus in Lithuania, relaxing on a beach in Turkey, and climbing mountains in Sri Lanka. But a few weeks ago, Jen’s vlogs began documenting her chaotic and dangerous journey fleeing Ukraine by train.

Originally from San Diego, California, Jen had been living in Ukraine for nearly a year, making videos while exploring the country’s cuisine and culture. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jen decided to vlog her trip from kyiv to Hungary, showing her 230,000 followers just how frantic things were from her perspective.

Like Jen, many content creators in Ukraine have continued to post lifestyle content, adapting it to the unfolding war situation.

Tours of luxury homes turned into filming temporary bomb shelters, and the “A Day in My Life” video format, where influencers typically filmed themselves drinking smoothies and attending events. on the red carpet, now involves volunteering with humanitarian aid organizations and staying indoors to avoid missiles.

Just a few weeks ago, 20-year-old Valeria Shashenok was posting behind-the-scenes TikToks from her frequent fashion photography shoots. But these days, Shashenok shares what life is like in his temporary bomb shelter.

One of his recent TikToks features a reimagined version of the TikTok trend “Things In My House That Just Make Sense” where users share parts of their homes while Louis Prima’s cheerful Italian song “Che La Luna” plays along. background.

Here, however, she takes viewers around the bomb shelter, before rising above ground to show the destroyed buildings in the neighborhood. “Live my best life. Thank you, Russia!” she wrote in the caption of her video.

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its first month and traditional news sources grapple with ongoing disinformation campaigns, many are turning to first-person social media accounts to help make sense of the conflict. Shashenok – whose “Things in My House” TikTok has garnered over 41 million views – and other creators in their twenties, offers an up-close look at the ongoing confusion and devastation in Ukraine and gives a eye-opening insight into what life is like for so many young people during the war.

Creators turn to humor to deal with devastation

Former travel blogger Alina Volik used to share TikTok videos of her glamorous vacations around the world with her 76,000 followers. These days, Volik uses the platform to post updates on life under siege. In a video, she describes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as the country’s “psychotherapist” and claims that the “entertainment of the day” is visiting supermarkets with empty shelves.

“Humor is a weapon that helps us bond with each other,” the 18-year-old told Insider. “TikTok is a place where I can connect with other Ukrainians, and when I watch funny videos from other creators, I feel like I’m not alone.”

A photo of Alina wearing a coat in kyiv.

TikToker Alina Volik described humor as a “weapon” to help Ukrainians connect with each other on the platform.

Alina Volik

Liza Lysova, 17, garnered a million views on a TikTok where she filmed herself smiling and doing a TikTok dance with an on-screen caption that read: ‘When you woke up at 5 morning to the sound of explosions and everything was shaking and you realize that Russia has declared war on Ukraine.”

She told Insider, “I think others, including myself, deal with stress using humor.”

“I want Ukraine to stay in people’s minds so I found a way to do that is to make lifestyle videos to show people what’s going on in a more acceptable”

Jen says he also tries to keep his videos “light”.

In her video, “Chaos trying to flee Ukraine, posted March 2, Jen – who has been posting travel content for more than eight years – found herself trying to stay calm as people crowded into stations to leave the country.

“I filmed the video in the same style I normally would, trying to keep it light, but the actual event was very tragic,” he told Insider.

A photo of Jen holding her camera to her face at a train station.

Jen is vlogging from a train station as he leaves Ukraine.

Johnny FD via YouTube

He said he deliberately films a mixture of funny and political content in his Ukrainian vlogs, which include clips of him drinking alcohol and chatting with friends, as well as footage of Ukrainian protests, because “I know if I take it too seriously, some people will just click and get sick of it.”

“I want Ukraine to stay in people’s minds. I found a way to do that by making lifestyle videos to show people what’s going on in a more palatable way,” he said. he continued.

This notion also apparently inspired Ukrainian YouTuber Olga Reznikova. Reznikova, from Kyiv, used the platform to film herself driving from Ukraine to Poland with her two children. Upon her arrival, she posted a vlog showing her 266,000 followers what an average day looks like for her now.

In it, Reznikova frys onions and mushrooms as television news of Ukraine’s crumbling houses and streets blare in the background.

Reznikova told Insider that while people watching news about Ukraine will likely only see clips of destruction, her vlogs aim to show people her “normal daily life,” which still involves doing chores and take care of her children.

Social media resonates especially with younger audiences, who value its “authenticity”

Reznikova said that while news tends to feature “only facts,” YouTube allows her to share a mix of factual information and personal experiences. She says many of her videos are educational, aiming to explain to viewers why the conflict happened, while others describe her life and opinions.

A photo of Reznikova filming her face as she walks through a parking lot in Ukraine.

Reznikova leaving Kyiv.

Olga Reznikova via YouTube

She also said she thinks vlogging can feel more relevant than TV news because vloggers like her listen to their audience’s demand. “We can show them what they’re asking for, so they understand what’s going on. TV channels don’t always have such direct feedback the way we get feedback on YouTube,” he said. she declared.

Jen agreed that this could be why his vlogs are an attractive source of information, saying he always films and speaks directly from his own experience. “I definitely don’t want to jump on the bandwagon of the news cycle. I’ll only share what I see around me, and that’s what makes it authentic.”

He said he was inspired by YouTubers who have visited Afghanistan in recent years, whose vlogs were a “time capsule of what life was like” before the Taliban invaded. “Even though YouTube is primarily for entertainment, it’s also an important part of history,” he said.

YouTube and TikTok have already started “replacing traditional media and news,” Jen said, especially among young people. That’s a sentiment backed by a 2019 Reuters Institute study, which found that people under 35 think “traditional news media no longer seem as relevant or dominant when it comes to news content.” news”, compared to social media.

“Traditional information brands see information as: what you need to know. — Younger audiences see information as: what you need to know (to some extent), but also what is useful to know know, what is interesting to know and what is fun to know,” the study states.

Damian Radcliffe, a journalism professor at the University of Oregon, agrees, saying these videos automatically feel “more informal and less stuffy” than the formats typically embraced by broadcast, print and online media.

“It’s going to resonate with certain audiences, especially young people, who appreciate the authenticity and slightly more ‘raw’ feel these videos can have,” he said.

Volik, the TikToker who has created humorous content about Ukraine, told Insider that she receives messages from viewers every day, thanking her for her take on the war. “They tell me that I’m so brave to share my story and talk about it. I just want foreigners to see, through my videos, how Ukrainians are feeling right now.”

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