Valeria Shashenok’s TikTok account used to portray the life of a travel photographer.
From the Eiffel Tower at sunset to behind-the-scenes clips of a photoshoot on the Mediterranean coast, Shashenok’s TikTok gave viewers a glimpse of just how vast the world is.
Now, most of her TikToks are recorded in an underground bunker in Chernihiv, a war-torn city in northern Ukraine.
Shashenok, 20, spends nearly 24 hours a day sheltering from the Russian invasion. Most of her friends have fled the country, but she and her mother, father and dog Tory stayed.
Her TikTok account is a public diary where she shares the destruction of her city and makes sardonic jokes about taking her revenge on Russian leadership. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last month, Shashenok’s videos have been viewed millions of times and her TikTok following has grown to 674,500.
“And of course thanks Putin,” she wrote in a recent video about living without electricity. She closed with a row of kiss emoji, posing in the dark with a thumbs-up.
Her hatred for Vladimir Putin is a running theme in her videos, where she imagines his face on a punching bag in the bunker and pretends her mother’s borscht is seasoned with the Russian president’s blood.
“I wanted them to know that one man, one Russian man, president, stupid man, destroyed my native country,” she told The Cut.
“On TV, they show how people cry in Ukraine, that we are so poor, that everything is so awful. I’m so scared that when I move to another country, if I say I’m Ukrainian, they’ll say, oh my God, Ukraine? Like that’s a bad thing,” Shashenok said.
Her videos are infused with dark humor and set to trending music; in one captioned “What every Ukrainian woman needs in her bag,” she shows off non-perishable foods the way a lifestyle influencer would flex their makeup collection. In another, she calls her family’s bunker a five-star hotel, joking that the metal tub full of water is a “jacuzzi for hot girls” and her mother’s cooking over a hot plate is her “personal Michelin restaurant.”
When she can safely leave the shelter, Shashenok documents what’s left of Chernihiv. Her heartbreak is palpable, especially in TikToks comparing clips of the city before the invasion to the rubble that’s left.
“I feel like it’s my mission to show people how it looks in real life. That it’s real life, and I’m here,” Shashenok wrote to CNN on Sunday. “Many Russian people write to me that we are with you … In Russia [there is] a lot of fake news. And most of the people don’t believe that in my country we have a war.”
She tries to disseminate the reality of the war with her videos.
“My mission [is] to show [the] whole world that it’s happen[ing] now in real life, and you can see the war on TikTok,” she continued.
Morgan Sung is a trends reporter for NBC News Digital.