They are meals made in a bomb shelter in Ukraine, but to Valeria Shashenok, they are food from her “personal Michelin restaurant.”
Shashenok, a 20-year-old Ukrainian photographer, has been documenting on TikTok how her family cooks and eats in a bomb shelter in Chernihiv, a war-torn city in northern Ukraine. Known as @valerisssh on the social media platform, she has amassed nearly 780,000 followers.
Her viral videos showing off her tongue-in-cheek humor during a harrowing time have shown all aspects of her family’s daily life since Russia’s invasion, from shopping at nearly empty grocery stores to living without electricity.
She shared a video on March 10 showing how her mother prepares Ukrainian borscht in the shelter with mini square potatoes, garlic, sugar, cabbage and “Putin’s blood” in the beets, in reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The video has more than three million views.
She also gives a quick glimpse into how her mother prepares meals in the spare space she calls her “personal Michelin restaurant” in a video she captioned “Welcome to my 5 stars hotel.”
Shashenok and her family have remained in their shelter at a time when more than 2.8 million Ukrainians have fled the country, according to the United Nations.
“I want to show what’s happening in my country, because I don’t see women like me doing that,” she told The Cut. “I’m that person who always ragged on everything with humor. It’s the best way to show people the problem. I’m that person who always sees light in the dark, and it’s a nice way to do something for my country.”
Another video shows her mother preparing Ukrainian blinchiki, crepe-style pancakes, in a pan. Her mother also whips up some cheese curd pancakes known as syrniki in another video.
Shashenok even does a little cooking herself, preparing some pasta and writing that she “imagined that she is in Italy” in one video.
She also indicated how little her mother often has to work with due to the empty shelves and meager products at a local grocery store, which she showed in another video.
Shashenok has also given out food recommendations, like in her video on Feb. 27 telling people to try grechka and “try to stay positive,” three days after the Russian invasion began. Grechka is a type of buckwheat cereal, which Shashenok garnished with what she called “Putin’s egg.”
“They need to know that Ukrainian people are the strongest,” she told The Cut about her viewers. “I wanted to show that one man, one Russian man, president, dumb man, destroyed my native country.”
The photographer is one of many Ukrainians documenting life during war on social media. There have been photos of empty grocery store shelves, scenes of mothers giving birth in bomb shelters, raw depictions of the carnage and catastrophe of the war, and mothers filming videos of destruction to counteract Russian propaganda and provide a first-hand look at the devastation .