I’m A Millennial Watching The Ukraine War Play Out On TikTok; It’s Harrowing, Heartwarming & Incredibly Human

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TikTok Captures Many Perspectives Of The Ukraine War

Is it okay to laugh in the face of an impending war? I did when I saw millennials flooding “Vladdy Daddy no World War 3 please” comments on an Instagram account under Vladimir Putin’s name.

But when Putin announced what he called a ‘military operation’ in Ukraine on 24 Feb, followed by a climbing casualty count, reading comments like, “Vladdy daddy, this isn’t like you” started feeling strange.


And that is exactly what it has been like to consume content about the war over social media – strange.

As I scrolled past TikTok videos after videos of buildings reduced to rubble and soldiers marching, the scenes were harrowing to watch, stirring a sense of dread within me.

But then I swiped to the next video and watched as a Ukrainian girl sang ‘Let It Go’ in a bunker, followed by a teen making sarcastic mini-documentaries of her life in war as a coping mechanism.

Witnessing the very victims finding solace in a crisis, I felt my fear gradually turning into reassurance as I watched the incredible human spirit stand tall against all odds.

TikTok portrays the Ukraine war with #nofilter

One of the strangest experiences of the modern world has to be following a war on social media. Specifically, TikTok, because people post everything.

To give an idea of what scrolling through TikTok had been like the past few weeks, it goes something like this: soldiers marching; vote for SAJC’s Priyanka; Ukrainians fleeing their country; a material girl showing off her loots; missiles landing on Ukraine soil; a meme video on the war.

On 24 Feb – the first day of the attacks – a friend said there would confirm be soldiers dancing on TikTok. I disagreed. Surely not? I opened the app, and lo and behold, the very first video on my For You Page was 5 Ukranian soldiers dancing.

Seeing netizens flirt with the idea of war, then immediately watching it play out on the ground was surreal and strange.

Amidst the missiles and rubble, we are seeing how the accessibility of TikTok gives us stories from all sides of the war.

We witness the sobering reality of Ukrainians preparing to flee, civilians kneeling in front of Russian tanks, a grandma saying goodbye to friends in her Ukrainian hometown, and even a farmer towing away a Russian tank.

It is raw and unfiltered. War is always terrifying and horrible, but there’s something beautiful about the scenes coming out of Ukraine.

Russian soldier cries while Ukrainians offer him food & call his mum

Watching Ukrainians stand firm as stalwart defenders of their nation with courage and, in many cases, good humour has been a light in the darkness.

On the one hand, watching a war unfold through these videos feels surreal. And on the other, it puts everything into perspective once I realise how real everything was, thanks to footage from people on the ground.

As this TikToker aptly puts it, the disconnect between the reality of war and watching it on an app meant for entertainment makes the crisis confusing to process.

Ukraine war tiktokSource

Nonetheless, the platform has unwittingly helped bridge the gap between Ukrainians’ experiences and those watching from across the globe. After all, we can’t deny the pain and horrors of the war as we continuously watch it play out via videos.

TikTok has helped Ukraine win public approval during the war

While the war was being waged, another war of opinions was brewing online as we watched the battle unfold through the rectangular screens of our phones.

Emotionally charged videos coming out of Ukraine moved the international audience, becoming pivotal in compelling denizens of the world to empathise with Ukraine and condemn Russia’s attacks.

In fact, TikTok has become so influential in the invasion of Ukraine that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to TikTokers in his speech to Russian citizens. He shared that TikTokers could help end the war by spreading awareness about the current situation.

As TikTok pulled out of Russia, TikTokers in Ukraine were glad to take the helm.

From day one, they documented how life had changed in their country as they packed up and moved to shelters.


And this is nothing to what people are going through in other regions and cities… watch my inst stories alina__volik ‼️

♬ bringing the era back yall – chuuyas gf

One great example is @valerisssh, who shared a video of her ‘typical day during war in Ukraine’.


Russian government, thanks u! #stopwar #ukraine

♬ Tarantella – Mulberry Street

Using a goofy Italian song, she documented herself having a ‘bomb breakfast in a bomb shelter’. She then walked out and showed the audience how a cinema had been bombed.


In a later video, she humorously posted about the limited facilities in the bomb shelter, such as a ‘jacuzzi’ that was really just a large pail of water.

Ukraine war tiktokSource

These TikTok clips are Internet jokes but, at the same time, deadly serious documentations of what is happening in Ukraine.

While we might see the news headlines and watch footage of bombings in the news, these war videos speak to TikTokers in their own language, relating to people all around the world in a personal way.


Reply to @949.natalie short answer no #ukraine #russia #explained #ww3 #girls #brunch #lgbt #gay

♬ original sound – Nikita

The popular TikTok videos ultimately serve as a powerful form of publicity for the Ukrainian cause.

As people watch Russian soldiers being treated humanely by Ukrainians whilst seeing Zelensky visit wounded Ukrainians in hospitals, TikTok is shaping the wartime narrative. And we are seeing it in the growing global solidarity with Ukraine.

The dark side of TikTok: rampant misinformation

Obviously, there are downsides to receiving updates of a chaotic war through scattershot coverage on social media.

The TikTok algorithm does not discriminate, and all content follows the same laws – whether it is of a random cat doing sit-ups or rubble falling on a Ukrainian man during a livestream.

Whatever people engage with becomes more popular and is propagated, regardless of its quality, provenance, or truth.

And the way TikTok works, it’s easy to swipe past one video to the next without ever questioning the source.

While the app has raised awareness for on-the-ground happenings in Ukraine, it has also brought forth a ton of misinformation — intentional and unintentional.

Video games are falsely circulated as live footage of the war. An old video of a Palestinian girl confronting an Israeli soldier has been mistakenly packaged as a Ukrainian girl facing a Russian soldier. A 2016 video of Russian paratroopers in a military exercise was also seen as soldiers landing in Ukraine.

Despite their untruths, these videos garnered millions of views and had their intended emotional effects on users. Although TikTok is actively removing false content, it cannot keep up with its 1 billion users.

In an age where information is at the tips of our fingers, the instinct to check validity doesn’t come naturally. So when ‘news’ comes readily, especially on an app where half its users are below 30, the risk of misinformation is real.

An imperfect narrator of wartime but a perfect commentator on humanity

Social media is an imperfect narrator of wartime, but in many cases, it’s the ideal commentator of our humanity – the good and the bad.

A netizen said that war TikTok is “a kind of Anne Frank’s diary of the 21st century, Digital Version”. And that’s just it – various individuals’ perspectives, to be taken with a pinch of salt.

It’s the gateway through which we start caring about something affecting real people’s lives no matter where they may be and learn how we fit into the picture.

After all, just weeks later, as Russian convoys continued raining attacks on Ukraine, my For You Page is almost back to normal, with fewer videos showing me the war’s ongoings.

But it has had its intended effects. As we see an unprecedented number of videos coming out of Ukraine, the visuals are harrowing. At the same time, we got to see the beautiful side of humanity play out and take its fair share of the spotlight.

While we will always have to be discerning about what we are watching, it is undeniable that TikTok has added a much-needed dimension to the war.

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Featured image adapted from NBC News on Tiktok, Travel Blog by Alina on TikTok, and Valerisssh on TikTok.

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