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When Russia first invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Lysova, like many Gen Zers, took to TikTok. But she didn’t expect to garner more than 16 million views on a video of herself dancing around in a bathrobe in her kitchen trying to make light of the fact that “Russia attacked us,” forcing her to leave in a few hours.
Playing a clip of the 2009 song “Who’s That Chick?” by David Guetta, and featuring Rihanna, Lysova, still in her bathrobe, continues to smile and show off her dance moves, as words pop up on the screen.
“When you woke up at 5 a.m. to the sounds of explosions and everything trembling and realize that Russia declared war on u so u r packing you sh1t and dipping,” she wrote.
“Love Russia,” she quipped, ending that the second TikTok was viewed more than 1.1 million times.
Describing it both as shock and a coping mechanism, Lysova told Fox News Digital on Monday that when she created the video at the onset of the war, she did not fully comprehend what was happening or the effect that Russian shelling would have on the Ukrainian people in the three weeks to come.
Not ‘some kind of a dream’
“At the moment, you don’t really realize what’s happening,” she said, now safe and speaking via Zoom from her Swiss dorm room. “It really took some time for me to understand that it’s actually going on, and it’s not like it’s some kind of a dream that’s happening – because it was really unexpected.”
“A few days before, I heard the news that basically, like, there was some tension between Russia and Ukraine, like many people were talking about how Russian troops are standing on the border of Ukraine,” she recalled. “But a lot of people were skeptical about it, and they were like, ‘No, the war is not going to happen’ because it seems so unrealistic – you never know what’s going to come to you.”
“At 5 a.m., I woke up to everything, like, shaking, and I was like, ‘Wait, what was that an earthquake?'” Lysova said. “And then I heard a second explosion, and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s – that’s war.'”
Her parents were away in western Ukraine at the time the Russian invasion began, so Lysova brought her little sister to the basement of their home in the outskirts of Kyiv and waited for their brother, who lives 20 minutes away, to arrive. They weren’t sure whether they needed to flee right away, but when she said their house’s security camera captured video of an explosion in the distance above the Dnieper River and what they believed was a Russian plane, she readied herself, packing just a single suitcase of essentials.
“I’m obviously really terrified for my people, my family who stayed in Ukraine for like the whole nation because I love Ukraine and I love the city – the city of Kyiv. And I love the whole country,” she told Fox News Digital on Monday. “It’s really devastating to see how innocent people are suffering.”
“I’m obviously really terrified for my people … because I love Ukraine and I love the city – the city of Kyiv. … It’s really devastating to see how innocent people are suffering.”
— Yelizaveta “Lizzy” Lysova, 17
Leaving her dog Peach and cat Anfisa behind, Lysova, her mother and her sister began their drive toward Romania, experiencing heavy traffic and long lines of people waiting to have their documents checked. Four days after the invasion began, it struck midnight on Feb. 28 – her sister’s 15th birthday – right as they crossed into Romania. She later flew to Switzerland, where she attends boarding school.
She said she’s finding it difficult to focus on her studies knowing her dad and brother stayed behind.
“It’s really hard for me to focus, especially like it’s been going on for weeks now. And I can’t really like – no focus, no sleep, like nothing because it’s really like bothering me,” she said. “It’s not nice to experience it, especially knowing that your family’s still there, and they are still in danger. My exams are coming up soon and like, they’re not doing any excuses for Ukrainians, so I’m trying my best.”
As millions of new eyeballs suddenly began visiting her account, bearing the handle @whereislizzyy, Lysova praised TikTok as a “platform for young people” to share their experiences, but also cautioned of “misinformation” spreading on social media – a growing concern of the White House, which convened a Zoom call of 30 top TikTok influencers for the Biden administration to feed them information on the war. Lysova was not invited to the call.
‘Completely different story’
“I actually received a lot of messages saying like, ‘stay safe,’ like ‘if you need, please come to Georgia or, like, other countries,'” Lysova told Fox News Digital. “But I’ve also encountered a lot of Russian people who are telling me that the war isn’t real, and it’s not really happening – when I was there.”
“The truth is not being spread unless it’s by Ukrainians, because like Belarus, like Russia, they don’t really tell their people what is really going on,” Lysova said, referring to Russian propaganda. “They tell a completely different story to what is going on actually in Ukraine. I know it because I have some Russian friends, and they tell me that, and it’s actually insane.”
“They told me that on their news, their president said he’s trying to save Ukraine from us – like he’s saving Ukraine from Ukrainians, basically. And this is a special operation, and he just wants peace,” she said.
The disconnect between what Russians are being told was most obvious to Lysova following the Russian airstrike that destroyed a maternity hospital in the southern city of Mariupol last week. AP photos showed bloodied pregnant women fleeing down debris-strewn steps or being evacuated on a stretcher.
“Overall, they are not showing the true image as far as I can see. I can give an example,” Lysova said. “So, a few days ago, a maternity home was bombed in Ukraine, and there are a lot of videos, a lot of people who saw a lot. Look, like it was massive. And on the Russian news, it was said that yes, it was a maternity home, but a few years ago it was rebuilt to be a U.S. military base, which is not true.”
“I’m really scared for my whole nation. Obviously, in Mariupol, it is really bad right now,” she said. “I had a friend from there, and the last time we spoke was like four days ago when she was in a bomb shelter. And but then the WiFi / internet cut off as I understood, and I haven’t heard from her since then.”
Based on the messages she’s received and her conversations with her friends in Russia, she recognized how the Russian people have been fed propaganda through the state-run media and will only grow more ignorant of Ukrainian suffering after Russian regulators cut access to Instagram last week.
Even so, she had little sympathy for Russian influencers seen crying in posts that they would lose their monetized Instagram accounts, saying those images online distract from the true hardship in Ukraine.
“Of course, I do feel bad for some Russians because like everything basically left the Russian market like even McDonald’s,” Lysova told Fox News Digital. “But at the same time, I feel like by them posting themselves crying online and like about like McDonald’s or like Instagram or like social media, they’re really like devaluing the actual issues the Ukrainians are going through every day by sitting in bomb shelters and not being able to sleep for weeks and not being able to concentrate, eat. I feel like this is something that you can’t really compare to each other.”
As Russian forces continue to advance on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, and civilians have been bombarded with heavy shelling and airstrikes in recent days, Lysova praised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for staying behind, saying the decision “put up their morale and spirits.”
“So a lot of people now want to fight since they see that their president is on their side and not in some like safe bunker evacuated,” she said. “I think it’s really motivating, and it’s really good that he stayed.”