Fashion Week has come and gone. What does the future hold for Ukrainian models?
Vika Reza, a model who walked the Dior Spring/Summer 2022 show in Paris, was scheduled to fly from Kyiv to Paris for fashion week on February 24. Instead of packing calmly that day, she was awakened by the sound of bombs dropping. She and three pals were able to depart Ukraine by automobile. Due to the exodus, a lack of gas, and road safety difficulties, it took them three days to reach the Slovakian border, a route that normally takes nine hours.
She walked across the border on the third day to avoid spending further days in the automobile. Her Paris agency, Women 360, and her mother agency, System, arranged for a vehicle to meet her as she passed into Slovakia and transport her to the airport in Koice. “When I got in Paris, I assumed I’d be OK, that I’d be able to eat and work, but I couldn’t.” I become afraid every time I hear a big noise. I’m unable to eat out. I can’t live my life when my friends and family are trapped in a bomb shelter.” She is living with two other Ukrainians who have recently arrived in Paris’s 1st arrondissement at a friend’s apartment.
Ukrainian models are in difficult logistical and psychological situations: where to live, how to get their families to safe areas, and how to work while your family’s life is in danger. Reza, together with Ukrainian models Cate Underwood and Pasha Harulia, walked in favour of Ukraine in Paris’ Place de la République. “It was a bit difficult to concentrate,” Harulia, who walked the Miu Miu show on Tuesday, said over Whatsapp. “The mood that I am in right now is far from calm and collected.” I’m sad and outraged, and all of my thoughts are on the conflict in my nation. Regardless, the concert was lovely, and it was a pleasure to be a part of it.” Bogdan Pysarenko, 20, was scheduled to visit Paris for fashion week but had to cancel because of Covid. Meanwhile, Ukraine declared martial law, forcing men over the age of 18 to remain and defend their nation.
Their representative, System creator Jeremie Roux, has been working tirelessly to find answers, he claims. The system had a branch in Ukraine with three agents, all of whom departed the country. They are preparing to file applications from Paris for the impending special status provided by the EU to Ukrainian refugees, which would allow them to live and work in the EU for up to three years (up to now Ukrainian were allowed to stay in the Schengen Area for only 90 days). He arranged a home in Brittany for Polina Lutskaya, a 15-year-old model signed by System, as well as her family and another Ukrainian family with whom they left.
He expresses his greatest concern about the situation in Mariupol. “We still have two young models with their families there, and we haven’t heard from them in three days.” Some of our workers and models who have escaped have family members who are still in the country and have not heard from them. The news from reliable sources is dreadful: there is no more water, food, or electricity; there has been a lot of bombing, including a maternity [hospital] with a number of mothers and infants killed; and the Russian Army has mined escape tunnels. It’s already a disaster, and we’re scared about what it implies for our models and crew. “There’s nothing we can do concretely – it’s insane,” Roux adds.
Sasha Krivosheya, a 21-year-old model, comes from Kharkiv, a city in Ukraine’s northeast on the Russian border that has been extensively damaged by Russian airstrikes. At the end of the first day of the fighting, she escaped alone. She arrived in Warsaw after three train rides totalling 36 hours and has opted to stay to help despite having alternatives for fashion week presentations. “I’m capable of doing more here.” “Volunteering is easy,” she adds over the phone from Warsaw. She is now slightly relieved that her family is in a safer location than Kharkiv — a hamlet further west, near Poltava.
Paris-based Cate Underwood, who just appeared in a Jean Paul Gaultier ad as well as the Casablanca video for Autumn/Winter, was able to bring her closest relatives to Paris just before the war began. She claims she has trouble sleeping at night due to fear and rage, especially because bombs frequently occur in the early hours of the morning. She continues to model while doing her best to help from afar, including contributing a portion of her earnings to the Ukrainian army, doctors, and humanitarian relief. Underwood is a member of hundreds of Telegram groups that communicate real-time information about what is occurring on the ground, and she contacts people who need assistance escaping Ukraine.
Harulia, who was born in Crimea and migrated to Kyiv when Russia took Crimea in 2014, says she is unsure what she will do next given the degree of uncertainty. “I’ll stay in Paris for a month, and then, depending on the scenario, we’ll decide whether or not to relocate.” My family is already separated; my father has remained in Kyiv, as many men do, while my mother and brother have gone to Ukraine’s west.” She emphasises the need of “making donations and spreading knowledge about this awful conflict and injustice that Ukrainian people are experiencing while fighting for their rights to be free and live in a democratic country.”
Reza, who will be 22 in April, applauded brand initiatives throughout fashion week, such as Giorgio Armani’s quiet display in Milan. “Such activities can have an impact since celebrities can attend shows and help raise awareness for Ukrainian aid,” she says. “I didn’t want to miss Paris Fashion Week, but now I’m thinking it’s better to work since the greatest way to help is to make money,” she says.