Twelve months have passed since the most recent Russian invasion of Ukraine and my thoughts about the situation and the Ukrainian people have been constant. I have spoken about this on many occasions, yet at the moment when looking to share my thoughts, I have no words.
I feel extremely uncomfortable speaking on behalf of Ukrainians right now. Even though I am united in grief and hope, I feel that I can not speak for Ukrainians, who remain in Ukraine or who have fled.
As a business, we have acted upon what we could to help. We began a charitable flower market in all of our boutiques, where every dollar from our flower sales has been donated to Ukraine ($40k so far) and we will continue to do so. We did the same with one of our prints. We have also used opportunities to keep the awareness and conversation going.
As an individual, I have done my homework, tried to tell stories and be a voice, donated and bought clothing and vintage wares from Ukrainian brands that I love and have worn yellow and blue in solidarity whenever I can.
I also believe there are opportunities to amplify the voice of others, I felt it was important to hear from someone who is living through this, not watching from the sidelines. So, I invite you to read a letter from my dear friend, Maria Mokhova. She is a co-founder of @wr_agency, writer and contributor at @wearenaifsmagazine , ex-senior editor at @lofficielukraine and a regular face on the fashion circuit.
My dear Maria wrote me a letter. It is sincere, moving, heartbreaking and below for you to read.
If you ask me what I did this past year, the answer would be quite simple - I packed.
First rounds of it were rather usual for me - my designer things to wear for Paris haute couture and menswear Fashion week in January, some Italian vintage accessories for Rome fashion showcase in early February. Then somehow I found myself writing an “anti-anxiety list” that included documents, meds and cash. And then I had to pack my life in a small suitcase - a couple hours after I woke from the sounds of explosions, at 4am, in my downtown Kyiv apartment.
This moment gives you the level of clarity you could have never expected in your life. All of a sudden you know exactly what you care for and what is important in your life. Those are not things, of course. When I was fleeing from Kyiv to the countryside on the 24th of February, my beautiful clothes were the last thing on my to-pack list. A pair of jeans. Trekking pants. Favourite combat boots that make me feel like a warrior. A couple of warm sweaters. Something waterproof to protect documents and cash in case I have to swim or stay in snow forest trenches for too long (yes, those kinds of things you suddenly become very aware of too). Photographs of loved ones. And - a sentimental one too - a silk scarf that was gifted to me by a dear friend for my 30th birthday.
My cool hiking backpack that carries lots of great travel memories has become my “anxious backpack” with first-aid kit, documents and all the things you need in order to physically survive for a couple of days. I hate that backpack now.
My yellow suitcase became my home when I dared to resume my work trips in June. I would spend weeks on the road, packing and unpacking, carrying my anxiety backpack along with the yellow suitcase, carrying my pain and trying to share it with those who would listen. At Berlin fashion film festival, at Polimoda, at Paris Fashion week, at Culture Week in Tbilisi. But also - through hundreds of conversations I’ve had with people on the road. One of those conversations I’ve had with you too - on a warm September night in lovely Parisian bistro. Dear Katie, you should know that my packed pain is not a burden, but a torch of truth - that I am still proud to carry with me. Even though it takes up all my strength to do it.
At some point my health just couldn’t take it anymore, the going back and forth, the spending two days to go from Kyiv to some European capital, and then all the way back. The sounds of explosions you get used to - that is a part of the horrible reality of living in a war zone. The sounds of air alert sirens at some point instead of scaring you - only make you annoyed - as you must stop whatever it is that you’re doing and seek nearest shelter from bombs and rockets. Some of those landed on my street in Kyiv. In the park where I’d go almost every day - I resumed those walks once I got back to my favorite city from the countryside sometime last May. “A couple of blocks to the west and it could have been my house and my dead body” is the feeling that leaves you deeply scarred. So I decided to stay abroad for now. I went on, with my always packed suitcase, as long as I physically could - until I couldn’t anymore. One of the hardest choices in my life.
Being abroad for me means that while I am in safety - my family and friends who are in Ukraine are still not. So I spend sleepless nights worrying about them. Checking the news. Praying. I have lit more candles in churches this year than in my entire life - and I am not a religious person, Katie. I spent Christmas and New Year with my family in Kyiv - and most of that time we were hiding from russian rockets. Part of one of those rockets (hit in the air by our Air Defense Forces) landed next to my mother’s house. It was loud. Hearing how windows are trembling from explosions is also a sound I’d love to forget.
Only last week I brought myself to unpack the anxiety backpack. I don’t need it now - till my next trip back to Ukraine. Yet I can’t say that it is truly unpacked in my mind. Or ever will be for that matter. At least - not until we win, as this is our only option. Surrender and thus death - apparently are not, as proven by my fellow Ukrainians over the past year. When your neighbor country wants to kill you just because you are Ukrainian - a lot of things, choices and decisions in your life become apparent and leave no room for hesitation. Good warriors fight as long as they can and after that - as long as they must. Well, Katie, we are way past the “can” phase, but we certainly won’t ever surrender.
Then again - light never does.
For more information on Ukraine: Books to read, films to watch, organisations for donations, brands to support and a beautiful culture to follow please click here.