Ukrainian models who swapped Milan catwalks for war aid
UKRAINIAN model Bogdana Didenko Nevodnik was in Milan for fashion week when Russia invaded. Unable to return home afterwards, she now sorts aid parcels in the Italian city for her war-torn country.
“I felt it was a bit stupid, unreal, to be on the catwalk when people are dying. I was ashamed and had the feeling that the spectators didn’t really care,” the 22-year-old told AFP.
Every time air raid sirens sound at night in the river port city of Kamianske, her home, Didenko Nevodnik is woken by a smartphone app set up to warn her. She lives the war minute by minute, from a distance.
At first, her instinct was to “return by the first train or bus” to her home, just upstream of the central city of Dnipro.
But she was dissuaded by her husband, a young surgeon in Ukraine, and her family.
Now, her long, dark hair tied at the nape of her neck, she works long hours alongside some 20 other volunteers, sorting through aid packages left in the small courtyard of the Ukrainian consulate in Milan.
Colourful children’s drawings saying “No to war!” bedeck the entrance, above bouquets of flowers.
Cars and lorries load and unload parcels of food, medicine, batteries and toys destined for the war zone.
– ‘Killing machines’ –
“I would risk my life for Ukraine,” says Didenko Nevodnik, who is dressed from head to toe in black and models for major brands around the world. “If necessary, I would join the army”.
She took boxing classes as a teenager and says, “I always had a fighting spirit”. She was also “a good shooter” with a gun because “we practiced on targets in our spare time”.
“The Russian military who invaded my country are terrorising our people. They want to destroy us.
“They show to the whole world that they are just animals. They have no humanity inside. They are just killing machines,” she said. “They are destroying maternity hospitals with pregnant women. What kind of strategic objective is that?”
Another Ukrainian model, Valya Fedotova, who is also volunteering, says she was on the verge of tears during her Milan show which also happened to be her fashion week debut.
“But you can’t cry on the catwalk. I get paid for it and I can send the money to my family in Ukraine”.
– ‘Still in shock’ –
The 20-year-old shares a flat with six other Ukrainian models, all stuck in Milan. “I couldn’t sleep. I’m still in shock”, says Fedotova, describing the night the Russians started bombing her home town of Malyn, some 100 kilometres (62 miles) from Kyiv.
She had begged her family to flee even before the town came under attack. But while her mother and two sisters took refuge with relatives near the border with Poland, her father stayed behind with the cat.
Didenko Nevodnik longs for the “stupid war” to end. “I just want to live a normal life, go home and see my family.”
Former model Ivan Sokolovskyy, 28, asked his boss in Milan for time off at the start of the Russian invasion so he could do his part loading parcels onto trucks and acting as an interpreter.
“I couldn’t stay home alone and watch the news. I wanted to help my people,” said Sokolovskyy, who hails from Ternopil in western Ukraine. His biggest fear is that the Chernobyl plant, site in 1986 of the worst nuclear accident in history and occupied by the Russians since February 24, will be weaponised.
“I think they will do something again in Chernobyl. That really scares me. They are that insane that they can do it,” he said.