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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, December 9, 2023

Ukraine at War: Fashion as an act of resistance, Part 1


To recognize the war in the country, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has famously refused to wear suits, appearing in public in army green t-shirts or hoodies with a tiny trident — the Ukrainian national symbol — and trousers, since the night of Russia’s full-scale invasion. Ukrainian fashion, shaped by the ongoing military battles, reflects the complex nature of feelings and characteristics surrounding the people of Ukraine in these challenging times: hope, strength and perseverance.

On the morning of Feb. 24, 2022 Ukrainians woke up to the sounds of explosions and horrifying news. From that moment until the spring it felt like time had stopped. After a while, we realized that life had to continue despite the deadly attacks and the constant blaring of air alerts: businesses had to resume work so that people could feed their families and donate to the Ukrainian army.

Fashion, like other fields, had to adjust to the reality of war. Despite the constant Russian attacks, some Ukrainian brands have managed to showcase new designs at the Ukraine Fashion Week, which took place in London due to the ongoing war. Following the president’s example, Ukrainian fashion designers have focused on creating clothes that highlight the resilience of Ukrainians amidst the war and are appropriate for times of martial law. For instance, the fashion brand Ruslan Baginskiy picked up on the pink hat trend that emerged after the Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision 2022 contest with their viral song “Stefania” (2022) (the band leader wears a knit pink hat in the video clip). Baginskiy’s designs for hats are rooted in traditional Ukrainian headwear and reflect the firm stance of Ukrainians protecting their nation. The alternations of the popular pink hat were worn by celebrities and public figures, including Bella Hadid, Madonna and Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, raising awareness about Ukrainian culture and appreciating artists who release hits, traditional clothing and headwear even during such dark times.

Another example of fashion used as a tool for reminding the international community about Ukrainian resilience would be the outfits of Viktoriia Apanasenko, Miss Ukraine in the 2023 Miss Universe pageant. Her two most memorable outfits, the Warrior of Light costume that included a pair of 16-foot wings in the colors of the Ukrainian flag and a crown made of spikelets of wheat and the evening black dress with a plume flag, were discussed in Western media, yet again sparking the conversations about the war in Ukraine across the globe.

According to designer Lesya Patoka, the complex Warrior of Light costume for the national show represents the strength of Ukrainians; the costume was inspired by the Archangel Michael, a protector and a symbol of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv. Considering that such a massive work was completed during the harsh winter conditions — Russian attacks heavily damaged critical infrastructure in Ukraine, and millions of people experienced electricity blackouts — and under the sounds of air raid alerts, the outfit truly represents national strength.

The black evening gown, designed by an award-winning designer Ivan Frolov, whose brand is among Ukrainian brands that continue to create despite the war, was also a message for the world to show their belief in the country’s independent future.

Besides representing our nation in international competitions, some brands have represented the strength of our country in other ways. Though I will talk more about this in next week’s column, I again want to appreciate and commend the bravery of Ukrainian people.