Above: Ukraine’s flag flies above Kyiv at dawn on March 16.
As Russia continues its relentless advance across Ukraine, it leaves a trail of destruction in its wake, jeopardizing not only the lives of the Ukrainian people, but also the future of the country’s built environment. Once proud cityscapes have been reduced to rubble; once bustling neighborhoods are now empty. In fact, more than 3 million Ukrainians have fled their country since the invasion began last month. Others have bravely chosen to stay, among them those who are part of Ukraine’s vibrant design community.
Editors from the ELLE Decoration network (the magazine publishes in some two dozen countries) reached out to Ukrainian design professionals to check in on their safety and to allow them to share their individual situations. Though their circumstances are uncertain, the designers’ responses are united by their hope, their resilience, and their determination to build their homeland anew. Here are three of their stories.
Editor’s note: As the situation is constantly evolving, some of the designers’ circumstances may have changed since press time.
Ukrainian architect and product designer Rina Lovko creates cool-and-collected interiors for both residential and hospitality clients throughout Kyiv. Her interiors and furnishings are defined by minimal lines and materials. As noted on her website, Lovko aims “to provide her clients not only with a new quality of life but with new experiences.”
My daughter and I left the country on the 23rd of February. She attends a French school and the holidays had just begun. All the rest [of my family] stayed in Kyiv. No one is safe. All of them are in the wildest stress and despair. Some cities are especially dangerous; there are hundreds of victims there. Everyone is afraid of nuclear weapons. This is a nightmare that children and women are now experiencing while sitting in basements and deprived of their homes, sitting under shelling and Russian aircraft.
Everyone helps each other to survive—all kinds of chats have been created to fight the growth of propaganda. They help everyone move and hide; everyone is in touch. Now the main thing is to be in business and work on the media front to show the truth to Russian citizens.
Right now, we are all out of work. We have been forced to leave our homes. There are millions of refugees across the country. Nobody can work now. Everything has stopped. We are frozen. We are a very talented nation. I work with a lot of talented, very hardworking people. We spend our time creating and creating something new. We are very European-oriented and are strongly connected with Europe. The last eight years have especially shown our authenticity and pride for our country. Our history goes back a thousand years. We have our special language, folklore, and culture.
Sivak + Partners is a small architecture studio with offices in Kyiv and Odessa. The firm works on both commercial and residential projects ranging from a sleek beauty salon to a boldly reimagined historic apartment in Kyiv. Sivak’s motto: “It doesn’t matter what you do. What matters is how well you do it.”
We have nowhere to go and no reason to leave. This is our home, and our parents are here. The war is going on practically all over the country right now; it’s not safe anywhere. On TV, the battle maps don’t show all the bombing points so as not to scare people. We have to run into basements several times a day because of bomb threats. Everyone sits with suitcases to be ready. I happened to be near a firefight in a peaceful neighborhood on the second day of the war. There was hardly any news coverage of it.
Our fear is that we cannot trust the promises to spare civilians. There have already been many civilian casualties, far more than they say on TV. All these threats of nuclear weapons only inspire more fear. We have many chats because the Internet is still working, and we quickly help women and children find transportation to shelter or to leave the country. People are donating blood more than ever.
I have great faith that this will end quickly in peace. I am more eager than ever in my life to build and design in my country, to rebuild. I didn’t want to leave before the war either, even though there are plenty of talented architects and designers in Europe. There is a real need for design here, especially after the war. Design is not just about making something beautiful or comfortable; design is also about helping people after the war.
Since launching her Kyiv studio in 2014, Yova Yager has specialized in hospitality design. Yager fills each space she works on with joy, energy, and unexpected twists, from a plant-filled restaurant to a corrugated metal-clad coffee bar. Each project is underpinned by a very important message: Keep the planet safe and the living species cared for.
My whole family is currently in Kyiv. We are safe for now. We are all in different parts of Kyiv. My father is in the center; my sister, with her child and husband, is on the left bank. My mother and I are on the left bank too, close by. We are all in our homes. My parents wouldn’t go to the bomb shelter; my sister can’t because it is difficult with the baby, as she lives on the 14th floor of her 25-story building. Our dad’s a calm spirit, and his humor reassures everyone. For example, when there was a siren and I asked him to go to the bomb shelter, he said to me, “Don’t disturb me—I’m trying to pay the bills for the apartment.” Our whole family is very stubborn, no one wants to leave Kyiv.
Our fears are that at any time or at any moment your friends are in the house that is being fired at by stray bullets or bombs or missiles. The terror is never-ending. Everyone hopes that the enemy will leave our country tomorrow, because we have to go to work on Monday. I’m kidding. We joke a lot because it’s difficult to live in constant fear; it consumes you from the inside fast. We try to distract ourselves with discussions on how we are going to rebuild our cities.
Here everyone looks out for and after each other. Even if you get a small cut on your finger, you will be saved by half a city of volunteers. I’m kidding again. But that’s a bit how it is. We are united, even stronger than before. Many designers have stayed in their cities, some have volunteered with the territorial defense, some have sat on communications for days and bought bulletproof vests from around the world, some have formed a group on Telegram [the instant messaging app] and actively interacted with international media, and some drew infographics. Lots of work has been going on, and everyone helps as much as they possibly can.
I get many questions from journalists and from ordinary people around the world: Everyone wants to know how they can help, and this is super powerful support that inspires us with every twist. Every warm word has meaning. Every chance you get to go outside is important for every Ukrainian. Now, the question “How are you?” means “I love you.” Together we are love, and love gives birth to the new. With our love for our country and our freedom, we have shown the world that the power of love will always be greater than any evil.
Ways You Can Help Ukraine:
-Donate to the International Committee of the Red Cross
-Support the UN Refugee Agency
-Help Ukrainian kids through Save the Children
-Bid on design items as part of the International Creatives for Ukraine auction, now through March 31.