Creating and pursuing beauty amidst war is no easy task, yet over the course of the last few months Ukrainians have discovered an immense and endless source of inspiration - in those people who are fighting for our country and our lives. The idea to create a project dedicated to women at war came in March - when the team of Ukrainian brand NUÉ was trying to rescue their production and stock from half-surrounded Kyiv. The result of several days of shooting and interviews are six stories of the constant battle for life, for homeland and for beauty - as a humble way of thanking these and all of Ukrainian women who are fighting, protecting and rebuilding our country.
Kateryna Kovalyova, the owner of a logistics company, has founded a charity foundation “Trinity” a few weeks after the full-scale invasion started. Many years of experience in logistics helped Kateryna to quickly and effectively join the volunteering movement and to start bringing in trucks of humanitarian aid already in March.
I am a native Kyivite, born and raised in Kyiv, one of three children. My parents worked in logistics for a long time, and when I did not enter the university on a scholarship basis after finishing school and went to work, I quickly moved into this field. At the age of 21, I switched companies, and in 10 years I founded my own. It has been working for 13 years now. I can't say that I really like or dislike this job, it is a very difficult one. Trucks and trucks, a huge responsibility for documentation and cargo storage, I have to understand many issues, even how to distribute the cargo in a 14-meter trailer, whether it is possible to stack something one on top of another, how to fix it all - this is a big responsibility and huge risks. My phone is on 24 hours a day, because cars pass the border even at night and if something happens, I have to be available to fix it. I've been considering other activities, but right now these experiences, skills and connections have been extremely important in volunteering.
On the third day of the full-scale invasion, I had to take my grandfather to the hospital for hemodialysis - and there, right in the hospital, my volunteering began. I talked to the soldiers and they asked if I had any cigarettes. And then they say - Gosh, we could use also some clean socks and perhaps you have toilet paper... So I asked who was responsible for them, how to deliver all this to them, and then, I took my grandfather home and made sure that he had everything he needed and that the neighbors would look after him. And after that, I just went to seek various things for the military. I remember how we tried to find condensed milk, which was nowhere to be found. In the end, I started looking for a place to unload my trucks that were parked in England with Ukrainian cargo. And from that moment, from the 4th day of the war, I began to help. People started to spread the word and recommended calling “Katya the cargo carrier”, asking for help to take them out of occupied zones, and I was engaged in cargo transportation, not human transportation, how could I do that... But then I got a call from Kharkiv, from a boarding school in which there were children with Down's syndrome, and the staff asked for help in evacuating them out of there, because they suffered a lot from shelling. I couldn't tell them that I was only transporting goods, so I started helping people as well, everything turned upside down. There were several moments when the fatigue was so unbearable that I wanted to stop this, but I felt my responsibility to the guys, to those military men whom we have been helping all this time. Just before our conversation with you, I listened to an audio message from the guys who are now near Zaporizhzhia. Russians are shelling them with every munition possible, and listening to it, you understand the real horror of what is happening. They have nowhere to hide, they haven't even reached their positions yet, they are being bombarded with hail, phosphorus bombs, and howitzers. They have nothing with them, just some stew, and water is brought once every three days. And I am asking them - please hold on at least this night, we will deliver you everything you need, power banks, generators, food, just make it through the night. And these guys are what keeps me from breaking down and stopping. Since the beginning of the invasion, I had three days off, one - when I got very sick, the second - when friends came and almost forcibly took me to the countryside, and another day I just walked around Kyiv with friends. That's all. The rest of the time - we work, the first two months I slept 3-4 hours at most, because there was a lot of work with Americans and Canadians, we made licenses for the purchase of body armor and helmets, permits for their import to Ukraine. Now with those permits granted, luckily, it got easier, we just buy, bring and transfer to where it is needed.
I cannot say that opening the official charity foundation has simplified our life, because it implies a lot of documentation. In the conditions of war that is difficult, because today I can send something to the boys who are sitting in the trenches, and tomorrow they may not be alive - and no one will sign any documents. Although I understand that there is no way of doing it without proper paperwork, and it is important for me tobe trustworthy, no suspicions that the funds, God forbid, are going somewhere the wrong way. I feel a great responsibility to all donors. For example, we recently purchased 5 expensive walkie-talkies for our warriors near Mykolaiv, and have already delivered them. And there are active hostilities, they have no way to take a picture of something and give it to us for a report, which I’d show to our donors, and I don’t sleep at night because of this... In general, the main purpose of registering the foundation for me personally is to engage in the reconstruction of our country after our victory, so that our homeland becomes even better than it was. I have been in the logistics business for 25 years and I understand what needs to be done. Moreover, we have already delivered more than 200 modular houses to Irpin, Chernihiv, Bucha, Borodyanka, Gostomel - where battles were heavy and many people were left homeless and in need of help. I immediately understood that this is exactly what I wanted to do. Likewise, people who work with me in the foundation came there from different fields, some from advertising, some from cinema, but everyone says the same thing - “finally I feel like I am doing something important in my life and really helping people”.
I am that kind of person that always sees beauty in everything - especially in people, in their behavior, manner of presenting themselves – it is not necessarily related to appearance. In general, appearance has taken a backseat. I used to do beauty procedures every week, and since the beginning of the invasion, I have only done it twice. I only get my nails done when they start to get in the way. To say that I suffer from it? No, absolutely not. Except it's annoying that nails and hair grow so fast (laughs). Before the invasion, I liked to dress up and wear trendy things, but this summer I wear the same set of clothes that don't need to be ironed, and I'm fine with it. For the first months, I’ve been wearing a military uniform non-stop, it was convenient that there were no stains on it. At that time, we were delivering food, hot lunches for the police and territorial defense, carried borschtsch, soups, they spilled and dripped on my clothes, but the stains are not that obvious on the uniform.
It was not like everyone else's. My grandfather was in the hospital with covid, he was in a very serious condition. At 5am they called me and asked to pick him up because they needed places for the wounded. So I spent the whole day picking him up from the hospital, taking him home, then bringing him some food there - when there were terrible traffic jams in the city, queues in all supermarkets. He refused to go to my place, so I had to organize everything in his apartment. The next day I also took care of him, he was breathing heavily and needed oxygen. Somehow, through my celebrity friends, I was able to find the device to rent for a very large amount of money - it was unpleasant that people are making money from it at such terrible time, but I was ready to pay anything just to help him. And on the third day, I took him to the hospital for hemodialysis, there I met the military guys and that's how my volunteering began.
I can only describe some outbursts of darkness... When in the first days I saw that all Kyiv roads were covered with anti-tank constructions, roadblocks, sandbags - I was hysterical. Interestingly so, later I looked at all this and thought - well done, they made good fortifications here… everything was perceived differently. Or when I was taking my grandfather from hemodialysis, and he looked at all this and cried silently. He was a participant in hostilities during the Second World War, demining the seas. And when he died on March 3, I didn’t even understand how we could bury him, because all the facilities and services were closed... Then, when Irpin was released and we went there to evacuate the animals, had to demine a dog that had a booby trap between its broken paws... Or when I helped to drive a boy with a torn off arm from Zaporizhzhia, which was almost surrounded - and I couldn't allow myself to cry in front of him... The darkest memories are the things because of which our grandparents warned us "let there be no war anymore" and we didn't understand what they were talking about. But, fortunately, my memory erases the bad and leaves mostly only good things.
There is a lot of light in people. In those moments when the militaries record a short movie to thank us for delivering food to them, when they share something funny. Like, for example, we bought them a car, and it was quite non-military. It was necessary to cover some shiny elements with a matte dark film, and the commander told his assistant - watch out, don't scratch it! It is very inspiring how people are united now, it gives strength to do a lot all day long. And at some point we go out with our team, have something to eat, have a cigarette, even laugh at something - it helps a lot. In general, I am an optimist in life, even if I go into shock, I eventually get over it quickly, because I believe that it will all end soon. Good must triumph over evil.
Photographer: Lesha Lich
Art director and stylist: Olesia Romanova
Make up: Yulia Schelkonogova
Hair: Nodira Turadzhanova
Producer: Diana Melnikova
Project supported by NUÉ and Viktoriia Udina.