“The Eyes of My Grandmother Like I’ve Never Seen”: Words from Ukrainian Artist, Kat Oleshko.

We’re just a clothing brand. We know that. And we know that there are a lot more important things than fashion — especially now. But the reality is, we are privileged with a platform, and so one small thing we can do is to share it with some Ukrainians we’ve met or connected with; to give them a chance to express their thoughts, feelings and experiences — in their own words.

And so, last Sunday morning, Kat Oleshko came by the studio to express herself about the current situation. Kat’s a Ukrainian artist currently based in Warsaw, Poland, who’s recently been helping to coordinate refugee assimilation in the city, whilst in parallel, helping her family to escape Kyiv.

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Below are some links to ways you can help right now.

If you would like to support through donations, you can do so here.

If you would like to host refugees, you can find more information here.

To learn other ways you can help Ukraine as a foreigner, please see this website.

    And if you know of any stories or individuals who you think should be heard on our platform, please reach out to us.

    “I describe myself as an artist. But I was afraid of this word for so long because it has such a vast meaning. But really, who cares these days… Sometimes I transform my vision into cinematic narratives. Sometimes it can be harsh reality like this documentary. And then fashion photos that I create as a separate art form. I also work with collages, video and music. So it’s not all about photography. About photography - it’s a medium that I use to capture unique moments, and sometimes I create stories on a permanent basis. This is a process in which many things for me could be unknown, but also, very specific. But on the other side, I work with analog photography, which is not really Eco because the films are made of plastic. So I’m trying my best to not waste them and to not just take as many photos as I can. I like to focus on something specific, and I’m not scared to miss the shot.”

    “When I woke up on the 24th and I saw some messages from my colleagues and other people like ‘I’m so sorry Kat… How are you?... How’s your family?’... so I was like what’s going on? I took my phone and checked Facebook. My friend who was staying with me asked ‘What happened?’  I said ‘It’s started’...’Started what?’ she asked me. ‘the war’.”

    “I was panicking. I called my Mom, I was shaking. But she was very calm saying she didn’t think it’s gonna be bigger than this. But then it all just developed… I remember the whole day I was crying on the streets of the protests. It was hard to believe all of it. I was crying and crying and crying… I went to the Russian embassy to say something, but I couldn’t say anything… It was just sadness and fear.”

    “For seven days I slept maybe one or two hours a night because I had to control the situation in Kyiv with my family. My Mom lives on the 18th floor and it’s the first building in front of the forest, so we know that if Kyiv got invaded and she’s on the 18th floor, it would be impossible to escape… The same with my Grandparents who live on the 10th floor. So I forced them to go to the shelter every day and only go back during the day to grab some food.”

    Photos by Kat’s granny.

    “In Ukraine, no one was really expecting this would happen, so the shelters are all really, really old, and there are no toilets. I had to get my Mom food at some point so I found a volunteer [on Telegram] that brought her some food… Telegram is the best thing ever. And of course Instagram. Social media has been very, very important in terms of sharing important information. There’s been so much support from everyone. This one guy, a volunteer who’s like twenty or something, brought my Mom food. I saw on the map he traveled an hour by bicycle and he wasn’t asking for money or anything… This support is something that’s been warming my heart.”

    “My [family] stayed for seven days, every day in the shelter. But I couldn’t sleep at all. I felt uncomfortable in any place, knowing I can’t do anything but provide them with some food… But then it got worse and so they needed to leave the city somehow, and we knew that the railway station might be bombed… And the problem with the train is that there are lines of thousands of people. But somehow, they managed to get on a train and escape… On that day, two hours after, a bomb hit the railway station.”

    Photos by Oleksii Mayboroda.

    “I managed to get them from the border in a car. But I saw the eyes of my Grandma like I’ve never, never seen. Like she was just lost... It was very hard to be at the border and see everything. To see children left alone without even their parents. That was just very hard to see.”

    “I’m also checking up on my uncle and cousin who’re still in Kyiv, [my father], but he’s in central Ukraine which is more quiet. I’m just so worried about my friends in Kyiv. I have so many friends that stay there to help and support. Many guys of course can’t just escape and leave Ukraine, so they just do everything they can inside the country… There are many people that have just changed their lives right now and are volunteering and are supplying food for old people in Kyiv.”

    Instagram: @dj69dj69dj

    “They will never understand what we feel and how we now live our lives. It’s a nightmare… Every day and every night I’m on my phone to check if there are new bombs near my flat or my Uncle’s flat. I’m all the time on the phone and I don’t really remember when I had a good sleep… I just wake up every hour like ‘Where am I?’. Like it’s all a bad dream. But it’s our reality.”

    “For the first 10 days, my Mom was really, really aggressive. And I didn’t know how to behave. But then I realised that I don't know how it was to hear sirens every hour because I was in a safe place all the time. My close friend who came [to Warsaw] a few days ago from Ukraine also behaved the same way and was aggressive at first. And one time she said ‘I’m going back’ and went to the bus station and I had to force her not to do this… I said ‘Alisa, you can’t do anything right now. For our army, it’s much better if women will just escape for some time. And it’s not forever — you will come back at some point’. But she felt guilty that she left and she thought she should somehow support our army… So many people are like this. People want to go back. And even I’m also thinking sometimes that I just need to go there quietly in the middle of the night and not tell anyone. There’s this feeling pushing me to go [back] right now. I don’t know. It’s a weird feeling. Just to help somehow… But my Mom would hate me for it.”

    Photo by Oleksii Mayboroda.

    “I do as much as I can [in Warsaw] because I know I cannot do anything in Kyiv or generally in Ukraine. I’m trying my best… I don’t really have time for myself… Once I realised this, and when I was so so tired, I tried to give myself a break one evening and I was in bed like ‘okay… what to do…’, but I didn’t want to watch anything, or listen to anything. I try to relax and meditate, but it’s impossible really.”

    “I don’t really know much about other cities. I only know Mariupol, which is now completely destroyed. It’s a small city for 400,000 people and 10,000 died already. And the worst thing about this green corridor that we were trying to plan with the Russian army — this corridor to evacuate people — is they lied to us, and they’re shooting [civilians] all the time.”

    Photo by Oleksii Mayboroda.

    “I don’t know how to really explain to everyone that it’s not only about Ukraine… If this motherfucker will push the button, then everything will explode. It will be a nuclear war. And people need to understand that… I hear from time to time that it’s just between Ukraine and Russia — but we’re all on the same planet. And if it goes on more and more, then he will attack Poland, and it will all start… We all hope he’s gonna die soon. Or he will kill himself… We also hope that these sanctions will somehow push even the stupid people in Russia just watching the TV all the time — at least for their own lives — to go out and do something. Like a revolution… I think in a few years when we talk about this with a coffee and explain to each other what happened, we will see and really understand who was a real human being and who was a traitor or a coward… But I just hope it will all be over soon.”

          Photos by Oleksii Mayboroda.

    “It’s very difficult. We feel guilty… It’s complicated. Because even for me, I’m Ukrainian, and I still experience this every day that when I see this on a screen, I still have a feeling like it’s a movie. Like it’s not real. Because you were not there and you will never understand how it is… We can really only help with donations and support… There are millions of Ukrainians in the rest of Europe now who don’t even know where they can stay but they need to find shelter and a place to sleep. But there are so many people in Warsaw and Poland because it’s the first border… I know that Krakow cannot accept refugees anymore because it’s too full. And they don’t even want to be there. They don’t want to hear that they’re refugees for example… Having this refugee status is a tricky thing, because if you get the status of refugee they will take your passport, you cannot have a proper job, and you cannot go back to your country for one year… You’re not on the same level with other people. That’s why all my family said we’re not refugees, that we’re staying here for a few months.”

    I have a radio show. On 20ft radio. It’s like the only good independent radio station in Kyiv. I remember it was COVID and everyone was so depressed about everything — me as well — and I made an ambient mix to see if people would like it to calm them down. And people really liked it. And now it’s been two years and it’s one of the main shows on the radio station.”

    “I made my own mix for the first time again in a year and it’s a good one… It has this one voice over I recorded on the street of a child and a mother, and she was talking on the phone all this stuff about the war, and I recorded it with the cars passing by and I put it with the music and the piano and it sounds so good. I also added Ukrainian chorals and the voice of my friend who just expressed her feelings about it all, and some people really texted me like thank you very much, I feel much better, or ‘I can meditate on this music’ or they can just think. So yeah, I hope that it will help people somehow.”

    [UPDATE SINCE WRITING]: “A lot has happened since we spoke in Berlin. The whole world saw the horrifying realities that occupiers left in Bucha and other villages near Kyiv. Raped women and children, tortured people, and a huge number of deaths. And what I want to say is that this shows that the war still continues. And Ukraine still defends the whole of Europe every day. My life has changed forever; same with all Ukrainians. I mean, we are going to win, but we will always remember this period of our lives. Because it's just a horrible, horrible time.”

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    If you would like to support through donations, you can do so here.

    If you would like to host refugees, you can find more information here.

    To learn other ways you can help Ukraine as a foreigner, please see this website.

      And if you know of any stories or individuals who you think should be heard on our platform, please reach out to us.

      Interview by Ewan Waddell.

      Photos by Oleksii Mayboroda & Kat’s Grandmother.