‘To ensure your own unattractiveness: ugly old things; scarves; lack of makeup, perfume, jewellery. Baggy clothes reduce attention to sexual characteristics. Clothing should be dark blue or brown; can also be grey. Avoid khaki because it is the colour of a military uniform. Black is also not desirable, as some military units have a black uniform.”
o many of us, at some point, have heeded the authoritative voice of a fashion magazine. Between pages so decadently thick and lustrous that lick each other with every turn, we’ve found clues to help disguise ourselves as a successful person, a desirable person, or a self-assured person.
Maybe the women who read Marie Claire Ukraine had the same kind of wants for themselves, a different life ago. Now, they turn to a magazine that tells them what to wear if they want to survive. The top article on the website, at the time of writing, is advising women how to camouflage themselves from Russian soldiers, who are using sexual violence as an instrument of war. A magazine that once encouraged conspicuous glamour is now advising women how to make themselves invisible.
“It is about what is important for Ukrainian women at the moment. Google doesn’t provide those answers: how to be safe during bombings, how to give birth in a bomb shelter. This is what Marie Claire Ukraine has been doing now,” Iryna Tatarenko, Marie Claire Ukraine’s editor-in-chief tells me.
She is speaking to Weekend from Poland, where she was forced to flee after Russian soldiers started attacking Kyiv. Her entire editorial team is scattered across Ukraine and Europe — each person sent careening in different directions when war upended their lives. Russia’s brutal attack on their home country stopped the print publication of Marie Claire Ukraine in its tracks, and the instant collapse of advertising, which the magazine relies on, slashed their salaries. Tatarenko and her team were paid about half their wages last month. They don’t know if they’ll be paid anything at all this month. Yet, as they abandoned their Kyiv apartments to bombs and looters, as they crossed strange borders with one bag and a passport, and as they begged their parents to evacuate the homes they’d known as children, there was no doubt among the minds of the women who work for Marie Claire Ukraine that they would keep writing. “People need to know what is happening,” Tatarenko says, speaking through an interpreter.
In the place where celebrity interviews would have sat, the website now runs testimonies from women who stayed in Kyiv to fight on the front lines, or grandmothers who have taken up arms. Profiles of film stars have been replaced with tales of women who ran from cities clutching day-old babies, hoping to find a doctor along the way to remove the stitches from their C-sections.
“I have interviewed celebrities, pop stars, glamorous women, all of the crème de la crème of society. I know what to expect from them, but I don’t know what to expect when I’m interviewing a cleaner woman who has been cleaning pieces of bricks at the places of homes that have been flattened by bombs. And this woman is way more important these days. She is the new hero now,” Tatarenko says.
After collecting ideas, photographs, and interviews from her colleagues, Tatarenko has found herself writing and posting almost all the articles on Marie Claire Ukraine’s website. This is not normally the editor’s job, but she says the rest of her team are busy “doing something which the country needs much more than a glamorous magazine”.
“The beauty editor joined the territorial defence. She has been roaming around Kyiv with a machine gun, and she has already arrested two Russian terrorists,” Tatarenko says.
Other colleagues are volunteering with the Red Cross, stitching camouflage nets for tanks, and organising an underground network hiding Ukrainian soldiers. A brand manager runs a website challenging Russian propaganda. The fashion editor, having safely evacuated her elderly parents from Kharkiv, is collecting and donating clothes for those who need them.
The new tone of Marie Claire Ukraine reflects the righteous spirit of its staff. Its coverage of the war so far is defiant, rather than maudlin — despite the truly harrowing things it is covering. Its Instagram account, adorned with cries of ‘Slava Ukraini!’, posts shocking footage from Mariupol, and pleads with the United Nations for help.
Tatarenko is blasé about the new direction of the magazine. She says she is “convinced” it has always been the role of women’s magazines to write about what women want. The interests of Ukrainian women changed dramatically, so Marie Claire Ukraine did too. Fashion and makeup tutorials abandoned, it now tells its readers how to hold a gun, or give birth in a bomb shelter with just towels and clean rags. Tatarenko doesn’t find the new direction of the magazine surprising at all.
“This is what women want to know now, so no, it doesn’t look strange. It’s actually very much to the point,” she says.
“Maybe there is a high possibility that I won’t fully return to covering glamorous events. This will definitely leave a trace, leave a certain scar. We have all gained a new experience. We will have to use that. What I’m doing now is in demand. I will continue doing this for as long as it takes; for as long as war takes; for as long as I’m alive; until victory.”
Marie Claire Ukraine, which was set up in 2008, always had a strong Russian readership. Before the war, the magazine had been working hard to increase its Ukrainian audience. The magazine is bilingual, printed in both Russian and Ukrainian. While their main priority now is writing for women in Ukraine who are trying to survive the war, the magazine has also seen an opportunity to appeal to its Russian readers.
“To break through that propaganda crap that they face and they are fed with everyday,” Tatarenko says.
As a result, her social media has been targeted by “Russian propagandists”. But her anti-propaganda “mission”, as she describes it, can be demoralising, particularly when she and her colleagues see footage of thousands of young Russians at a state rally to commemorate the 2014 invasion of Crimea “applauding the aggressor”.
“It puts me at a loss. It makes me despair, but I am hopeful. There is always space for hope, that I will be able to knock through to that Russian readership.”
Marie Claire also has a Russian edition which, at the moment, could not be more different to its sister publication in Ukraine. There isn’t a whisper of war on its website, which, at the time of writing, had given its most prominent position to an article titled “Stylish or funny: 5 fashionable pairs of shoes that are not for everyone”. A senior staff member at Marie Claire Russia had offered a supportive message to Tatarenko on social media, but since a state-imposed ban on Instagram and Facebook, exacerbated by the near impossibility of securing a VPN in Russia, there has been no further contact. A request to speak to staff at Marie Claire Russia went unanswered, though a spokeswoman for Marie Claire International warned that it may be too risky for their Russian staff to share their true feelings about the war with western journalists.
Katerina Lagutina, brand director at Marie Claire Ukraine, had pled with her Russian colleagues to try to defy state censorship and write about what was really happening in Ukraine. “We tried to write to Marie Claire Russia and explain that it is our sisters here who are dying. To please stop the war, to please do something about it. To stop writing about celebrities and glamorous things,” Lagutina, speaking though an interpreter, tells me.
Lagutina has seen war before. She is from Luhansk, in the Donbas region, which suffered major unrest eight years ago. At the time, she found herself leaving her home for Kyiv with one bag and her documents, exactly the same conditions she found herself leaving Ukraine for Spain last month. Lagutina agonised over her decision to go, and talks about it now with severe guilt. Initially, she had been busy volunteering with the war effort, and only agreed to flee after a friend, who is volunteering with the Red Cross, phoned her in tears begging her to leave.
“He’s that kind of man; he wouldn’t be afraid. He has been in different parts of the world where the war is and he said he had never seen such a thing like what Russia is doing at the moment. He said just leave, go,” she says.
The part of Kyiv that she lived in was hit very heavily in the first days of the war. She was awoken at 6am on the first morning of the invasion to frantic phone calls from a friend. By 2pm that same day, she was in a bomb shelter.
“Everything happened very suddenly. Things got so severe and so dangerous so fast,” she says.
Even from the bomb shelter, she felt an intense obligation to use Marie Claire Ukraine to write about what was happening.
“At the time, we realised straight away that the world had to know where we stood, how dangerous things were, and how severe the damage done was. So we had to pass the message to everyone. The shelter we were in was underground and, as you can imagine, it had very bad reception and Wi-Fi, so this was not easy,” Lagutina says.
Conscious that Marie Claire is published in 19 different countries, Lagutina appealed to head office to use its global influence for good. As a result, many of the articles written by staff of Marie Claire Ukraine have been translated and published worldwide. This is why they keep working, even in extraordinary circumstances that demand a macabre new ritual at their editorial meetings.
“Every morning, we check to see if everyone is still alive. Only when we receive a ‘yes’, then we keep working,” she says.
Lagutina has spent much of this war finding fresh depths for her despair to sink to every day. She seems to have a different perspective from colleagues who are more resigned to the horrors of war. (Tatarenko’s interpreter, for example, unable to leave his 10-year-old dog behind, told Weekend that he was staying in Kyiv with the “philosophical” view that “if a bomb is to fall and kill, then so be it. There’s nothing I can do about it.”) But Lagutina seems to hold higher hopes for humanity, even though the world is constantly disappointing her.
She talks with shock and revulsion about a Russian attack on a theatre in Mariupol, where innocent civilians had been taking shelter. In a desperate appeal to the humanity of their oppressors, the word ‘children’ had been written in Russian outside the building — in letters large enough to be seen by those flying the planes that were circling overhead.
“But they couldn’t care less, and dropped a bomb on it,” Lagutina says. Even though she is speaking through an interpreter, the distress in her voice is plain as she recalls how those who have been trying to save children from bomb wreckages have been shot at, and tales of Russian soldiers attacking humanitarian aid workers, and of thousands of Ukrainian people driven underground for days and weeks on end who are living in fear for their lives. She is distraught with worry about the threat of a nuclear incident at the Chernobyl power plant, and fears this could become a threat to the lives of people all across Europe.
“I just want you to know how bad it is,” she explains, more than once.
“When people are dying, and you can’t help, you can do nothing about it. It’s very hard.”
Lagutina says that when she tells the many friends she had in Russia what is happening to Ukraine, they don’t believe her. “Even the young people,” she says.
She no longer feels any affinity with loved ones at the other side of the border. Regardless of what happens and how this war ends, she warns that those relations — between ordinary people in Russia and Ukraine — will never be reconciled. “Because we live so close together, we are supposed to be like brothers. There is only a border between us. But for the second time in eight years, we see that we can’t be like brothers,” she says. “We are too different.”
You can donate to the Red Cross Ukraine appeal at icrc.org/en/donate/ukraine
https://www.independent.ie/life/the-beauty-editor-has-been-roaming-around-kyiv-with-a-machine-gun-marie-claire-ukraine-staff-share-their-war-stories-41503505.html ‘The beauty editor has been roaming around Kyiv with a machine gun’ – Marie Claire Ukraine staff share their war stories