As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to ravage its infrastructure and more than 5 million people have fled the country, brands are pitching in with relief efforts.
On Saturday, the Velykden Fundraiser was held in New York. More than 100 people turned out and helped to raise over $30,000. All of the proceeds will benefit the Sunflower Fund, which is providing protective equipment, humanitarian aid and first-aid kits to first responders in Ukraine and members of the regional civil defense, and the Savelife Fund. The noontime cultural event at The Penthouse at 28 West 36th Street featured Ukrainian comfort foods, Ukrainian folk dancers, musicians and surprise guest performances, as well as children’s programming. As a surprise, all attendees received a Ukrainian-style floral bouquet, a postcard from Yana Boyko and a basket of dove-shaped baked goods.
Ukrainian-born Kseniya Gadh, who has lived in New York for 15 years, organized the event. She said via email Sunday that the celebration was bittersweet, but it provided an opportunity to not only raise “much-needed money,” but also to show that Ukraine in not war. Ukraine is about love, deep extensive culture and beautiful people, who want to live and thrive in peace.”
Ukrainian designers and brands like Katimo, Svetlana Bevza, Gunia Project and Gorn Ceramics donated a range of apparel, jewelry and other items to help raise money. Masha Reva, an artist who has collaborated with Jacquemus, Rachel Comey and others, provided several of her drawings. And the Ukrainian-born American artist Yelena Yemchuk, whose work can be seen on the latest Vogue Polska cover, gave one of her works for the auction.
Meanwhile, the Gunia Project is going forward with its first collection since the Russian invasion in March. The brand specializes in ceramics, accessories, jewelry, head scarves and bandanas that play up Ukrainian heritage. Some employees have relocated to western Ukraine and continue to do business from there, mailing international orders from a local post office. Gunia Project is making some changes to its distribution by transporting some products to Berlin, then delivering them to other points.
Called “Atlas,” the assortment is meant to reflect the existence of Ukrainian culture during the ongoing war, the importance of preservation and the connection between cultural symbols and the national idea. The collection features silver earrings gilded in the shape of Atlas heads, a silver brooch and scarves. The name is a veiled reference to the Atlas figures that can be found on the historic Kozerovsky house in Kyiv designed by the Ukrainian architect Ignatius Kazimirovich Ledokhovsky.
The brand’s founders “are convinced that now it is important to continue talking about Ukrainian culture and history that the enemy wants to destroy. Gunia aims to make a full contribution in fighting for the preservation of the Ukrainian heritage. Do not stop and move on [is] the most important decision of the brand,” a company spokeswoman said.
With the Russian military destroying the architecture in Ukraine, the collection has taken on greater significance, a Gunia Project spokesperson said.
In addition, the company is selling $30 yellow and blue bird-shaped candles, with all of the profits earmarked for the Ukrainian army and animal shelters. Online shoppers have been notified that the company cannot guarantee they will receive the birds, due to the war. “But hope that you will choose to support Ukraine anyway. All of the birds ordered within this project will be produced and shipped after the war.”
The loungewear label Sleeper is also keeping its operations on track, despite all that is happening in the country. With a base comprised mostly of women, including many young mothers, the company has seen 30 of its 122 employees leave Ukraine. Asya Varetsa has been living in a Copenhagen for a while and her cofounder Kate Zubarieva is temporarily living in Istanbul. Reached via email, Zubarieva said the most challenging aspect of conducting business is the emotional side. “It’s a big challenge to manage your internal resources, primarily because we are all human. In these conditions, our main focus is to support our team,” she said.
Sleeper accelerated most of its deadlines that had been set for this year in order to keep up with the times. But that was done very quickly, thanks largely to the agility that had been cultivated due to working remotely during the coronavirus lockdown.
Expeditious time management and prioritizing what’s really important versus what’s not are key, Varetsa said. Being resourceful “is the only way we can defeat our enemy and build a better future for our team and our life’s work that we adore,” she said.
Earlier this month Sleeper started donating proceeds from all online sales to Ukraine’s largest hospital, Ohmatdyt in Kyiv. The brand has posted information about organizations helping the people in Ukraine and organizations to support. “At the moment, the hospital needs our help because the current situation in Ukraine has drastically increased the urge for children’s treatment. We read in the multiple letters that we continuously receive from our customers that they are ready to support us in this important initiative,” Varetsa said.
Another Ukrainian business founder, Anna Osmiekhina, who started the company Ttswtrs, which is an abbreviation for Tattoosweaters, is also showing resiliency. She and her team of more than 120 creatives have relocated from war hot spots and all of the inventory has been removed from Odessa, Kyiv and Kharkiv. The company will be relocating to Poland to renew its production and stock.
Last week the New York-based apparel company Proper Cloth donated nearly $150,000 to support UNICEF’s humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. The company informed customers that all proceeds on April 12 would be donated to the organization’s efforts. Proper Cloth staffers were “definitely shocked” by the result since it was one of its biggest non-sales days ever, a company spokesman said.