The vital new platform uplifting and supporting Ukrainian creatives
Bettter.Community is a new non-profit initiative bringing Ukrainian talent to the world
It’s been just over a month since Russia invaded Ukraine, with the last four weeks seeing an unfathomable number of Ukrainians fleeing their country. Despite reports of failing tactics and a far stronger response from the Ukraine military than was anticipated, Russian troops continue to infiltrate the region, dropping bombs indiscriminately on civilian areas and forcing people from their homes. Right now, the country is facing a humanitarian and economic crisis on a scale not seen since World War II, with the ramifications set to impact generations to come.
Since the night of February 24, the world has grappled with how best to help the Ukrainian people, as countries opened their borders and their homes to refugees, and many more opened their wallets to donate cash to humanitarian causes. With Russia’s invasion coinciding with the first day of Milan Fashion Week and continuing through Paris’s own nine-day event, fashion too has been figuring out a way to amplify, uplift, and support Ukrainians around the globe.
For some, this meant messages of solidarity in show notes, shared resources across social media, and substantial donations to those in need. Balenciaga, for example, donated €100,000, with Demna also exploring his own experiences as a refugee as part of a powerful and, at times, disconcerting AW22 show. The designer understands better than most what the citizens of Ukraine are facing, after he himself fled war-torn Georgia in 1993, aged just 12 years old.
As the conflict rages on, consistent support is vital. With Ukraine boasting a vibrant creative scene of its own, countless designers, photographers, artists, and more have been displaced across the last month. Models landing in Milan and Paris for fashion week have not been able to return to their homes, while creatives like Anton Belinskiy, a designer known for his subversive, avant-garde aesthetic, have had to shut up shop. Soon after the war began, Belinskiy posted a message on social media, telling followers he would be joining the front line to fight back against Russia – a far cry from his role as an established fashion designer.
Many more, like offbeat denim maestro Ksenia Schnaider and Anna October have left their country behind, and are doing their best to keep their businesses going from afar. Schnaider is currently in Nuremberg, Germany, while Anna October fled Kyiv and landed in Paris, after a long car journey and a long night spent hiding in a forest. She admits that though she is safe, her situation is making working tough. “It’s difficult to think creatively when your country has been ripped apart by war,” she says, with the financial and logistical side of things also adding to her problems as she endeavours to finish her latest collection under these new, strange circumstances.
Now, though, comes a new grassroots initiative, which aims to support both Ukrainian talent that has been displaced around the world, and those that have stayed in the country and continue to work. The brainchild of designer and former Vogue Ukraine editor-in-chief Julie Pelipas and Anna October, the Bettter.Community platform is a way of bringing the country’s brightest talents to the world. “Kyiv has the most amazing creative scene and culture, everything from music, to fashion, to art. People have long called it ‘the new Berlin’,” Pelipas explains from Paris, where she landed after a brief stop in Greece. “Now, the young creatives that call the city home need help and support, whether they’ve left Ukraine or stayed in the country and continue in with their work.”
Across the last few weeks, Pelipas and October put out a clarion call for applicants, with over 400 young creatives applying to be listed. Launched yesterday, the Bettter.Community platform aims to showcase Ukraine’s brightest creatives to “international media, agencies, public institutions, and many more”. From there, its founders hope to secure those on their roster full-time or freelance jobs, access to legal advice, and cold hard cash grants designed to secure safe accommodation and support their businesses.
“People have had to leave everything they have behind, but despite this many are still working and still have to work,” says Pelipas. “One of our team members, a graphic designer, has fled his home and was working from a desk in a bunker. Cash donations will go towards ensuring he and others like him have somewhere safe to work, while job offers and grants will ensure they have a vital ongoing cash flow.”
The Bettter.Community website is but stage one of a far more expansive project, however – which is even more impressive when you consider it’s been less than four weeks since Pelipas and October left Ukraine and made their first moves to set the initiative up. Two hotels in Austria that the designers had been in talks with recently confirmed a free three month-long residence for Ukrainian creatives, with the space acting as a kind of arts hub where they can live and work. When those three months are up, Pelipas reveals plans for an exhibition and sale, again to raise funds for Bettter.Community members and more working and living spaces across Europe.
Right now, however, she’s intent on signing up as many creatives as possible and shining a spotlight on Ukraine’s undeniable talent. “It’s important to me that the world doesn’t see Ukraine’s people as victims,” she explains. “I am so proud of our creative scene and the people that are part of it, and I want the world to see that too.”
Head here for more information and to lend your support.