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"A rocket fragment flew into my house". Lesia Patoka about the Ukrainian language by February 24, Poliakova's kokoshniks, and why she left Portugal for Ukraine

The author of the famous "Warrior of Light" and kokoshnyks Olya Polyakova gave an interview to OBOZ.UA

Lesia Patoka, a Ukrainian costume designer and author of Warrior of Light, which brought Ukraine its first victory at the Miss Universe pageant in 80 years, found herself in Portugal at the beginning of the full-scale invasion by the will of fate. Although the dream country of millions was actively imitating her work, the stylist failed to realize herself there.

What made Patoka return to Ukraine, where the Russian occupiers destroyed her home, what was her relationship with the popular singer Olia Poliakova, for whom the artist created the famous kokoshnik, and why Ukrainians now have a unique chance to clean up everything and build the country from scratch - in an exclusive interview with OBOZ.UA.

''A rocket fragment flew into my house''. Lesia Patoka about the Ukrainian language by February 24, Poliakova's kokoshniks, and why she left Portugal for Ukraine

– You are a teacher and geographer-psychologist by education. Did you have to work in your specialty?

– No, I didn't. I have an interesting and instructive story on this topic. I come from a family of teachers, and the children of teachers are a bit "broken" (smiles ). My mom wanted me to be a geography teacher as well. And to be honest, I didn't like geography. But I decided to enter the pedagogical university for the sake of my parents. Now, looking back, I realize that this decision was a mistake.

I really like the system in the United States. There, children are given the choice to travel, work as waiters or at gas stations, see what they want, and make their own conscious choice at the age of twenty... So, I managed to enter the university on a budget and receive a scholarship. At the same time, I worked as an animator in a bowling club. And I can say that I had a talent for it, probably because I spent every summer in a children's camp. But, seeing from the inside that teaching is not very appreciated and is poorly paid, I decided that I would get an education purely for my parents.

Therefore, after the third year, when I was already earning enough on my own, I informed my parents that I was switching to a part-time program, which I would pay for myself. During my internship, I received a very good offer from the director of a prestigious lyceum, but I refused. Because this is not my path.

''A rocket fragment flew into my house''. Lesia Patoka about the Ukrainian language by February 24, Poliakova's kokoshniks, and why she left Portugal for Ukraine

– How did you start your journey to become one of the most famous costume designers in Ukraine?

– In our family, if I wanted to buy something for myself or go to some kind of party, I had to earn it myself. So I distributed social newspapers in my neighborhood, and our neighborhood is not very safe, to put it mildly, it can compete with Troieshchyna. Then I distributed Avon and Oriflame cosmetics and handed out flyers.

Then I was invited to a weekly magazine called Telegid, which published announcements of television programs. There was an interesting Handmade section. I started to lead it, and it gained popularity. But it wasn't my main job – it was a part-time job.

My main job was at a bowling club, where my ex-husband and I hosted birthdays, and entertained children, we were stars there and lived off of it. But one day, the editor-in-chief offered me a permanent position in the Fashion section, "Dress Like a Star." I had to go shopping, and look for similar things to dress like Rihanna or Beyoncé, for example.

''A rocket fragment flew into my house''. Lesia Patoka about the Ukrainian language by February 24, Poliakova's kokoshniks, and why she left Portugal for Ukraine

I started doing it without any experience, and I started to get good at it. When our editor-in-chief Yaroslava Gres moved to Hello magazine, she invited me to join her team as a freelancer. I remember how I was assigned the first shoot with Oleksii Mochanov, a famous racer. I had to make him look sexy and macho and run around the shops looking for the right look. And so my story began, not as a costume designer, but more as a stylist.

Then, unfortunately, the magazine was closed, and I didn't know what to do. I was invited to join competitors, but I wasn't sure I wanted to continue. I was interested in trying my hand at working in music videos, even though I had zero connections. Then some kind of magic happened - the stars I was shooting for the magazine and who liked my work started inviting me to shoot their videos.

At the same time, to raise money, I was also making costumes for advertisements. This is a true story of how I gradually started to grow and communicate with famous stylists, and they hired me as their assistant. That's how I met the directors. And that's when my story as a costume designer began when I received an order from the band Liapis Trubetskoy for the song "Princess", for which we made everything: both costumes and art objects. Before that, all the costumes were assembled in my apartment. But when I realized that I couldn't create a four-meter-high castle for a music video in my room, I decided to open my studio, Patoka Studio.

''A rocket fragment flew into my house''. Lesia Patoka about the Ukrainian language by February 24, Poliakova's kokoshniks, and why she left Portugal for Ukraine

– You are known as the creator of Olia Poliakova's famous kokoshniks. Why did this headdress of the Russian national costume become her image?

– The idea of creating it was not mine. I am its realizer. The story of Olia Poliakova and her kokoshniks happened when she was just starting her career. It was her first video clip, "Slap Slap". I was well acquainted with Misha Yasynskyi, Poliakova's producer. He approached me as a realizer. That's how I met Poliakova. I made these kokoshniks, which were works of art, unfortunately, characteristic of Russia...

We had a very long history, although I never worked on Poliakova's images, because Olia has a very complex character, and so do I, and two complex characters are impossible. But we collaborated on headdresses, we had different kokoshniks: luminous ones, with pigtails, etc. In addition to them, we also made her crowns. At some point, she started to move away from this image, and our collaboration ended there. But I was very amused by the story when Olia Poliakova, at the beginning of the full-scale invasion, burned the very first kokoshnyk I made for her on Lysa Hora.

''A rocket fragment flew into my house''. Lesia Patoka about the Ukrainian language by February 24, Poliakova's kokoshniks, and why she left Portugal for Ukraine

– The full-scale invasion of Ukraine caught you on vacation abroad, and then you chose Portugal as your place of temporary protection. What was the period of your life there like?

– For the first time in two years, I went to Sri Lanka with my daughter and my friend to vacation with my summer things two days before the invasion. When it happened, there was a terrible feeling of not being able to do anything. You are on the other side of the world, your city is being bombed, your country is being invaded, and your parents and friends are there. Where do you go back with your child? A week after the full-scale invasion, rocket fragments flew into my house. I remember that vacation with horror. My parents refused to leave, and I tried to help my neighbors remotely. On top of that, there were a lot of Russians in Sri Lanka, fights, quarrels, plus the island's internal problems with hours-long blackouts, so we could say that we felt the blackout much earlier. So I started looking for options for where to go.

Air Arabia ignored our emails asking to exchange tickets. I do not recommend this company to anyone. After some time, I did manage to get in touch with them via Instagram, and all I got was a transfer of funds to points in my account. My friend and I naively hoped that we would be able to exchange our tickets, but unfortunately, this company only flies to two European capitals - Kyiv and Tbilisi.

''A rocket fragment flew into my house''. Lesia Patoka about the Ukrainian language by February 24, Poliakova's kokoshniks, and why she left Portugal for Ukraine

We thought we were at least flying to Georgia, but they started demanding an extra fee! We were shocked. There is a war in our country, we can't go home, and they are still demanding money from us! Having no choice, I decided to fly to Tbilisi. We thought it was closer and their culture was close to us, but I started reading that because of the war, even more Russians started arriving there. Therefore, the choice fell on Portugal, as far away from the representatives of the aggressor country as possible.

I lived there for six months. I was sure that I would have no problems with work in Lisbon. The first thing I did when I arrived was to find out if there was a Mask show in Portugal because I made costumes for our Ukrainian Mask show. When I found out that three of my works had been copied (which is perfectly legal according to the current rules of the show), I found the channel's contact and wrote them a big letter saying that I am Lesia Patoka, a costume designer, I am here in Lisbon, let's cooperate! I received a rather dry response, like thank you, we will keep your contact. To say it was a shock is an understatement. But I decided not to give up, I was looking for local stars.

''A rocket fragment flew into my house''. Lesia Patoka about the Ukrainian language by February 24, Poliakova's kokoshniks, and why she left Portugal for Ukraine

Portugal is a country that has a good attitude towards gender equality and national minorities. And I thought I could make costumes in this direction. But it didn't work out. Then I was introduced to a person who was in charge of Netflix in Portugal and Spain. And it could have been the perfect solution because she was delighted with my work. But that person said, "With all due respect, I have nothing to do in Portugal," because that's not what the Portuguese are about. Not this kind of scale, not these kinds of costumes. And if I want, she will help me with my work in Spain, but I have to learn Spanish. I already struggled with Portuguese, and I realized that I had nothing to do in Portugal.

When I returned to Ukraine to create the Warrior of Light costume for the Miss Universe 2022 pageant, which became the best costume in the world, I started to be featured in stories in photos from Portugal. There was a carnival there, where most of the girls were wearing Warrior of Light costumes! Then I posted my story with the words "Oh my God! What a dream! The country that didn't give me a single chance to even try then imitates and copies my work again when I'm back in my country, where the war is still going on!"

''A rocket fragment flew into my house''. Lesia Patoka about the Ukrainian language by February 24, Poliakova's kokoshniks, and why she left Portugal for Ukraine

– When I watched the program with Yevgenyi Synelnykov "Ours in Portugal", I got the impression that you felt quite confident in Lisbon. Is there anything that you miss?

– I miss the local fairs. They are just fantastic! I do miss them. Kyiv's fairs still have a strong imprint of the Soviet Union, there is nothing like what the Portuguese sell. Although I have the impression that the Portuguese themselves do not appreciate their royal treasures. They give away gorgeous things for nothing. My friend, with whom I came to Lisbon together and who stayed there, and I even created the project "SCARBONADYBANKA". It's online every weekend for people who love fairs like me.

– What changes do you think Ukrainian show business has undergone since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine?

– Now show business is "dead" from the point of view of a show as a person who was involved in costumes for a show, but very progressive from the point of view of time. Now is not the time to make shows, costumes, all conscious performers are sending money to help the Armed Forces of Ukraine. When I came back to Ukraine, I realized that I would not be working with show business for a long time, but I am very happy that with the beginning of the war we finally saw who the top performers are, who went abroad and did not return and does not even hold meetings or donate. We saw those who quickly changed their shoes and realized which way to go.

''A rocket fragment flew into my house''. Lesia Patoka about the Ukrainian language by February 24, Poliakova's kokoshniks, and why she left Portugal for Ukraine

We often talk to our friends and acquaintances about "switching", whether it's good or bad. In my opinion, there are those who have changed their shoes and create good content. At the same time, there are those who make such "game" and such a shoddy job that it would be better if they just disappeared from the beginning of the full-scale. Because, in my opinion, now is the perfect time for Ukraine. Yes, it is very difficult, yes, we spend everything we can on our security, donations, etc. But this is the time when we can clean everything up and build everything from scratch. To build a culture, branded music. This is very important for me.

I want to believe that we will have a revival of such music that we would not be ashamed of. Now is also the time when there are so many music publics that you don't even need a producer. I am glad that the band Odyn v kanoe, whose music you are not only not ashamed of, but admire, gives four concerts a month in Kyiv and does not sit in the jury chair of top programs.

''A rocket fragment flew into my house''. Lesia Patoka about the Ukrainian language by February 24, Poliakova's kokoshniks, and why she left Portugal for Ukraine

Or the story of ONUKA. It's a very niche story. Absolutely not a mass market. This is a project I am proud of. Nata and Zhenia are very close to me, it's like a family, it's not a client relationship anymore. I'm proud of many of my projects, but this one is special to me, because I've been involved from the beginning, and for me it is an indicator of the quality of my full-fledged product, which has already raised exactly one generation, because the project is ten years old. And it can be used to show that Ukraine can be non-trivial, not in embroidery. It can be stylish and mixed.

''A rocket fragment flew into my house''. Lesia Patoka about the Ukrainian language by February 24, Poliakova's kokoshniks, and why she left Portugal for Ukraine

– How do you manage to combine your career and motherhood with such a rhythm of life? Your close friend Nata Zhyzhchenko said in an interview that career is easier than children?

– It's true (smiles). We recently talked to Nata. She said she has two children and two nannies. All her money goes to them. I remember the moments that Natochka is talking about. When you pay for kindergartens, nannies, clubs, and at the end of the month you break even, you buy yourself time to be able to exhale, do yoga, have a manicure, and feel like a living woman. Motherhood is a separate job. But I already have a big child, nine years old, who is already a person who discusses serious topics with me, who can be consulted, who already goes with me to the studio, to the shooting, and can help me in some way.

''A rocket fragment flew into my house''. Lesia Patoka about the Ukrainian language by February 24, Poliakova's kokoshniks, and why she left Portugal for Ukraine

Let me tell you a story. Once I wanted to bring a kitten back from a business trip, but I decided to consult my boyfriend and my daughter, because we have democracy in our family (smiles ). Just so you understand, my beloved is a paramedic, and a hospitalist, he is stationed in the Zaporizhzhia direction and loves dogs more. For him, the lynx I brought from Lviv was overkill, but now he loves it so much that when he comes home, he hugs it first and then all of us. When I sent him the video, he wrote to me to think that it was already two cats. How am I going to go to the bomb shelter with them, etc.? But in the end, he agreed.

So when I wrote a similar proposal to my daughter, I was sure that she would gladly agree to a kitten. But what do you think? She wrote me three paragraphs of arguments about why we can't take a kitten! "What are you thinking, mom? What if the kitten doesn't get along with the lynx? Have you thought about how much responsibility it is? It's twice as much food!" On the one hand, it's funny to me: first you have parents who don't allow you to have pets, and then you raise a child who tells you: "Mom, what are you thinking?".

''A rocket fragment flew into my house''. Lesia Patoka about the Ukrainian language by February 24, Poliakova's kokoshniks, and why she left Portugal for Ukraine

– Before the full-scale invasion, you gave interviews in Russian. At what point did you switch to Ukrainian?

- In 2021, I decided to switch to Ukrainian. I am a native Kyivan, and unfortunately, Kyiv is very Russian-speaking. I have spoken Russian all my life. I remember when I went to Lviv, which I adore, I switched to Ukrainian there and wanted to continue when I returned to Kyiv. But I had an excuse that the entire show business sphere spoke Russian, and I lacked motivation. And for 2021, as usual, I was making a visa list, and one of the points was to switch to Ukrainian. After the New Year, I opened it and decided to start, as it seemed to me at the time, with the easiest item - the Ukrainian language. The first thing I did was delete the Russian language from my keyboard. I started watching Ukrainian content. My daughter supported my choice and also switched to Ukrainian. Many friends couldn't understand, saying, "We'll see how much you'll last. But it's okay, I made it through!

''A rocket fragment flew into my house''. Lesia Patoka about the Ukrainian language by February 24, Poliakova's kokoshniks, and why she left Portugal for Ukraine

– After the interview with you, I was planning to talk to a soldier. And I was struck by the fact that when we agreed on it, he said that he didn't plan a week in advance, that he had finished school. So we talked literally the next day. Can you confirm or deny from your own experience that most Ukrainians have stopped planning for more than tomorrow?

– This is our biggest problem, which has no solution. But I will say that compared to last year, it has changed for the better. All my friends used to say that they didn't plan anything more than two weeks in advance. Now I realize that I can buy tickets to the theater with my loved ones in a month, which is already a victory. But it feels like you can't plan your life, you don't know when you might be coming to you. Everyone thinks that they are safe in the cities of Ukraine, not on the ground, but we see how Russians are shelling residential buildings, so you never know... Planning is a thing of the past.

''A rocket fragment flew into my house''. Lesia Patoka about the Ukrainian language by February 24, Poliakova's kokoshniks, and why she left Portugal for Ukraine

But the thing that saddens me the most is that I stopped dreaming, I can't afford it. But staying in Ukraine is my conscious choice, I need to stay in my country, with my people, to change their stories with the resources I have, to give some of my works of art to auctions, thus helping our guys in the army. I want my child to grow up here, so that my daughter knows that she is a Ukrainian and how hard freedom is fought for.

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