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"Earnings go for food and housing". Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

"Earnings go for food and housing". Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Carter's, Next, Kenneth Cole - these world names make many people's hearts beat faster. A little Ukrainian girl, Yasna, born in Miami, was their face, and her mother, Alina Rost, photographed famous celebrities there and during her vacations in Ukraine.

Lilia Podkopaeva, Jerry Heil, Khrystyna Soloviy, Irena Karpa, Vlad Yama, Anatoliy Anatolich, Oksana Mukha, and Oksana Kuziv were frequent clients of Alina's, but the war in Ukraine changed her life as well. The photographer could not stand aside, so she decided to leave Miami with her children and return to the place where she was born, a small village in Bukovyna. Read about the difficulties they faced in Ukraine, whether she regrets her choice, how she started working with Ukrainian celebrities, and what she has to do to get the right shot in an exclusive interview with Alina Rost for OBOZ.UA.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

- You had a cool and successful job as a photographer in the bohemian city of Miami, where your clients were often Ukrainian stars and your daughters worked as models for many global brands - just a dream for millions. But in the second year of the full-scale invasion, you decided to return to Ukraine, to your native Bukovyna. Why did you do it?

- I have always been drawn to Ukraine. There is a category of people who come abroad and find themselves there, but I didn't feel that way. Everything seemed fine, but something was wrong. That's why I tried to fly home every year, and my children know what Ukraine is, what a village is, chickens, goats, climbing on roofs, walking in burdocks (smiles).

When they were little, they really liked it there because they felt more free. Now they want to go to the movies, shopping, or Starbucks more. But I can say that the children love Miami, where they were born, and my village, where they live now, equally.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

- How did you start your career as a photographer?

- I came to the United States in 2010 and got married right away. Before that, I lived in Germany and Austria for a while. In general, I love to draw, I graduated from art school and thought I would be an artist. But when my first daughter was born, I realized that I had to put my painting aside because it was taking up a lot of my time. I started taking pictures because creativity was just spilling out of me, and I needed to pour it into something (smiles).

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

It all started with a small hobby. You know how it is: a baby is born, and you want to capture it in the moment. At first, my husband noticed that I was doing a good job, he was my first critic and admirer, and then other people picked up on it.

Two years later, another child was born. I spent a lot of time with children on playgrounds, where I was also looking for clients among moms like me, offering them photo shoots. That's how it all started.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

- Your youngest daughter Yasna started her modeling career with the global brand Ralph Lauren. How difficult or easy was it to realize?

- Yes, it was the first shoot in Yasna's life, she was chosen based on the portfolio photos I took. When I received a message from the agency that the choice had been made and I had to go to the fitting tomorrow, I didn't even take it seriously. I thought there must be some kind of letter or call, so I ignored it. In the evening, I got a call from the agent asking why we were not there. I had to come up with a reason, and the next day we went to the fitting. That is, we didn't even go through the auditions!

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

In fact, it was a very powerful start, because after this shoot we started receiving offers from top companies.

I had an interesting experience shooting for Calvin Klein. At first, we had to fly to New York for the casting, and at our own expense. There I realized that we were going to miss out because there were hundreds of children, one more beautiful than the other. But our agent was sure that they would choose Yasna! Because they look not only at beauty, but also at the portfolio, behavior on camera, and many other nuances that we don't even know about.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

We spent two days wandering around New York waiting for the results - and she was indeed chosen! I still have the message from the Calvin Klein team about this incredible news.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

- You have been a photographer for many famous people. How do you manage to negotiate with them and who was the first to get into your lens?

- It all started with a photo shoot for the writer Oksana Kuziv when I was on vacation in Ukraine. A friend of mine knew Oksana personally, drew my attention to her work, and invited me to Ivano-Frankivsk to do a photo shoot for her. I remember my first experience, how scared I was, even my hands were shaking. But in reality, all people are people. And Oksana turned out to be very cool. One of my photos was included in her book on the cover, which contains information about the author, and other photos were on her posters.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

I also write to celebrities myself, offering cooperation: in the United States, I did a photo shoot for Oksana Mukha, the winner of the TV project "The Voice 9," in an unusual look for her.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

Before the full-scale invasion, she collaborated with Vlad Yama for his family photo shoots and was the first person Anatoliy Anatoliyovych trusted to shoot his pregnant wife.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

I have photographed Jerry Heil several times, both in Miami and recently in Lviv, where a very interesting shoot took place, the details of which, unfortunately, I cannot share at this time under the terms of the contract, as it is Jerry's personal story.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

Or, for example, there was a concert by Khrystyna Soloviy in Chernivtsi. We have mutual acquaintances. Through them, I contacted her PR agent and arranged to shoot the concert. By the way, I had a lot of fun at the concert, it was a real treat for the ears and eyes! I would advise everyone to go to a concert of Khrystyna Soloviy, because she reveals herself as an artist there, and her vibe is completely different from the one in the famous interview with Masha Efrosinina.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

- What is your opinion on the language conflict between Khrystyna Soloviy and Masha Yefrosynina?

- What triggered me in that interview was not the language conflict at all, but the first words and non-verbal messages of Khrystyna. I know what it's like to live with someone like that.

It is also an art to be able to convey your opinion, but in such a way that it is really heard.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

- Is there a difference between photographing famous people and, so to speak, ordinary people?

- Perhaps, there is more responsibility on my part when I photograph famous people, because the photos will be released to a wider audience, not just to the family archive or social networks. But there is no big difference. Because artists are also ordinary people. Everyone has the same conditions, everything is in a lifestyle style, without professional lighting, without photo studios, everything is very simple and easy.

The difference is that ordinary people sometimes look as if they were forced to go to this shoot. You know, the whole family is being photographed, and only mom wants to be photographed! And dad is just waiting for it to be over. And the kids are waiting too. They are promised all sorts of things for the sake of the shooting. And as a photographer, it can be difficult, because you have to do all sorts of things to get a good shot - be a clown, and almost dance with a tambourine to evoke emotions. And famous people, when you take their picture, basically know why they need it, and maybe they are more used to filming, so they behave more relaxed. But I love all my clients equally.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

- Is there any of the stars with whom you enjoyed working the most?

- Lilia Podkopaeva. It was very simple, easy, fun, and we even keep in touch. She once said the words I needed at that stage of my life. To be more precise, they were quotes from the book Alice in Wonderland about how everything happens in time, you have to listen to the bells. And that our lives are made up of laces that weave and weave and weave the way they are supposed to.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

- When did you decide to return to Ukraine?

- When Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, the first thing that came to my mind was: "What am I doing here in Miami?" Of course, it didn't sound very rational, maybe even stupid. But my first impulse, the impulse of my heart, was: 'What am I doing here? There is a war there, my parents are there, my brother and his family are there, all my friends are there. Everything dear to me is there, and I am here.

As soon as the school year ended, in the summer of 2022, I flew to Ukraine with my children. In the Carpathians, I volunteered as a photographer in a camp for displaced children. I really wanted to be useful, to do something, to feel that I was with the Ukrainians. Then I returned to the United States because my children were in school, but for the next year I lived with thoughts of Ukraine. In the spring of 2023, I finally decided to return to Ukraine. My children supported me, and here we are (smiles).

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

- How did your husband react to this decision?

- We separated.

- And how did your daughters receive the Ukrainian school?

- They were very well received, everyone made friends right away, my children are very sociable. But since they speak English with each other, they are sometimes looked at as something exotic. Last summer, I gave them extra lessons in Ukrainian because they could read, but they could only write in block letters.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

Our village is very small, and there are even fewer people left because of the war. The school is also small, with only one class for each graduating class, so there are no A, B, C, and so on. Sometimes I joke that my children went to a private school, where everyone is treated individually, where everyone knows each other. Now I can say that they have merged into the learning process and are doing well.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

- Do you regret your choice to return to Ukraine?

- Absolutely not. I never had ambitions for my children. I mean, my younger daughter saw me taking pictures from a young age, always hanging around me. And when she was five, I asked her if she wanted to become a model, and she happily agreed. But my older daughter, for example, was not interested at all. Sometimes we would get an offer, and she would say she didn't want to do it. So I never forced anyone. In general, I believe that a child should have a childhood. So if you go all out, don't miss casting calls and filming, you don't have time for that childhood.

Still, after moving to Ukraine, I registered my younger daughter with various European agencies because she has a really cool portfolio. And since we flew three hours from Miami to New York, we can also get from the Romanian town of Suceava, which is very close to us, to any city in Europe, so I'm not giving up on Yasna's modeling career.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

- How does life in Ukraine seem to you now? After all, you haven't lived here for about 13 years. Are the prices, for example, not scary?

- We have a lot of home-made goods because we live in the countryside, but if you want to eat better, you need to earn money. And children in Miami are used to eating well. I'll tell you this: at the moment, all my earnings go to food and rent, and I don't have anything to save.

- But you continue to work as a photographer?

- Yes, I do. Recently I went to Lviv for a shoot, and I also had an order in Dubai, where I was invited by my subscribers, because of course there is no work in a small village. I can't work as a photographer there, and I won't take money from people who don't earn much anyway.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

- In the village, people work hard physically. Were you ready for such changes?

- I like the village, I grew up there. But of course, when I left there and for many years I only came to visit, and now that I live there permanently, everything feels different. For some time, I had a feeling of guilt that I wasn't helping, and I even worked on it with a psychologist.

- What did you like most about the US and what do you miss here in Ukraine? And vice versa, what did you dislike the most?

- I know exactly what I didn't like there: I love to walk, it's just vital for me, and in Miami it's not very popular, everyone drives cars. The sidewalks are narrow or there are no sidewalks at all, and I suffered a lot from that. In general, I like our nature, the mountains. I need something for my eyes to catch on to, and there was nothing for me to catch on to. Although in recent years in Miami, I no longer needed either architecture or mountains. I had already moved to another level and could easily take pictures in parking lots, gas stations, and everything was fine.

And I liked the accessibility of everything there: if you wanted something, you had it the next day.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

- What famous photographers have you been inspired by?

- Once my friend said (and her husband is a photographer) that my work is very similar to the work of Sally Mann, a famous American photographer who took pictures of her children and became known for her rather provocative nude or semi-nude photos. And I didn't even know who she was at the time. And when I found her on social media, I realized that I needed to continue in this direction. My main models at the beginning were my children, and I was inspired by Sally Mann.

Later I discovered Peter Lindbergh (a famous German photographer), I really like his black-and-white work and the fact that he showed people as real. I also don't like retouching and hardly ever retouch my characters. That's why people who come to me know that I take pictures as they are.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

I am also inspired by Bruce Weber, an American photographer. I dreamed of touching a legend, and my dream came true. He was having an autograph session in Miami, and I went with a friend.

And Annie Leibovitz, of course.

- By the way, do you remember the photo shoot of Volodymyr and Olena Zelenskyy for Vogue magazine, which was photographed by Annie Leibovitz and was criticized not only in Ukraine but also in the world? What can you say about this?

- Perhaps those who criticized it did not know the story behind the photo and why she chose that particular pose. It is believed that it was a reference to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's painting Clowness Sha-U-Kao, which depicts a woman in the form of a clown-a global hint from Leibovitz, who always prepared for her work.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

There is a lot to say here, everyone sees something different in this photo. I have a lot of respect for Annie Leibovitz's work. She is not just a photographer, she puts great meanings in each of her shots.

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

- Could you share your plans for Ukraine?

- I feel like I have a mission here. I would like to create something important to promote Ukraine's image in the world, perhaps a social project - to show our nature, our people, how interesting, smart, and erudite we are through photography. I also have a long-held dream of doing a photo shoot for the famous American singer Lenny Kravitz, whose grandfather is Ukrainian.

I am currently preparing for a photo shoot for my children's school graduates. I want to do something really cool. I also have, so to speak, "earthly plans" - to plant a few rows of potatoes and harvest them in September (laughs).

''Earnings go for food and housing''. Star photographer – about Zelensky's photo shoot for Vogue, Podkopaeva's iconic words and how she traded the USA for a village in Ukraine

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