Natali Ruden comes from Kiev, where she graduated from the Academy of Design, majoring in Clothing Design. She has been living and working in the Czech Republic since 1992. The designer last visited her home country five years ago. Yet she has been deeply wounded by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and strives to help by any means she can. In an interview for LP-Life.com, the fashion designer told us how she feels regarding the war and much more...
I remember it vividly. In the morning, when I checked the news and saw it, I was absolutely mortified. Then I immediately called my parents, as they follow the situation in Ukraine quite closely. It is a disaster that will hit us very hard. Our family, other families. It was an immediate realization of the horrors that await us.
It was sort of looming in the air, but everyone was hoping that it wouldn’t come to pass, that reason would win. It doesn’t seem possible for such an open conflict to begin in this time and age, let alone progress as it has!
I feel at home in the Czech Republic, I have lived here for over 25 years. I visited Kyiv in 2006, I think, but I was there to represent the Czech Republic, as a Czech designer. And then I went to a high school reunion about five years ago. That's two visits in the last 20 years.
Of course, I immediately called a friend from high school who I’d been closest to back then. She was with her family and told me that they were hiding in the subway each time the sirens started blaring. At that time, the bombing of Kyiv had not yet begun, but there were some warning signs already, and so they were in the subway all the time. I'm not in contact with her anymore, but I have a feeling that she left the country. I don't know how far she got, we’re not in touch anymore. I also got a call from another friend, a classmate from college, who was hiding in some kind of shelter with her kids as well. She gave me a brief description of the frightening situation and we talked about it. I don't have that many friends in Kyiv anymore, because everyone I used to know has moved out of the country later during their lives, or we’re not in touch. But those who still live there I think about every day, I carry them in my heart and wonder where they are, what they’re doing, what situation they are in.
Yes, I actually have a family of four living in my place, a woman and her three children. It's a distant family of mine. And another of my mother’s cousins also came to the Czech Republic together with her grandchildren, they are staying in my mother’s house.
I'm not surprised at all, because they have lost their homes and they like to imagine they’ll be able to go back. I'm very sad about that situation, because I realize they have nowhere to return. I think it will have consequences for everyone, because we have to help them, but it’s not a short-term thing. At the same time, I am excited to see how the whole world has come together and that the people around us in the Czech Republic are helping so much, they are not indifferent. I am very happy that people have shown such solidarity, and I’m grateful to the Czech Republic, my second home, for that. I hope that some will be able to return, that they’ll have a place to go. But those who won’t return, maybe they’ll stay here, maybe they’ll keep moving, I hope they will find a new life and happiness.
What else have you come up with to help Ukraine? A collection maybe? I see that your shop window proudly displays Ukrainian colours.
Naturally, I made a financial contribution to the People in Need Foundation, though that was just a small thing. But I had actually started preparing a collection on the topic of Ukraine already in 2019 at the request of the Ukrainian Embassy in the Czech Republic, and I am currently exhibiting it, because what better time than now?
Do you have any friends in Russia? How do they feel about the current situation? Do they have the same information that the rest of the world does?
Of course, I do. Our families are pretty mixed, so we used to be in close contact with Russian people. In college, I had a lot of classmates from Russia and other Russian-speaking countries. The current situation is so tense that we're not in contact because I don't know, I'm not sure what they think or what information they have. I'm not sure that the information that comes to them is really the same as the feedback we are getting from our acquaintances from Kyiv and Ukraine in general. I chose not to contact those people in this situation, because I think that some time needs to pass and all we can do is hope that the conflict ends soon. Only then will we be able to take a moment to summarize what happened, what is happening now.
I must say that I am excited about Ukrainian President Zelenský, because when he accepted the post of president, a lot of people were sarcastic and did not trust his professionalism. Of course, hadn’t had a chance to acquire her, because he’d never had a political career. But now we can clearly see the importance of the human factor, we can see how brave he is, what decisions he makes. I think he has become one of the most prominent world leaders of our age, one who really stands with the Ukrainian nation. As a Czech designer with Ukrainian roots, I am very proud of him.
I think the impact will be great and not good at all. Because a few years ago, we were enjoying this interconnection of the whole world, one almost wants to say prosperity, living together in a world where everyone had an equal place, and that’s gone now. The consequences will be borne by the Ukrainian nation as well as the whole of Europe and the Russian nation. It will be difficult for everyone, which feels even more tragic knowing it is a useless act of aggression, which, in my opinion, won’t do anyone any good, but it’s still happening. My thoughts often go to the women who have lost their husbands, children who have lost or will lose their fathers. Irreparable damage that will affect their psyche as well as their mentality and everything. This, I think, is the worst thing.
We had a trip planned. I wanted to take my son and show him where I had spent my childhood, my incredible student years. I wanted to show Filip Kyiv, and we planned to do it all with my parents. They were born in Kyiv and spent their whole lives there, both their student lives and professional ones. We had it scheduled for June. Now I'm not sure if there will be anything left to show in June. But I also believe - and I can see it every day - that the Ukrainian nation is proud, brave, but it is also incredibly skilful. Despite everything, I think Kyiv will get back on its feet quickly.
I'd tell them: my heart goes out to each and every one of you. Words can’t tell how deeply I feel for you. I hope you will have all the strength and energy you need. And you should know that the whole world stands with you.