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Tunnelling Towards Hope


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28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels

With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidan’s three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the country’s stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.

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Ukraine Today
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard – and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.

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Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.

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Ukrainian Culture

Pop Sex Symbols Reflex Tell All

The girls of Reflex would seem to have it all: good looks, money, and fame. But despite all that, much of the girls’ lives is fairly simple: they shop, walk their pets, listen to pop music and go on vacation in the summer. Of course, they vacation in Thailand and Jamaica, and their jobs consist of video and magazine shoots and concerts in posh venues across Europe. It seems that work and play blend together when you’re a Russian pop goddess. They were in Kyiv for a video shoot, and met up with us.

In the near-decade since they formed, pop group Reflex has topped the charts in Russia over and over. Small wonder: the three blonde bombshells are hard to ignore. But Zhenia, Nastia and Alena rely on more than just good looks. “Reflex is the way we live. We work all the time, and Reflex is all we have,” explains Zhenia. After a night of shows, they get up between ten and eleven, walk their pets (Zhenia has a dog, and the other two own cats), work out (yoga, naturally), perhaps give an interview or jet to a photo shoot and then perform again in the evenings. The next morning they’re off to another venue. Mixed in are private voice lessons, and Nastia is learning to spin: “I take private lessons from the top Moscow DJs.” She’s the boxer of the group, too, in case anyone wants to know which of the girls to avoid in a street fight. “I’m really getting into it,” she says, “and I have a private instructor.”
Who says, however, that blondes are, well, less intelligent than other women? The Reflex girls have also managed to find time for education. Alena has a diploma with honours in production, Nastia has taken correspondence courses at the National Linguistics University in art research, and Zhenia used to study at Moscow National University, but left because of the constant touring and entered another academy. Of course, there’s time for leisurely pursuits as well. The girls are quick to list their favourite songs. Zhenia says hers are ‘Love You’ and ‘For the First Time’. “Recently we released a new album titled ‘Blondex 126’ and one of my favourites is ‘I Will Believe’. I always cry when I sing that song.” For her part, Nastia likes ‘You Are Not Mine’ by Nikita and ‘Paramibo’ by Kvartal. Alena, by contrast, says she likes songs from Soviet cartoons.
They manage to get some shopping in, too. Zhenia confesses, “I spend a good chunk of my spare time on shopping. When I’m in a bad mood, I buy myself something and it makes me feel happy.” Adds Alena, “I’m not a shopaholic. When the season changes I buy myself something. I try to avoid brand-new fashionable things. I try to spend my money conscientiously.”

Fans Staying Loyal
Despite their longevity, the girls say the demographics of their audience have remained remarkably stable. “In general, I don’t see any difference [in the audience]. Our concerts are packed with teens and middle-aged people. It’s really due to our songs and our producer Slava Tyurin. He manages to make music that meets everyone’s tastes,” says Alena, modestly.
One thing has changed, though: Irina Nelson left the band in January 2007. Alena is philosophical about the departure: “Art is like life, things tend to change. So I don’t see Ira’s leaving as a dramatic change in our band. The main thing is that we’re still extremely popular with our fans.” When asked about tension in the nearly decade-old group, Zhenia says, “We just hate each other! We cut the high heels off each other’s shoes!” She laughs. “Honestly, we love each other very much. We are more than friends. We’re sisters. If we don’t see each other, we call each other every five minutes. We share everything we have, discuss our relationships with our lovers, and help each other.”
One issue, at least with their parents, has been their status as sex symbols and their habit of posing nude in lad magazines like Playboy. The girls don’t seem to have a problem. “We work with very good photographers who make art. They make the naked body look beautiful,” says Alena. “My parents were shocked at first, but later they got used to it, as they understand that it’s part of my job. My mother supports me, because she thinks I’m beautiful and young, and there’s no reason to hide it.” Zhenia’s father is less liberal. “He still can’t open the Playboy with my photos,” she says. “He’s too conservative and a little funny.”
There’s also the issue of lesbian posturing, which is, of course, not unusual for Russian girl groups (they have toured with t.A.T.u.). The girls of Reflex admit that much of their collective persona is invented: they say they merely follow their music videos’ scripts, and then the audience dreams up the rest.
It certainly doesn’t discourage their fans, especially the men. But their supporters can be moving too. “Once a guy from a town in the north sent me a teddy bear in the mail. I was touched, and I still keep it at my place,” says Zhenia. Others push the limits of fandom: “One fan presented me with a diary she had kept for two years, with all our recordings and performances, as well as things we’ve said in public. Everything was thoroughly annotated with dates, hours and even minutes. It like she was living our life instead of her own. She gave me the album in order to break with that old life and start a new one. I still keep it around.”

The Good Life
Whatever controversies the group encounters, it’d be hard to argue that the girls don’t live a charmed life. The perks—like long vacations in exotic locations—more than make up for the problems. Says Alena, “I like to go to Thailand, as well. Europe is an option too.” Zhenia adds, “This summer we spent in America. Nastia and I visited California first, then later went to Jamaica, where Alena joined us. We got a room in a couples-only hotel, and made all the tourists’ wives jealous. To protect ourselves (who knows what jealous women will do?) we pretended to be lesbians. We walked everywhere hugging each other. The tourists relaxed after that. But you should’ve seen their faces when Alena joined us.”
Despite their very wide travels, the girls have great things to say about Kyiv. Zhenia says, “Kyiv for me is like Paris—it’s a city for lovers. I met my ex-boyfriend here, and the memories are still dear to me.” Alena continues, “We’ve been to Kyiv a million times. We adore the city. I’m really keen on wandering around the Dnipro embankment and Khreschatyk. St. Sofia Cathedral has an amazing aura to it. I like Ukrainian food. Kyiv is a truly gorgeous city, and everyone here is very kind.”

Mark Sabchuk

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voxa | 06.11.2010 09:56

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  • When Walls Can Talk
  • Rights We Didn’t Know We Had
  • The Path to Europe Begins Here...
  • Documenting Life
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    Ukraine Truth
    Rights We Didn’t Know We Had

    Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Univer­sal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they don’t understand the meaning of these words.


    Kyiv Culture

    Pulling Strings
    Located on Hrushevskoho Street – the epicentre of EuroMaidan violence, home to battles, blazes and barricades – children’s favourite the Academic Puppet Theatre had to shut down in February. Nevertheless, it is getting ready to reopen this March with a renewed repertoire to bring some laughter back to a scene of tragedy. Operating (not manipulating) puppets is a subtle art that can make kids laugh and adults cry. What’s On meets Mykola Petrenko, art director of the Theatre, to learn more about those who pull the strings behind the show.

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