Why Women in War-Time Ukraine Are Still Getting Plastic Surgery

Air raid sirens blare throughout Kyiv two days before the one-year mark of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The threat is unclear, but social media apps suggest that missiles is perhaps launched within the direction of Kyiv. On the Anacosma Clinic, Dr. Taras Baranov pays little attention to the possible attacks; he’s in the midst of performing a blepharoplasty surgery.

In Kyiv, women are turning a beauty practice into an act of defiance and female resilience. They’re having cosmetic surgery work done during power outages and raid sirens— refusing to let the war take away any more of their life or from them feeling confident of their outer appearance. Concurrently, their inner strength is put to the test.

Waiting room table on the Anacsoma Clinic in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Anna Conkling

It was not all the time the case. Originally of the war in Ukraine, most weren’t concerned with enhancing their appearance, despite the world’s obsession with their beauty, which led to a thriving sex tourism industry (that has now waned as a result of war). As an alternative, Ukrainians were focused on staying alive and fleeing Russia’s wrath as countless towns and cities were burned to the bottom, the most important land war in Europe since World War 2 unfolded, and over eight million people were forced out of their homes. But one 12 months later, though the fear and destruction of the war haven’t diminished, some women are attempting to seek out a solution to proceed their lives as best they’ll. They’re embracing their confidence by channeling a deep love for the world of beauty.


play iconThe triangle icon that indicates to playpreview for Elle US Section: Beautyyana mudrakova an employee at anacsoma clinic who recently had rhinoplasty

Yana Mudrakova, an worker at Anacsoma Clinic who recently had rhinoplasty, smiles for the camera.

Anna Conkling

From the moment I walk into the Anacosma Clinic in Central Kyiv, the world of cosmetic surgery is on display. Yana Mudrakova, an worker of the clinic, greets me with a smile, and she or he wears a yellow mid-length dress with a peach cardigan and beige flats, her uniform. Her nails are perfectly manicured with white nail polish, her lips are plump, and never one strand of her hair is misplaced. But her nose is hidden under white gauze. She has just had a rhinoplasty surgery done on the clinic.

Russia is predicted to plan a serious attack on February 24, today, the one-year mark of the war. The likelihood that Kyiv will likely be a focus of this anniversary strike is high. There’s a heaviness within the air within the capital city, and it has been quiet in recent days, only backing the speculation that Russia is holding out on attacks for the upcoming date.

While waiting to fulfill with Anacosma’s lead surgeon Plavo Denyshchuk, I asked Mudrakova if she was afraid throughout the surgery. Mudrakova shakes her head no. “Because I work on this clinic, I do know every little thing that’s going around,” she tells me. “I do know the doctors and equipment, so I used to be totally sure and had no concerns because I understand how it really works throughout the air alarms. It was not stopping me,” she adds.

Air raid alarms are available bursts in Ukraine, blaring through city streets and apps on people’s phones anytime a possible threat might occur. Sometimes alerts are for less severe warnings, like aviation of Russian jets over ally Belarus. Still, other times, the warnings mean missiles have just launched from a Russian-controlled area, giving Ukrainians minutes to cover before attacks occur. Various channels on the messaging app Telegram might make clear what threat sirens are for, but there isn’t any certainty that it’s accurate. They will last for minutes or hours, and individuals are really useful to shelter in place until the sirens are lifted. But one 12 months into the war, Ukrainians have learned to live with the sirens and not fear them.

For Mudrakova, the journey to receiving her surgery began 4 years ago. On the time, Anacsoma had a latest surgeon who used Mudrakova’s image as a model to check the programming that shows patients what the result can be after they’d their surgery. It was then that Mudrakova saw what her nose could seem like with surgery, more slim and rounded than her current one.

“The war was an important point to do the surgery since the war showed you can’t postpone your life ‘til later. And if you must begin to be more pretty, why not start changing now?” says Mudrakova.

From an out of doors perspective, enhancing one’s appearance with surgery throughout the war may appear reckless, but Mudrakova laughs, “Possibly we’re somewhat bit crazy. Even throughout the war, you see our surgeons working, our patients coming, like me.”

“The war will end, and afterward, we have to be physically and mentally blissful, and this stuff are making us more pretty and blissful. We will even be higher prepared, and why wait to make your dreams come true? Even within the war, you may,” she adds.

As Mudrakova returns to her work, I’m motioned towards a white staircase, past the operation rooms, and to Denyshchuk’s office. Reflecting on the past 12 months of his work, the surgeon tells me, “There was very intense work up until the last peaceful days [before] the full-scale invasion began. Many patients [were] scheduled for surgeries, upfront payments, and there have been patients who needed to undergo rehabilitation services.” All procedures were placed on hold when the war began, and Denyshchuk says, “There was a dilemma of ‘how can we take care of the people?’ Some said it was alright, we are able to wait until the top of the war, but some people were demanding a reimbursement or the services.”

The instability of the war resulted in Anacosma having to refund around 30-50 pre-booked services, a 3rd of all appointments. The result was a lack of a million grivnas, the equivalent of over $27,000. But three months into the war, Anacosma reopened, partially since the demand from patients was so high but in addition because no less than 30 percent of the clinic’s employees desired to return to work. “It was deep into the unknown back then,” says Denyshchuk. The opposite 70 percent who didn’t wish to return, for essentially the most part, left Kyiv for the country’s western cities or other countries and were afraid to return to work. Anacosma has since hired latest employees to compensate for his or her losses.

There have been only just a few instances where patients desired to go to the basement to attend out the air raid sirens that engulfed Kyiv. Still, for essentially the most part, they paid little attention to Russia’s efforts to terrorize Ukrainians.

dr denyshchuk with his patient olga saienko at her one month post op check up

Dr. Denyshchuk examines his patient, Olga Saienko’s face.

Anna Conkling

My conversation with Denyshchuk ends when a knock on the office door signals to the surgeon that his next appointment has arrived. It’s three within the afternoon, and the sun is starting to set in Kyiv. But within the hallway, Olga Saienko, 50, radiates, beaming from ear to ear. She has her one-month post-operation check-up to ensure the scars from her facelift are healing appropriately–they’re. “She looks ten years younger!” Denyshchuk says with a smile.

This is an image

Close-up of Olga Saienko’s face, one-month post-op.

Anna Conkling

Saienko tells me she had never considered getting a surgical facelift before the war. Up to now, she had non-surgical thread lifts to eliminate among the natural sagging that comes with age, not the complete procedure. However the constant mental and physical stress of living in a rustic at war caused the thread lift to fade, and Saienko’s face began to sag again.

Attacks on Kyiv were constant within the early days of the war because Russia believed that if the capital city fell, so would the remaining of the country. Bombs dropped from the sky, and on the once peaceful streets, gunshots could possibly be heard, indistinguishable from foe or ally, and trying to seek out out could mean being killed in the road of fireplace. Saienko, her husband, Ruslan, and their two daughters Victoria, 31, and Sofia, 12, were forced to depart their home on the primary day of the Russian invasion. Like hundreds of other Ukrainians, the family moved to the west of the country, which has been relatively unscathed from the war. During this time, Saienko looked within the mirror and not recognized the face staring back at her.

“I feel that I actually have aged precisely due to stress of the war. I felt that my whole life and my children were crossed out. There isn’t any confidence in the long run. There’s apathy and fear and terrible mental pain,” says Saienko.

“A 30-year-old woman lives inside me, and it hurt me to see myself within the mirror the way in which I became throughout the war,” she adds.

olga saienko shows a photo of her face before she got a facelift

Olga Saienko, 50, shows a before photo of herself pre-facelift.

Anna Conkling

Holding up her phone, Saienko shows me her before surgery, pointing to the wrinkles that when surrounded her chin and neck and the frown marks on her mouth. Now, Saienko’s face is smooth, the baggage under her eyes are gone, her jawline is sharp, and she or he really does look ten years younger. The Saienko I’m speaking with looks happier than the past version, but as she lowers her phone, she says, “From the war, stress just isn’t going away. It’s inconceivable.”

“For me, it’s also a bit weird within the war, and also you’re getting cosmetic surgery. Life is occurring. We’re still attempting to live our lives. Possibly our nerve system type of adapts, after which this all appears,” she says, referencing her rapidly aging face.

It’s no secret that the societal standard of beauty is a tall, slender woman with clear skin and a 24-inch waist, unrealistic for almost all but dominating all other body types. Not living as much as those standards may end up in insecurities and damage women’s self-confidence.

Cosmetic surgery is usually seen as taboo in Ukraine, something that is completed in secret and never openly discussed. But for essentially the most part, Ukrainian women are usually not concerned with what others think concerning the changes to their appearance. They aren’t having surgery in a war zone to impress men or gain peer approval. In such chaos and turmoil, women wish to feel at home of their bodies, which most can relate to. I left Anacsoma after I met with Saienko, but beauty remains to be in all places in Kyiv.

In a coffee shop, I see two teenage girls putting on makeup and taking photos of one another, and each nail salon I pass has no less than two clients inside. There are Valentine’s Day couple massage promos at spas and girls wearing Y2K fashion, life seems almost normal, however the war remains to be in all places. Anti-tank devices line Kyiv’s streets, soldiers carry machine guns while guarding vital buildings, and makeshift trenches are prepared for an additional round of Russian attacks on the capital. But beauty exists in these places, offering a type of self-expression and liberation as everyone prepares for February 24.

Per week later, I revisited Anacosma, and this time as I walked in, a lady with beet-red skin, presumably from a recent chemical peel, greeted me. After just a few moments, I’m ushered right into a small patient room where Margaretta, 27, lies in a twin-size hospital bed, recovering from a breast reduction surgery she had two days before. I’m handed a white paper robe and a surgical face mask to placed on before speaking with Margaretta in order that she is protected from any potential infections that may pass to her.

Once wearing my protective gear, Margaretta shares that she has been waiting five years to have a discount on her size E breasts, which had limited her from having complete control over her life. However it was not until the war began, and Margaretta concurrently began studying to change into a psychologist, that she examined the toll her breasts took on her.

“In society, people think that enormous breasts are something spectacular, but they don’t understand that [with] smaller breasts, you may wear a smaller bra, you don’t worry that something goes to fall, you may do sports, you may run, you may jump,” says Margaretta.

“[Everything] bothers you, and the entire clothing which is being produced in Ukraine and abroad is generally for ladies who’ve medium or small breasts, so for ladies with larger breasts, she must go to the stores for plus size woman to get clothing and the style of clothing, it’s not modern or sexy,” she adds.

Margaretta’s decision echoes those of the opposite women I met at Anacosma. The war made their desire to appear and feel their best a priority. She says, “You understand that some belongings you cannot postpone anymore, even throughout the war.” The day that Margaretta and I speak is just over one week before February 24. I ask if she considered the opportunity of having to flee while recovering, and Margaretta nods that she “Calculated until twenty fourth, the pain should go away, in case we want to depart and run.”

“Someway internally, you could have this sense that right away there’s some type of combination of activities, but the top is soon, the top of the war, our victory. I want to dress for the victory day,” she adds.

* Anastasiya Orolova contributed to the reporting via translation and scheduling.

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