How a Fashion Heavyweight Turned Her Focus to Russian War Crimes

How a Fashion Heavyweight Turned Her Focus to Russian War Crimes

The Russian invasion of Ukraine happened at a time that the central European country was being celebrated as an important hub of cultural creativity, with the New York Times last September publishing a love letter anointing Kyiv as the coolest of the moment.

One of the creative powerhouses who's helped make Kyiv a must visit capital of all things creative is Sofia Tchkonia, an international fashion heavyweight from Georgia who founded Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Tblisi, Kyiv Art and Fashion Days and the Be Next Art and Fashion Foundation.

Since the Russian invasion, Be Next has become Be Next Charity Foundation, with the mission to respond to the Ukrainian crisis and help families and their children’s lives after wars and traumatic disasters.

Earlier this month in Tblisi, Tchkonia organized Ukrainian Guernica, a photo exhibit documenting Russian war crimes in Ukraine. The event was supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and under the patronage of the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, who recently hosted a visit in Kyiv from US first lady Dr Jill Biden.

The photo exhibit is just part of the non-stop work Tchkonia has been doing on behalf of Ukraine since the war began. We caught up with her to talk about her work.

What made you fall in love with Ukraine? Do Georgia and Ukraine have a special bond since both have been wrongly invaded by Russia?

People, first of all. Ukrainians. With their bravery, patriotism, dedication. I fell in love with Ukraine since the first time I’ve visited the country many years ago. Kyiv is one of the cities I always miss and want to go back to. The warmth of how these people welcome you is always unforgettable. That was the reason I’ve decided to move many of my projects to Ukraine one year ago.

This war is our war also, Georgians and Ukrainians are in the same boat, we had and have the only one enemy in common, Russia. My country, Georgia, 20 percent of it is occupied by Russia. I remember the war in Abkhazia in the '90s and I remember the war in 2008. Ukrainians now are fighting for all of us and their victory will bring the peace to my country also.

What would you like to see people in the West do to support Ukrainians?

I see how West supports more and more Ukraine. They wouldn’t if they hadn’t seen how brave this nation is, how they love their country. I thought I knew what bravery is, then I saw Ukraine. We all must support and help Ukraine and its people.

When the war is over do you think you’ll ever be able to go back to focusing on fashion?

Hard to say at the moment as I dedicated all my life to the charity, fundraising, helping refugees and I see so much tragedy of people every day. I hope fashion will change and I will go back to it but I am sure after this war we will never be the same again, I am definitely not.

Photography: Zaqaria Chelidze