Four Ukrainian women working in the beauty industry share what life is like amid the Russian invasion

Despite the overwhelming anxiety, Anna managed to immerse herself in the creative process. The perfumer says that sticking to the routine helped her restore a sense of normality, even though the ’new normal’ meant working underground. 

At times, Anna felt depressed and doubted whether anyone other than her even needed the fragrance. But she was encouraged by her clients, who remembered to grab their favourite SKLVA Perfumes even when fleeing Kharkiv, Irpin, and other hotspots.

When the initial shock wore off, President Zelensky called on businesses to resume their work whenever it was possible. In April, Anna started getting more orders. Some customers have just learned about SKLVA from foreign perfumers who have been supporting their Ukrainian counterparts on social media. Others had been thinking of purchasing Anna’s fragrance since the pre-war times and finally fulfilled that wish. 

By the end of the third month, Ukrainians have started to adapt to wartime reality. “We all miss our everyday lives, and favourite scents remind us of the happier days,” Anna observes. Now working on [freedom] from the relative safety of her home, Sokolova wants to release the fragrance soon, not waiting until Ukraine’s victory as initially intended. “People need this sense of hope, and I want them to have it now.”

Lera Borodina, G.Bar beauty space network co-founder & Oh My Look! clothing rental service owner: “We realised there might be no tomorrow and let ourselves do what we’d long dreamed of.” 

Lera Borodina is the mastermind behind G.Bar, a hip beauty space network operating in soon to be nine countries. Of 34 Ukraine-based G.Bars, three – the ones in Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, and Zaporizhzhia – were heavily damaged in hostilities. “Kharkiv’s flagship G. is beyond repair. When a missile hit the neighbouring building, the pipes burst from the blast wave and flooded the space,” Borodina says.

The news of the full-scale Russian invasion caught Lera in her house overlooking the Kyiv International Airport, which could come under fire at any given moment. “You should have seen me packing my emergency bag,” she recalls, “Even shuddering from the sounds of the air defence, I managed to pack not one but three beauty bags.”

Three months since her world turned upside down, Borodina has learned to be slightly ironic about her panicked behavior, but on that morning, she was horrified. Apart from protecting two underage children, Lera had to come up with an anti-crisis plan for her business. 

With her G.Bar Kyiv partner Sabina Musina, Borodina spent two weeks helping employees relocate and find jobs within the network. “Our teams got all mixed up,” the entrepreneur says. “People from east and south of Ukraine headed to the west, while people from the western regions fled to Poland. Several employees ended up in Tbilisi and Tallinn. But since our franchisees follow the same standards, everyone adapted to the change smoothly.”

The new wartime reality made Lera appreciate her global G.Bar family even more. On day 8 of the invasion, after spending 7 hours at the border and driving her mother and daughters to Krakow, Borodina burst into tears seeing a familiar neon sign. “Back then, we weren’t sure if we would ever be able to come back to Kyiv. But the moment I saw that sign, I knew I had a home away from home.” In a couple of days, when Lera booked an appointment in G.Bar Krakow, the space was teeming with Ukrainian women. “It was a very emotional moment for us all. Many tears were shed, many hugs shared.”

Despite the remaining threat, the Ukrainian G.Bars (at least those left intact) are reopening their doors. Nail and hair services are in high demand, the founder shares. “Our mission to help women feel beautiful, happy, and capable of anything has passed the crash test. Turns out, almost nothing can stop a Ukrainian woman from getting her nails or hair done.”

“When the full-scale war started, Ukrainians realised there might be no tomorrow. We felt the sharpest of pains but also the greatest of joys – the joy of living to see another day. Many women have finally let themselves do what they have long dreamed of, be it buying a pricey cream or colouring hair in some crazy shade,” Borodina explains.