Flexible and fearless: How the Vogue Ukraine team pulled together to keep publishing during the Russian invasion 

In the early hours of 24 February 2022, Julia Kostetska, publisher of Vogue Ukraine, was woken up by the sound of explosions. Checking her phone, she found a message from a close friend containing just one word: ‘War’. A few days later Kostetska, who has a house 10km outside of Kyiv, fled with her friends and their pets to Warsaw as the Russian invasion gathered pace. Despite being forced from her home, and with her Vogue team scattered around the world, the publisher and her colleagues were hellbent on keeping their magazine going. 

“The team was very much stressed and frustrated, but we were all in touch, trying to support each other. And I think that due to our unity, we had this feeling that whatever will come later, we will survive, we will overcome that together,” Kostetska recalls in the latest episode of FIPP’s Media Unscripted podcast hosted by Charlotte Ricca. 

“We didn’t even have time to think: should or shouldn’t we work? We just realised that we had to do what we do. So, from the very first day, all our employees, all my colleagues, worked and the first article that appeared was published on the website at 8:00 or 9:00 AM. So, we decided to work and not to stop, so it was not even addressed.” 

In the early days of the war, online meetings among editors were as much about sharing feelings as they were about editorial strategy, with discussions often starting with the question: “How do you feel today?” 

“We never had an alternative to not working and I think it was part of what we felt was necessary to do, but also part of the individual therapy for each of the team,” says fashion director, Venya Brykalin, who was also a guest on Media Unscripted. 

“Because when things like this happen you never have instructions how to navigate these circumstances. It’s very intuitive in a way. I think the most dangerous thing that people feel, and might have to confront, is a sense of helplessness, of not being able to change anything or to contribute to the fight. 

“So, it was like an unspoken decision that each person on the team made – to stay in the game to contribute. Plan B was never an option for us.” 

From fashion to fighting 

While Vogue Ukraine, which has a licensing agreement with Condé Nast to publish the magazine, had to pause its print edition for about a year, the title has not stopped running content on its website. 

After the war broke out the fashion bible had to, as Kostetska puts it, “react quickly to the changes of social mood, be sensitive to the needs and values of our readers and support them and inspire the global community for collective actions to make the victory closer.” 

“Vogue Ukraine editors never stopped to create humanitarian and war-related content to raise awareness of this war and its consequences abroad,” she adds. “At the very beginning our content was abnormal, but then in in summer we started to write more about fashion, about beauty, about lifestyle, but with our updated approach. 

“Of course, every piece of the content that we create we discuss internally with the team because we have to be sure that our readers will react in a proper way. Our Ukrainian audience is very sensitive right now and we have to be very, very sensitive too, to write the right content. 

“So, we dedicate special attention to heroes and heroines who do anything to bring the victory closer as well as highlighting the brands and the socially impactful initiatives that inspire people to contribute and to donate. This war touches everyone and I believe that donations and support are our new currency, at least till the end of the war.” 

Vogue Ukraine has been buoyed, and guided, by the outpouring of support it’s received from readers on its social media channels.  

“They are thanking us for what we are doing and what we are creating during the war, so this is what makes me and our team feel that we are doing something truly important,” says Kostetska. “I’m very grateful for this warm feedback from our readers and also advertisers, because there are many of them who are not afraid to invest, who are not afraid to create really impactful projects in cooperation with Ukraine and this also helps us to stay open and to continue working.” 

The return of print  

In April this year, Vogue Ukraine published its first print edition in just over a year. The special ‘Road of Unbreakable’ commemorative issue features profiles of people from all walks of life contributing to the resistance, including Olena Zalenska, wife of Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky and Nobel Prize-winning human rights activist Oleksandra Matviichuk. 

Kostetska was motivated to relaunch the print edition after Vogue Ukraine’s distribution director received a surge of emails from readers asking about the next issue. While budgeting was hard, many Ukrainian companies stepped forward to advertise in what is a truly unique edition.  

“It’s definitely an evergreen issue and I think it’s an honour to be in it,” says Kostetska. “It was our tribute to all Ukrainians, to all people, who are fighting for our freedom, and we also had this feeling that we have to move forward. 

“We are not capable now to bring out our magazine every month but will continue with print editions. The issue sold very well and we’ve had many orders from abroad, because we understand that many people had to flee the country and they really want to read Vogue.  

So, we are somehow trying to organise delivery worldwide. Of course it takes time, but at least we are doing that and we’ll keep doing that.” 

Fearless into the future 

Looking towards the future, Kostetska says Vogue Ukraine will strive to get the balance right between continuing to tell human stories but also keeping advertiser needs in mind. 

“We are constantly in search of those projects that will resonate with both our readership and our clients,” she adds. “Advertiser sponsors are the most important part to staying alive and to be profitable. 

“To be profitable is a really, really challenging task right now but we now know how to balance. We are more experienced than we were in the beginning of the war.” 

Vogue Ukraine is boosting its revenue by bringing out special collectible book editions, releasing 9 1/2 years of Vogue in Ukraine last year – a collection of the most iconic photographs since the magazine’s launch. 

The brand is also bringing out a new bilingual book featuring contemporary prose and poetry by famous Ukrainian artists.  

“This is our contribution to promoting Ukrainian artists because we really want people all over the globe to know more about Ukrainians, to understand more our way of thinking. It’s a very important project too, and this is also a part of our book distribution income.” 

Whatever Vogue Ukraine produces throughout the rest of the war and beyond it will be driven by a passion to keep publishing forged in the most difficult circumstances possible. 

“It’s hard to explain with the right words what you feel when you are in the worst circumstances – there is a force that pushes you and when you are on the move, you feel alive,” says Kostetska. “I’ve never had this feeling before, but due to this feeling, me and our team managed to create many beautiful projects. 

“This war taught us be fast, to be flexible and to be fearless and not to stop, even for a minute.” 


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