“I want to tell the world what Ukraine was like and what is being done to it. I consider it my mission to show the world what is happening,” says Karina Trygubchak, a Ukrainian skincare influencer who has 1.3 million followers on Instagram.
Up until a few weeks ago she was leading a carefree life in Kharkiv, Ukraine, as one of the country’s most followed beauty influencers. Before the events of 24 February, she was using her platform solely to educate followers about all things skincare; teaching them facial massage techniques to sculpt their faces without the need for cosmetic procedures, and running a successful Face Marathon course (now so popular Karina has hired a team to help her support participants throughout). A quick scroll down her page reveals video tips and instructions on techniques, often using Gua Sha tools, as well as numerous before and after transformation images showing the results of her course.
But over the past few weeks she’s been using her page to educate and inform her followers about a very different subject matter – and sharing much more disturbing before and after images.
On 24 February Trygubchak, known as @Karina_na_more on social media, had to flee her home in Kharkiv with her six-year-old son after she woke in horror to the sounds of explosions, and realised that Russia was invading her country. Ever since, she has been using her page to share daily images, videos, news and information about what is happening in Ukraine, often sourced from across the internet. Along with before and after images of faces, showing improved skin elasticity, posture and puffiness, are before images of how beautiful Ukraine used to look, in stark contrast to photos of the same destinations having being bombed, set on fire, or reduced to rubble.
But she’s also using her page to show the world what her country was like, how Ukrainians lived before they were invaded and how much she loved her life there. She’s saved dozens of Stories to her Instagram highlights for her followers to see – something she regards as her “duty” given the scale of her reach, and the fact that 99 percent of her followers are from other countries.
“There was no way I could remain silent,” she tells. “This is my personal tragedy as well. I could not be quiet and not be sharing it.”
With such a following, she’s taken it upon herself to raise awareness about the heartbreak her fellow Ukrainians are currently facing. “On 24 February at 5.15am I woke up from the sound of explosions, and realised that they had started bombing and the war had begun. At first, I was shocked. The sounds were loud and frightening. I was shaking. I grabbed suitcases and started throwing things into them, although my mind just refused to focus. I was petrified for my son.”
The 31-year-old had to leave her husband behind, due to martial law in the country preventing men aged 18 to 60 from fleeing. After hurriedly throwing some basics in a suitcase, she and her little boy spent five days navigating gridlocked roads as hordes of people made their way to the borders.
“Normally, the road would have taken us 15 to 20 hours, but we drove for five days. We slept for a few hours a day, and we couldn’t eat a thing, the food stuck to our throats,” she says. “I couldn’t sleep at all. The military planes were flying very low all night, I was terrified that they might start dropping bombs. We slept in the car – lived in the car, basically. Right after we passed the city of Uman, the city was shelled immediately. When we arrived in Vinnytsia, there was an air alert. And in the city of Khmelnytskyi on the night when we were there, the airport was being bombed.”MOST POPULAR
Trygubchak had already run away from conflict once, in 2014 when Russia targeted Donbas, where she was born. But Kharkiv has been her home for the last eight years. Now, a month or so on from the start of the invasion, she is fortunately safe in Bulgaria with her son, but she still gets scared by the sounds of flying planes and thunderstorms overhead. They are now trying to settle into their new life away from their home comforts and belongings, and build some sort of new reality.
The influencer is also trying to continue her business in the best way that she can, even if her day always starts with checking if her employees are still alive. “Part of my team stayed in Kharkiv, and they continue to work. It is often the case that they work from basements because there are attacks,” she explains. “My every day begins with sort of a roll call to see if all my people are alive and well. It’s just terrifying.
“My business was left in Ukraine, and I am unable to continue running it. My life, routine, favourite things, and people remained there, and now all of this is being ruthlessly destroyed. Today I have only got my blog, my Marathon programme, and my book.”MOST POPULAR
It is the book she mentions, as well as her online courses, that she is using to survive financially while the war continues. Six months before the invasion she wrote a guide bringing all of her expertise together, which she had intended to be a beautifully bound hardback book. But she has since resorted to releasing it online, offering for people to buy it at any price they choose, from as little as $1. “I still hope that I will be able to publish it someday,” she says, adding that she has been overwhelmed by the support she has been receiving from people from all over the world.
The influencer also dreams of one day returning home to Ukraine. One of her Instagram captions reads: “I want to water my flowers in my house, drink tea from my favourite cup, complain about the weather or traffic jams… and think that I have nothing to wear, and consider that this is the biggest tragedy in the world.”
But Trygubchak is determined to stay positive. “I am a big dreamer, and I dream of returning home, but I understand that things will not be the same. I often think of what it was like before, and those were such good days. I can’t change the past, but I can influence the future, and I choose to focus on it.”