200 dresses and over 200 pairs of shoes housed in a bedroom converted into a wardrobe. A 5 metre sculpture of Mother Earth in a Ukrainian town with her face on it, performer in her own one woman theatre show, now CEO of a consultancy agency. Owner of 14 rescue cats, 4 dogs (all but 1 rescued), 7 rabbits, 2 rescued turtles and a flightless Indian ringneck parrot found in a shoebox. Yulia is not your typical model, determined and resilient, defender of the underdog and seemingly more at home with animals than people. Honesty in love and hate, simplicity in desire and a lack of greed she tells me is what appeals about animals.
I later learn in exchange for modelling she wishes for her fee to be donated to Phnom Penh Wildlife Rescue Centre who work with the Wildlife Alliance to rescue wild animals from the illegal wildlife trade and attempt to release them back into the wild or offer them a permanent home should that not be possible.
The cause is close to her heart when years earlier Yulia stumbled upon Charlie (a 2 week old baby macaque monkey) in the jungle on Koh Rong Island, off the coast of Cambodia, alone, apart from one elderly family member (who could not be saved), all others in the troop had been slaughtered by poachers. She took him home, put him in nappies and carried him around for 10 months as if he were her own infant. She knew at some point a permanent home would be needed for her growing monkey, but where can you re-home an orphaned monkey who has no one in the world but you to care for him? After months of research she found the perfect home for Charlie at the Phnom Penh Wildlife Rescue Centre. The only problem, they did not have a suitable enclosure and they would need $3,500 to build one. Not put off by these obstacles, Yulia set about raising money to build a permanent enclosure since Charlie would not be able to be released back into the wild, having mostly only known her. Later Yulia was to meet Eli in a bar, another monkey who was being given cigarettes and alcohol by her alcoholic owner. She intervened and now Charlie and Eli are inseparable playmates at the centre where Yulia still visits fortnightly and continues to financially support. I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours being leapt on and groomed by these two monkeys and another, rescued later. All three seem delighted with their new, safe but exciting surroundings and their bond, to the staff and each other is evident. To support the good work of the rescue centre and to have your own unforgettable experience, you can book a tour of the centre here.
As a social portrait photographer I am always interested in seeing the true person beneath the mask of clothes and smiles that we wear. Scratch the surface and I find Yulia is a surprisingly multi-faceted person. Her nurturing nature doesn’t just extend to animals, though she one day dreams of owning her own animal sanctuary. Her background is in Human Rights, having worked for 11 years at the UNRWA UNHCR Human Rights Watch Amnesty International Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre. As head of the community services unit for urban refugees her role was to ensure those most vulnerable (unaccompanied minors, SGBV victims etc.) were settled, had legal papers and a sustainable solution was found. She sought foster families for unaccompanied minors, helped trace lost family and so much more. Now, disheartened by the UN she believes it to be an excuse for governments to keep manipulating politics and simply have the UN clean up their mess. Eventually this drove her decision to resign.
It seems there is nothing Yulia can’t make a success of as in 2010 she and her partner of seven years, Darren Harris founded Innov8 International, a consultancy agency specialising in corporate events, market research, corporate training and systems development and who’s clients include the giants Coca Cola and ANZ Bank. Not forgetting her routes and a strong desire to make the world a better place, they run corporate responsibility projects raising funds for charity and Innov8 has made donations to an orphanage, paid medical bills for sick children as well as supporting wildlife conservation projects.
How then did she get into modelling I wonder. Like something out of a fairytale her Ukrainian grandmother was a legendary beauty whom strangers would come to visit, with a husband 12 years younger in a time when such things were completely unheard of. Her father, a painter, chose not to leave his homeland and follow his wife and teenage daughter for a new life in Canada and was to tragically die of sarcoma within 3 months of diagnosis, not affording Yulia the opportunity to say goodbye, something that will haunt her forever. She describes the pain, as real today as when she first learnt of his passing.
Modelling she describes mostly as a hobby, something she enjoys doing, though she did some through Canadian and American agencies as a teenager, her mother put a swift stop to it, instead encouraging her to focus on her education. As an adult she became involved in avant-guarde, body expressive theatre productions and placed second at an International Theatre Festival where she performed in her own one woman show in Hungary. Unfazed by the request to wear minimal make-up and knowledge that no Photoshop would be used, I ask her if she is as ‘at one’ with her body as she seems to be. She admits, no one is perfect and on down days she sees flaws but quickly picks herself up again. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in the mind too” she says. She describes her 30’s as a liberating decade after suffering debilitating bullying during her school days. She enjoyed the process of dressing up, applying make up and going out but always en-route to social occasions would lose courage, slowly removing her jewellery, wiping off her makeup, resolving she did not want to be noticed. Shy of both her looks and her intellect, when interesting ideas would come to her she would tell others that someone else had said it instead of claiming the idea as her own. This picture is a painful one and when I reflect on the woman who stood before me as I photographed her in Cambodia, I see she has come a long way and has a lot to be proud of.
Yulia’s love of fashion is as strong today as it was in her youth, a self confessed shoe addict, though not a labels person, not a big fan of day long shopping trips Yulia instead prefers looking around vintage shops and flea markets hunting for individual pieces. Her wardrobe contains everything from $2 dresses found at flea markets to $2000 designer dresses, all of which she loves in equal measure. Her advice is to not concern yourself with following trends but instead to seek that which you love and that which makes you happy.
Photographs taken under the expert tutelage of Damien Lovegrove. Feel free to leave comments below and share on social media and Pinterest.