anton belinskiy is raising money for ukrainian orphanages by dressing up their kids

In a time of turmoil designer Anton Belinskiy and photographer Julie Poly are reminded that being creative in contemporary Ukraine is a luxury, and so are setting out to make a difference.

by Anastasiia Fedorova
14 January 2016, 10:44pm

Kiev-based fashion designer Anton Belinskiy is at the forefront of the new wave of Ukraine's creative talent. The LVMH Prize nominated designer's collections are on sale in London, New York and Tokyo, he has to work hard to finance his craft. He's often struggling with an even more complicated question: how ethical is it to make fashion in a country in the midst of crisis? Does it even make sense?

For Kiev's youth, Belinskiy is not just a hyped fashion designer, he's something of a voice of the generation. Pieces from his autumn/winter 15 collection in the windows of London's Harvey Nichols proudly proclaimed what seems to be the slogan of Ukraine's youth - "Poor But Cool". "We all want to seem aware of the social problems but a T-shirt I make still costs at least a hundred dollars", he once told me. "Ideally I would like my clothes to be very cheap so all young kids in Ukraine who like it could afford it."

In a new project, Belinskiy and photographer Julie Poly attract attention to the life of kids in Ukrainian orphanages. Invisible to society and deprived of state funding, orphans across Ukraine rely on help from numerous volunteers to survive. To raise money, the pair photographed kids from an orphanage located not far from Odessa, in the south of Ukraine, in Belinskiy's clothes. All revenue from the print sales will go to the orphans.

How did you come up with the idea for this project?
Anton Belinskiy: For my current collection I worked at first with my friend Anastasiia Chorna in Odessa. The initial idea was film photographs of various people - street thugs, cleaning ladies, passers-by, just anyone - with a Joseph Beuys-inspired tag Everyone is an Artist. I have a friend who helps orphanages in Odessa, and he contacted me and suggested we do a project with the kids. We were very cautious about doing it and we wanted to do it the right way. We wanted it to be a social project, with money from the print sales going to the children and providing some much needed help.

How was it working with the kids?
Anton Belinskiy: It was very challenging, as all the kids have very different lives, a lot of them very complicated. It's hard to describe. The DIY tattoos with the word "mum", the longing for their parents… Emotions totally different from those of ordinary children. A lot of them are very scared of people, at first they were very wary of us but then of course they got really into it. At some point it became like a competition, they wanted to show off.
Julie Poly: It was a very difficult shoot for me, psychologically and photographically. I have a certain way of working that I know and that I'm comfortable with, and this was totally different. When we were driving there, we were super happy and excited, thinking we'll shake it all up. Driving back we were all silent and drained, we couldn't even talk. I couldn't stop thinking of it for weeks afterwards.

The photographs look incredibly natural and sincere, how did you manage to capture this energy of childhood?
Julie Poly: We wanted it to be very natural, vibrant, with no artificial poses. We wanted kids to act the way they do in their normal life, just in Anton's clothes. We didn't give them directions.

Did they like the clothes?
Anton Belinskiy: Some liked them, some were puzzled, some were saying they want this dress when they grow up; they all had very different takes on it. They all picked the outfits themselves and it was fun. Some girls really projected their dreams on it saying "I would like a red dress", "I want flowers". They tried to read and interpret the garments in their own ways.

Tell us about the orphanage…
Julie Poly: It was great to find out about people like Artyom, who helps the orphanage. We just touched it briefly through this project but there are people who come almost every day, collect donations, food, clothes. They are giving kids not just material things but the attention they need. For them it's a part of life.

How does it feel to make fashion in Kiev right now?
Anton Belinskiy: There is great deal of inspiration in Kiev, but being involved in any creative activity here right now is not easy. And doing fashion is not the greatest thing at the moment in the world in general. All the young brands are struggling. Fashion is dying a slow death, no?

So what makes creative people keep pursuing what they do?
Anton Belinskiy: How else could we live? I personally can't do anything else. I love it, that's what I do.

Special thanks to Artyom Polanskiy for his charitable work and help in organising the shoot.

For information on print sales and other ways to help orphanages in Ukraine email


Text Anastasiia Fedorova
Photography Julie Poly

anton belinsky
julie poly