Amid the horrors contained within videos of the war in Ukraine there are some glimmers of almost comic hope. An unlikely ally has emerged from clips shared by Ukrainians on social media which show Geese flapping in the faces of Russian military, flying into enemy tanks and even marching, well, waddling, alongside Ukrainian soldiers. As a result Russian propaganda has spread news bizarrely claiming Ukraine is using genetically modified birds.
It is these geese — or gussi — that have provided the inspiration for and name of a fashion brand created by popstars Sonya and Anya Kupriienko: otherwise known as The Bloom Twins.
I meet the 27-year-old twins at W1Curates studio in east London where they’re preparing to launch their Gussi collection: the venture aimed at raising funds for charity We Help Ukrainians. They’ve spent the past few weeks enlisting celebrity supporters. While members of Rudimental have already modelled the scarves and t-shirts, they tell me they’ve had enthusiasm from across the pond too. ‘A lot of people loved it in LA. Tyga loved it and then Lil Wayne loved it. He was like: “What is this? What is this? Tell me the story,” Sonya says, breaking into a Lil Wayne impression, imitating his enthusiasm with a deep, southern drawl.
The twins split their time between America and the UK but grew up in Brovary, a city east of Kyiv. Aged 16 they moved to London, without their parents, to pursue a music career. And they have had a lively decade. They have toured with Duran Duran, modelled for Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger and Prada and have been interviewed by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight. About a year ago the pair were in talks with Hollywood about creating a film inspired by their escapades in their industry. But now they dedicate all their time to helping people back in their home country, the war-zone.
‘It all went on pause as soon as the war started. Everything we do is about Ukraine now,’ Sonya tells me. Anya begins to list off the people they are unable to see: ‘Dad is still there, our grandparents are still there, our best friend who has given birth to a child. They’re all there.’ ‘We have to be doing everything we can until the war stops,’ Sonya adds resolutely: ‘And when it stops we need to raise funds to rebuild everything. This will never stop for us.’
Although, for the most part now, the twins feel Londoners are supportive of Ukraine, this hasn’t always been the case. Years before Putin invaded their country the twins met with the Ukrainian ambassador in the UK to discuss how to improve the country’s reputation among Brits. They say their eastern European accents, which are punctuated with enthusiastic American-sounding ‘so awesome,’ ‘so cool,’ ‘so crazy,’ have made their lives harder in the UK.
‘Now people like it more because everyone is looking at Ukraine as this heroic country. But back then it was this funny accent that doesn’t sound too exotic but you sound like you’re in the Mafia,’ Anya says. Sonya explains how music executives encouraged them to tone down their accents: ‘They said British people wouldn’t like it. If we wanted to be for the UK people we have to sound more like them, that’s what they said.’
Sonya starts to chuckle as she regales me with the wisdom from one exec. ‘He said you’re wasting your time in the UK and if you want to make it, with your look, you should either move to Berlin or move to LA and fuck somebody famous.’ ‘Sonya had a boyfriend at that time so she was like: “Anya has so much potential, she’s single,”’ Anya teases. ‘I think the Ukrainian situation stops them from saying things like that,’ Sonya deadpans. Still, they say many people aren’t supporting their country enough.
‘The Government could’ve done more in the beginning because they were not doing much,’ Sonya says. In the weeks after the invasion only 50 UK visas were given to Ukrainian refugees. Even now the twins think there should be less bureaucracy as it ought to be easier for Ukrainian refugees entering the UK. Sonya explains:
’There’s still not enough information. The Government could make it a little easier on people because it’s scary for them to travel.
They’ve just run away from a war, what do they expect?’
The pair have also been frustrated with their more well-known fellow musicians. Coldplay, Anya says, were silent on the issue for months. ‘You know the video for Trouble In Town? They shot it in Kyiv. What the hell.’ Coldplay has now vocalised their support for Ukraine. Sonya says: ‘It’s nice to see the support but it’d be nice to have got it faster... In the first two months a lot of people died.’
Some of their friends, too, they felt fell short in terms of offering solidarity and comfort: to the extent that Anya created a WhatsApp group to make her feelings known. Weeks after the war started, when they still hadn’t sent messages of support, she told them it wasn’t good enough and that they could no longer be friends. ‘I was a dick, I created a group chat and I said: “You did not ask me how I was doing. When it’s about gossip you’re ready to talk, so bye”.’
Although the twins are identical physically they are very different characters. Sonya, for instance, cringed at the unfriending groupchat. ‘Our personalities are very different. I am very structured, everything is structured. I like my t-shirts coordinated, stuff like that,’ Anya says. ‘I am the opposite,’ Sonya says. They sleep in the same room but as a compromise Sonya has a separate office in their Marylebone apartment that she’s allowed to make as messy as she likes.
As someone who likes order and being in control, Anya found the third day after the invasion in February the hardest. For the first couple of days she plotted out an escape route for her loved ones, factoring in fuel stops on a path still unoccupied by Russian soldiers. But on the third day her family told her they would not leave. ‘I felt hopeless and that’s the hardest thing, when you’re hopeless,’ she says. Instead, they channelled their energy into (successfully) persuading Franz Ferdinand and Sir Bob Geldof to perform at a charity event at The Roundhouse. ‘He was just magical. He was the first person who agreed on the day to perform. He said: “Of course, why wouldn’t I?” And then he messaged us to say: “Thank you so much for having me.”’
In the following months they were dedicating so much of their time to fundraising and campaigning that they nearly ran out of money. So they had to take a break from anti-war campaigning Instagram posts and recommence brand deal ads with Burberry. They apologised to their 120k followers for the incongruity. Anya explains: ‘We even wrote a post like guys I’m sorry you’re going to see a lot of fashion stuff from now one because we have to live.’
The banal demand of life admin is always jarring in the face of tragedy. ‘I call my grandparents. They keep on doing their gardening work. They say what can you do?” As bombs are flying they are like “we’ve still got to water our garden,”’ Sonya says. Anya says they keep asking when they’re coming home but it’s too dangerous for them to return at the moment. ‘I think it feels normal but it’s also scary that it’s normal. Everybody is getting used to how terrible things are in Ukraine.’
As I leave them to set up their charity launch, I’m struck by their focus, tenacity and good humour. I wonder whether they ever give themselves days off and just feel sad. Sonya says of course and starts putting on her sunglasses and wraps her Gussi scarf around her head like Audrey Hepburn. Anya replies: ‘No, that’s not the Ukrainian way.’