War and Sanctions Hit Ukrainian and Russian Editions of U.S. Glossies
International editions of Condé Nast and Hearst Magazines titles like Vogue Ukraine and Marie Claire Russia face an uncertain future
Last Thursday, Marina Shulikina, a web editor at Vogue Ukraine, woke at 5 a.m. in Kyiv to the sounds of Russia’s invasion of her country. Her thoughts quickly turned to work. On a typical day, Vogue Ukraine’s staff starts work around 10 a.m., but with bombs beginning to fall on her city, this day was utterly abnormal. “I wasn’t sure what we were going to do. It was obvious we cannot write about fashion and any related events anymore because nobody cares about it here at this point,” she said. They had articles scheduled to run on the site, but those felt immediately irrelevant. “It was a very long five hours figuring out what we were going to do next, in terms of work, in terms of staying in the city or leaving it. I just texted my editor-in-chief and she said that what we are up for right now is basically covering all of the events regarding the war. Now all we’re writing about is how you can help the army, how you can help people who’ve been displaced, and providing all the needed information that can help people in Ukraine.”
Vogue Ukraine, which launched in 2013, is one of the 25 international editions of Condé Nast’s iconic fashion title and, according to its media kit, has a print circulation of 111,000. It published its February-March issue shortly before the invasion. The next scheduled issue is the Vogue Man Ukraine edition, due out on March 14, but now the staff is unsure when their work will appear in print again. “At this point, it may come out, but probably in a PDF version,” Shulikina said. “I don’t think it’s going to be in print.”
In grim surroundings, Vogue Ukraine’s staff has endeavored to lift morale and have been emboldened by a new sense of purpose. “It’s definitely frightening and scary in this kind of situation, but we’re all journalists and we’re all super devoted to our work. All of us kind of used our jobs to get actually distracted from the war,” Shulikina said. “We try to focus mostly on good vibes kind of stuff, which can encourage people and give them hope. It’s hard and stressful to read all day news about death, bombing, and all kinds of crap that is going on here, so we try to give something good, as good as possible.” Sometimes that dynamic played out in real-time. “Some of my colleagues and me when we were leaving Kyiv, we were writing articles on the road,” she said. “Some of my colleagues who stayed in Kyiv wrote articles from underground in shelters.”
Since the invasion, Vogue Ukraine has told stories of how the fashion industry has responded to the war and advocated for ways it can do so better. On Monday, they published an article about the Armani show in Milan, which was conducted in silence as a tribute to Ukraine, and another about the statement of support for their country from the President of France’s Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode. On Tuesday, they called for an embargo on fashion exports to Russia. But Vogue Ukraine isn’t just cheering on and advocating for their country from the sidelines with staffers joining efforts to build barricades and ferry food and clothes to soldiers. “Pretty much everyone has been involved,” said Shulikina. “The great thing is that now we’ve been all so united as a nation, as a people.”
International editions of American publications have faced different challenges across the border in Russia, where denizens, magazine makers among them, are suffering the consequences of their government’s unconscionable attack on its neighbor. Western sanctions have sent the Russian economy into a tailspin. Inflation skyrocketed, dropping the value of the ruble below a cent. The Moscow Exchange halted trading until March 5. Russia has been shut off from the global economy. Visa and Mastercard have booted multiple Russian banks from their services. Even the shipping giant Maersk said it would no longer deliver containers to and from Russia. Apple stopped selling its consumer electronics there. On the media front, Disney, Warner Bros., and Sony decided not to release films in Russia. Significantly for Russian magazines, the advertising industry has also dried up. “We are going into a crisis that we have never experienced before,” one ad services company owner, who handled contracts for Pepsi and Volkswagen, told The Guardian. With those brands pulling out of the Russian market and his business’s outlook grim, the unnamed ad exec said he was leaving the country and taking his wife and children to Armenia. “It’s like flying on a plane with no engines or the engines are on fire.”
The publishers of Russian editions of American glossies are just as unsure of their future. Marie Claire Russia publisher Alena Tkach told The Fine Print, “We even cannot see now the whole range of the consequences and we are in a forecasting process.” She said the magazine, which is published by Hearst Shkulev Media, which also publishes Russian editions of Elle, Maxim, and Departures, closed its most recent issue on February 24, the day of the Ukraine invasion, but she is unsure how sanctions will affect the production of subsequent issues. “We understand that the effect will be very serious, but our business is connected with many different aspects: imported paper, advertising market, and consumer consumption.” While avoiding the words “war” and “invasion” and stopping short of claiming a side in the conflict, Tkach spoke against the bloodshed in Ukraine. “At the moment our community is confident in only one thing,” she said, “we are strongly against military operations and call for an early cessation of the military operation and the start of the negotiations process for resolving the conflict.”
Neither Hearst nor Condé Nast responded to requests for comment on whether their companies’ relationships with their Russian editions would be changed because of the sanctions.
Michael Idov was editor of GQ Russia when Russia invaded Crimea in late February 2014, kicking off the conflict that entered its most horrific phase so far last week. The moral contours of the situation were clear to him from the start. “I didn’t give a shit about ad sales,” he told The Fine Print. “I quit almost immediately (by April) and moved to Berlin.” Now he’s living in Los Angeles and wondering how the new sanctions will affect the company. “Is there a Russian Condé Nast still,” he tweeted on Tuesday, “and if yes, why?” None of the current editors-in-chief of Condé Nast Russia titles have posted on their personal Instagrams since the start of the invasion, but none have publicly resigned either. The Vogue Cafe in Moscow, one of several magazine-themed restaurants across the world that the magazine publisher has licensed, appears to have shut down in early 2021.
Condé Nast’s efforts to bring its international editions closer together recently have meant that Vogue Ukraine’s staff has been in closer touch with other international editions. After the invasion started, their international colleagues began checking in. “It’s nice to see that our colleagues from all over the globe are supporting us at this dark time,” Shulikina said. “They are trying to reach out and asking how our team is doing and, on behalf of our team, we’re telling the story of what is going on in Ukraine and sharing our own stories.” The exception has been Vogue Russia. “In my personal opinion, not speaking for Vogue Ukraine, they’re not doing enough,” Shulikina said. “They posted the cover of Vogue in 1945, which was fine, and now basically all they’re doing is writing about Fashion Week and trends and culture and all that stuff that we were writing about when it was a nice time. They’re writing about how you can handle the stress, how you can handle panic attacks. In my opinion, it’s not enough, and it’s kind of hypocritical.”
On Sunday, Shulikina left Kyiv for her hometown of Vinnytsia. Her father had joined the army, leaving her mother alone, so she headed home to be with her in the relative calm of the western portion of the country. “It’s pretty much okay, compared to Kharkiv or the cities where the troops are bombing,” she said. But even there, the unrelenting stress of the war persists. “Everyday it seems like it’s just a bad dream and you’re going to wake up and it’s all over. But the more days go by, the more we understand that it’s reality and we have to cope with it and we have to do anything and everything to help our country and help each other,” she said. There are sirens 24/7 in Vinnytsia, and the current reality is so overwhelming that dreams of a normal future have been occluded. “Hopefully it will all end super soon,” Shulikina said, “but honestly, I can’t really imagine what life is going to be after all of it is over.”