Yuliya Kusher, CEO of Meylor Global, a lab-grown diamond company based in Kyiv, Ukraine, admits that people there didn’t take the prospect of war all that seriously at first.
“People in the U.S. said, ‘Are you worried?’ ” she says. “We just thought Putin would never do it. Now, everybody from Ukraine reads the news from America.”
On Feb. 24, when the Russian invasion started, she left the country with her children and is now in the United States. But she still has family and acquaintances in the country, including the 100 workers in her company’s diamond-growing facility, which has so far remained intact, even if buildings near it have been destroyed.
Her factory initially closed, but now it’s manufacturing again, though some of its workers have left to fight in the army.
“We are still trying to support the economy of the Ukraine, pay the salaries, pay taxes,” Kusher says.
It’s now routine for the workers day to be interrupted by constant air raids.
“Every two hours or so, they go to the shelters,” she says. “No one knows when the bombs will come.”
She feels the world overestimated Russia and underestimated how fiercely the Ukrainians would fight for their homeland.
“A lot of people just thought that the Russians would win. But they saw the Ukrainians were really fighting and winning, and the world decided to support Ukraine. Ukraine has become a symbol of freedom throughout the world.
“People say, ‘We are not afraid to give our lives for freedom. We have no choice. We have to fight.’ I have people tell me, ‘I’m not afraid to die.’ That is the worst part, to hear people say that.”
It was the pictures of atrocities from Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, that prompted her to speak out.
“It’s awful,” she says. “We were ready for war, but we weren’t ready for that kind of behavior from Russian soldiers, reminiscent of the Second World War.”
She says the mood is very “up and down.… One day, you think we are going to win and then you see the pictures of those children [from Bucha] and you have to be prepared that the war will last longer, and you feel so frustrated. It’s going to be very very hard, like World War II.”
Kusher knows Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy from her days working in television.
“If he really wants something, I know that he will try to get it,” she says. “I know that he loves Ukraine, and he wants his children to live in Ukraine—but a free and prosperous Ukraine.”
She agrees that the industry should not buy Russian diamonds.
“Russia should not be allowed to have any kind of business,” she says. “These people who are doing business with them, it just allows them to buy more weapons.”
The company has also created a line of blue and yellow grown diamonds, symbolizing Ukrainian freedom, with proceeds going to local Ukraine relief organizations.
Top: A building in Kyiv, Ukraine, near Meylor Global’s that was bombed (photos courtesy of Yuliya Kusher)Follow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
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