Oksana Schelling is a make-up artist who with her son was forced to flee Ukraine when Russia invaded. She talks to Mary McCarthy about growing up in Donbas, how eight-year-old Matvey is making friends and the similarities between Irish and Ukrainian women
What I would wish for in life would have been different four months ago, but now I only want peace in my country and peace in the whole world. My second wish is a happy and long life for my child Matvey (aged eight).
Today he is fine, his English improves and he has friends in his class. He is asking me once every few weeks when we go back to Ukraine. When we first arrived, every day he would ask.
Today my sister lives in Russia, my mother and other brother live in Ukraine. I don’t know when I will see them again, my younger brother will be married this September in Russia. They invited us for the wedding, but I’m not sure if I am ready to go to Russia. Maybe later we will go to visit them.
I am very glad girls in Ireland love to do make-up, they want to be beautiful and want to have their make-up done by a pro.
But from the other side, it’s not so easy to make connections with people, to show that you are a good make-up artist and want to be their artist.
My working day is hard to describe because it changes everyday and can start very early if I am working on a shoot – around 3-4am – and run very late in the evening, around 9-10pm.
Usually I work Friday and Saturday doing individual make-up sessions and I start early, around 7am. I don’t do many weddings as these are booked a year in advance but I often do make-up for the guests and there are many weddings, not just at weekends, I could easily have an appointment Monday morning.
Ukrainian women like to do nice make-up to go to parties, to go on dates. They want the total look and Irish women are like this too.
They want their make-up done for all sorts of reasons. For work events or if they are going to a wedding. I also work in Oslo beauty salon once a week and recently had a woman there who wanted her make-up done for finalising her divorce papers.
After Covid I think people changed their opinion on life. Things they felt were unnecessary, like getting their make-up done, they had not done this before and they decided they would like to do this now. And why not?
I grew up in a small town in the Donbas area in Ukraine. I had a tough childhood because in my family there were three kids beside me and I was the eldest. That time was hard in Ukraine – in the early years of the independence from the USSR there was high unemployment, and a shortage of consumer goods – many foodstuffs, clothing, and household items.
When I finished school I was glad to leave that small city, because I felt like something big and interesting was waiting for me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I had a lot of enthusiasm and went to a much bigger city, Luhansk, and enrolled in a lyceum.
Along with studying at the lyceum, I worked as a waitress in a cafe. Having studied for two years, I got an education as a designer-tailor. I never worked in that sphere, because companies and ateliers there wanted only a tailor, not a designer.
I liked to design, to do some sketches but I did not like factories – they asked me to attach pockets all day to a jacket. I did this for half a year and then I decided to become a make-up artist during my maternity leave with Matvey.
Because I wanted to spend time with my baby I decided to be self-employed and work to my schedule.
When my son was one year old I finished my pro make-up courses. It was two weeks of intensive education from morning till evening. It’s been hard work but very interesting and has made me very happy with my small success.
In 2014 a war started in the east of Ukraine and my son and I relocated to Kyiv. We were one of the last families who left our big apartment block, where about 60-70 families lived, because I didn’t believe the war would last long.
But when the war started in Ukraine on February 24 I didn’t want to stay in a dangerous area any longer. It was very hard for me to leave, especially when everything had become so nice and settled for us. But I was saving my son from all that hell.
Our trip to Ireland happened thanks to my friend Sergey. He knew a good man and journalist from Ireland, Johnny O’Reilly. And when we left Ukraine on the second day of the war, and were still in Poland, Johnny offered us help in Ireland. We received a lot of support from local people. Sile and Brendan McVeigh, Angie Gough, Christina Hurley and many others with big hearts.
If I didn’t know that so many kind people and so much support were waiting for us here, most likely that I would not have flown so far from Ukraine, but the war decided everything for us
We are so very lucky to have so many kind people around. Thank God.
At the moment I am working on a job for Riot games. They are broadcasting video games to Singapore so it’s working during the night because of the different time zones. For me it’s strange as I do not understand so much about video games. There are four men and one woman – they play for six hours straight. The men who are from Cyprus and the UK need just powder so they are not shiny and the woman from Malaysia needs her make-up done.
I got the job as I had met the PR manager for Riot games. Thankfully Sile and Brendan, my host family, can keep an eye on Matvey and he can call me any time.
I am lucky to have had many interesting projects with my job. The key one was working at the Cannes film festival this year with an Ukrainian influencer Jenny Gordienko. She was nominated for an influencer Oscar and won.
I got to know an organiser of fashion shows and was supposed to go work at Milan fashion week earlier this year but then the war started and there were more important things in my life. I contacted her recently and she invited me to Paris fashion week this September for a job.
I like my work as I like working with people. The worst experience with my job? That has not happened yet and I hope it won’t.