Jeanne Damas likes to remind us: Rouje is about women. Paths intertwined, inspiring encounters, ideas that linger. Throughout these portraits, she gives a voice to some feminine figures whose stories resonate with her.
First and foremost, can you introduce yourself? Name, age, where do you come from?
My name is Valeriia, I’m 27 years old, I come from Ukraine, Kyiv.
For how long have you been a florist? Would you say it was a calling?
I have been a florist for 7 years. I don’t know if this is a calling, but I know for sure that I can’t live without flowers. To me, flowers are like what paint is to an artist.
What’s your favorite aspect of flowers?
What inspires me most about flowers is their color. I like to mix colors in such a way that it evokes emotions and associations not only with flowers.
I've seen that you have a studio and shop in Kyiv, can you tell me about the story of this place and the neighborhood?
My studio in Kyiv used to be a garage. One of my good friends, who is also a client, suggested converting the space into a workshop. We did the renovation with our own hands, inserted windows to make it look like a store, but at the same time kept the authentic gates. We painted the walls white, added a mirror and a big table on wheels.
I love minimal spaces so that the emphasis can remain on the flowers.
The garage is located in a courtyard on Reitarska street, an area I really love as it is filled with creative people and many cool places with delicious food. I think this is the perfect environment for my studio.
You left Ukraine a few days after the war broke. Can you explain to us how you arrived in France?
I spent the first week of the war in Kyiv and spent the night in bomb shelters. No one was ready for the war, so the bomb shelters were old and not adapted.
A few days into the conflict, we decided we should leave for a safer place. I had no idea where to go, but I decided to go to France as I dreamed of living there for some time before the war. I took my mother and my dog, a small backpack with only the bare minimum. We got into the car and drove the furthest I have ever driven. Fun fact: I’m a very recent driver having passed my license 2.5 months.ago.
We drove through Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany and finally arrived in France. In Paris, we were welcomed by Victoria and her family. It’s peculiar because before the war we did not know each other, but now it seems that we are a real family.
Was it your first time in Paris? Or have you been here before?
I’ve been to Paris thrice before the war. Funnily enough, I was there on the 22nd of February, two days before the beginning of the conflict.
How did you get back to work, once you arrived?
When I arrived in Paris, I immediately thought that I wanted to continue to work with flowers, but it turned out to be difficult to source them in France, or rather impossible without special documents. Over time, I met with local florists who helped me buy flowers, told me the procedure and how it all happens. I am very grateful that they took the time to do this.
Did you get a feeling of solidarity amongst the florist community? In France or internationally?
I definitely do! Thanks to the florist community, I found a place to stay, met new people, and found clients. Florists from all over the world helped me, offered work and places to relocate to. The solidarity is just amazing.
Do Paris and Kyiv have points in common? And what differs?
I noticed that there are a lot of chestnuts in Paris, just as in Kyiv. The chestnut tree is often used as a symbol of Kyiv. Another similarity is traffic jams, there are a lot of them in Paris and in Kyiv.
In Kyiv all people are hustling and working hard, while in Paris people seem to work less, socialize more and do a lot of sports. Life seems less stressful here.
I cannot imagine what it must be like to be away from my city, my friends and my business in these conditions. How are things like at the moment in Kyiv? Is your Studio still running?
Kyiv is slowly going back to a new routine. Many businesses have resumed work and help volunteers. Many restaurants prepare meals for refugees and help the volunteers financially. Work at my studio has also resumed. I am glad that people need flowers even during the war. But I can’t say that this new routine is a good one. Most people work in order to survive and keep their business, and not to thrive. Daily in Kyiv, the air raid sirens play out on the streets, which means that there is a possibility of a missile strike. When that happens everyone needs to hide in shelters. It's not what one can call a normal life.
Do you have any message you wish to share regarding your story and the situation in Ukraine?
I wanted to say that I feel extremely fortunate. I have a place to live, and the opportunity to continue my work, unlike many Ukrainians whose houses have been destroyed and have nowhere to return and call home anymore. Many families have been torn with the loss of relatives. These are terrible things that we wouldn’t put past happening to anyone in Ukraine at the moment. While I’m here I want to help, at least financially and ask everyone who has the opportunity to do so, to help in any possible way.
The story of Valeriia is unique and doesn't reflect on what happened or still happens to the 5 millions of Ukrainian people who had to leave their home in the past few months. To keep informed of what’s happening there, you can get updated on the New York Times' live. If you wish to help, you can donate to local NGOs.
Rouje invites Valeria and her floral studio, Attempt, every Saturday this June. Discover her unique bouquets on Bachaumont street. 30% of the profits will be donated to Ukrainian associations.
Rendez-vous sur @attepmt
Photos par Jeanne Damas
Video par Nicole Lily Rose