“This is a War Between Russia and the United States. It Just Happens to be on Ukrainian Soil.”
Russian Model Kira Dikhtyar on Being Forced to Choose Sides Between the U.S. and Russia
The last time I published a newsletter that quoted Russian supermodel Kira Dikhtyar, she was in New York. The war with Ukraine had just begun, and Dikhtyar found herself suddenly unable to get any work—no matter that she had dual citizenship. (She forwarded me an email from a New York modeling agent stating that they were no longer representing Russian models.) When we spoke first, she told me that she had many friends and relatives in Ukraine and that she was close friends with Ukrainian models also in New York.
But that was then.
Since then, on April 26, Dikhtyar returned to Moscow, where her son lives—a journey that was both stressful and complicated. She told me she was held for hours at the Russian border on account of her dual citizenship and faulty spelling on her documents. In our Q&A below, she explains that she began to feel that “this is a war was between Russia and [the] United States. It just happens to be on Ukrainian soil” and that therefore she was forced to choose sides. It was the discrimination she received by the United States, she says, that made it impossible for her not to choose Russia. The first signal she gave that she had chosen was to post a photograph on Instagram of herself kissing her son, whose head was newly-shaved with the Z sign clearly visible above his left ear.
What follows is from a series of conversations with Dikhtyar over several days. They have been edited and condensed for clarity.
WARD: So the Z sign on your son’s head? It was a signal?
DIKHTYAR: Yes. It’s the Russian symbol painted on the Russian tanks. You can see it on Russian officials. So let me use my words carefully because I want to protect myself in Russia. When the “special military operation to protect Donbas and Luhansk” began in Ukraine (that’s the way we are supposed to describe events in Ukraine), I began to get phobic about being in New York. I experienced so much discrimination, and then I got a “message” from influential people in Russia to come home.
In order for me to reply—because it's all getting tracked in Russia—I posted that photograph.
(Photo Courtesy of Kira Dikhtyar)
WARD: You posted that as a signal you wanted to get back in?
DIKHTYAR: Well, this was [a] clear message: Get me in. I'm on board. It was a very clear message. It showed the Russians I accepted the Russian side, that I understood I had to pick sides. It's a very horrible decision for me to have to make, but I had no choice. I had received an email from my local congressperson saying, “I stand with Ukraine,” which I found threatening. I felt like saying, “Fuck you. You’re not letting me work.” The sanctioning by the U.S. politicians means that the best people who represent Russia—whether in opera, music, athletics—they all have no choice but to run to Putin. Because if the U.S. doesn’t give you jobs in America—the America I had always believed was based around immigration—where else can you go?
So by posting this [photograph of my son and me], I let my Russian friends and Instagram followers or people who can give me [a] job see that I accept the challenge to help Russia and to be on [the] Russian side during the special military operation.
WARD: But then your passport got stolen.
DIKHTYAR: Yes. I had everything ready to go to Belgrade and from there to Moscow. I had my passports, vaccination card, credit card, and New York State ID. And I was sleeping like a log, and then I woke up and it was all gone. I was in a hotel. It was taken from my purse. I don’t know who took it, but I did wonder if someone did not want me to get back to Moscow.
WARD: You told me the New York police sent you to the Russian Consulate in New York.
DIKHTYAR: Yes. I got new papers, but my last name was misspelled, and, as a result, I got detained for four hours in Moscow.
WARD: Why did they hold you up there?
DIKHTYAR: Just policy. All Americans have to be questioned. My name was spelled wrong, so it looked suspicious.
WARD: Because of this, they made you swear allegiance to Putin again, right?
WARD: But now you’ve been back in Moscow a few weeks. What do you feel now about the cultural differences between the U.S. and Russia that we journalists in the U.S. may not have reported?
DIKHTYAR: [The] history of Russia—it's all about pain and sorrow. The Russians I know and speak to don’t care how many people died or who are dying. They really don't care about pain and sorrow. Look at the military parade. It's all about Russia and the Russian people. Whereas the United States cares about the quality of life, how much money you make, in Russia, the values are completely different. We care about Russia. We don’t care that Bono came to sing in Kyiv [for May 9th]. We thought it was funny. We don’t care about small influence from the West… We have a much bigger parade [of our own] and our own culture and our own language.
WARD: You told me that you are now part of Russia’s new burgeoning clothing industry, right? Before this, there was none.
DIKHTYAR: Yes. I’m handing over my expensive designer dresses, and seamstresses copy them and they sew a Z inside the copies.
So what Putin has said is basically we have to stimulate our economy and have Russian national brands. And so we need to make cheap, accessible dresses, and [the] government will invest, and they are investing.
WARD: You have a red dress that was given to you for a shoot, right?
DIKHTYAR: It was a red Miu Miu dress I wore for the World Cup in 2018.
(Photo Courtesy of Kira Dikhtyar)
WARD: So what did you do with the dress?
DIKHTYAR: I gave this dress and few others like Chanel—a few expensive dresses. They were copied in two factories. And then, by [the] next morning, you have like thousands of red dresses. You know what I mean?
WARD: And how much do they sell for?
WARD: And do you think the sanctions are making a difference?
DIKHTYAR: Are they making [a] difference so far? They may be the best thing that happened to Russia because, in th[is] economy, a small business [is] getting lot of support from [the] Kremlin. The economy is not suffering. First, look that the ruble has bounced back. It’s much stronger now than it was before the invasion. Second, we have all sorts of natural resources. The only industries who have pulled out that we didn’t have ourselves are the clothing industry and fast food like McDonalds. But that has just stimulated the Russian economy in those areas. Ironically, we became more self-sufficient back in 201 [with] the first sanctions on Russia. We laughed because the lack of French cheese, for example, made us dependent on our own agriculture. We are very self-sufficient.
WARD: What do people think of Putin's illness?
DIKHTYAR: He’s fine. We’ve seen videos of him riding, swimming. Basically, the Russian people are not worried. They think he's absolutely fine.
WARD: And then the other thing I wanted to ask you: there have been reports over the weekend that say generals are splitting because they think Ukraine could win. Are you reading any of that?
DIKHTYAR: No, they're not going to show that in Russia for sure.
WARD: Are they saying on Russian TV that Russia is winning the war?
DIKHTYAR: Well, that's how they present it. Yes.
WARD: I’d like to see what they're saying.
DIKHTYAR: It's interesting to watch and absorb and what's going on from both sides. This is a war between Russia and [the] United States. It just happens to be on Ukrainian soil.