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Iryna is a Ukrainian of Tanzanian descent from Kherson, a model, a lawyer who is passionate about creativity, and an introvert who is constantly in the spotlight. 

However, this is not a complete image, but only the details of the portrait. 

«I can't stand the question 'who are you?'» — Iryna laughs.

So she told us about self-acceptance, admiration of other people and trusting one's own decisions.

4 September, 2023

Picture by Anna Green


I was born in Kherson region, in little town. Right from my earliest days, my appearance set me apart and garnered me extra attention.  But that was okay for me. I attribute this acceptance to my mother, who instilled in me the belief that it was a positive thing. Thus, I grasped my distinctiveness at a young age and even regarded it as something quite remarkable – my uniqueness!

Introductions were rarely necessary on my part; people naturally gravitated towards me wherever I went. I didn't have to make any effort to stand out; it was a given. Even today, when I venture out, I carry with me the assurance that I will leave a lasting impression.

There's a flip side to this! I remember I wanted to go somewhere in my childhood, but in a way that my mom wouldn't know about it... Evening, winter, my friend and I are walking alone in a not-so-safe and dimly lit part of the city. Of course, someone familiar definitely noticed me and immediately told my mom. So, being conspicuous has its downsides too (laughs).


Vitiligo started appearing when I was 14. It was a time when I was vacationing by the Black Sea and noticed light patches on my body, but I thought they'd vanish on their own. Back then, there was hardly any information available about vitiligo. Even medical professionals often said there was no cure.

 Furthermore, sometimes the incompetence reaches absurd levels. Once, a dermatologist told me to go to an ENT doctor, and that specialist recommended removing completely healthy – as I found out later! — tonsils as a treatment.

 I remember finding a forum where people with vitiligo shared their experiences. I spent a lot of time reading there! Some stories were distressing: harsh comments from passersby on the street, tactlessness, hurtful remarks. Fortunately, I hadn't experienced that kind of treatment.  People would approach me on the street, but usually with «good intentions»: they would suggest herbal infusions, shared contacts of «those who can definitely help», talk about some folk healers or curers that their acquaintances in the same situation had approached.

But wait, there's more!  I experimented with numerous alternative remedies. I tried everything from seaweed compresses to chili pepper concoctions and even drank wormwood. There seemed to be a multitude of folk remedies out there. I soon learned that nearly everyone dealing with vitiligo had dabbled in these methods.

By the way, the taste of wormwood is something you won't forget in a hurry (laughs).

There's no single method that can cure vitiligo 100%, even at this time. There are various types of supportive procedures. Procedures bring results, but it doesn't help everyone. Its short-term solutions usually. 



Picture by Anna Green



The fact that  I received heightened attention due to my appearance from childhood played a significant role in my self-acceptance. So, with the vitiligo, nothing changed. I got used to feeling the gaze of others on me. It has always been that way.

There's this funny memory I have. I once felt sadness, thinking I couldn't pursue a career as a TV presenter. Truth be told, I had never had such ambitions, but the idea that this path was no longer open to me was oddly disheartening.

 However, I had to take an express course in self-acceptance because I have noticeable vitiligo. The choice was this: either I don't leave the house without several hours of makeup (and I couldn't even find makeup that matches my skin tone!), or I accept myself and confidently go outside. I chose the second one.

I think it would have been easier if society were more informed. I feel joy that we are moving in that direction. Once, I was on a bus, and an eight-year-old girl said, «I know that woman has it. It's vitiligo. Many models have it now». And I heard from another, «My friend has it too». The main thing for people is just knowing that it's not frightening.


My sense of belonging to the community of people with vitiligo emerged relatively recently. Previously, such thoughts never crossed my mind. I considered vitiligo like something temporary, and my attitude was that of an ailment that would eventually fade away.

 Photographers began actively inviting me for photoshoots several years ago. It seemed strange, and I had no desire for it. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a try as an experiment.

 I started seeing my photographs in various communities of people with vitiligo or on Instagram pages.

I was going to the page when they tagged my profile. To be honest, what I saw there had a profound impact on me. I saw how many people there were just like me. All of them were different, all of them were beautiful. That's when the sense of belonging started to form. The frantic search for «how to cure it» methods subsided.

 Yes, when you see the statistics that 1-2% of the world's population has vitiligo, of course, you understand that for 8 billion people, it's a significant number. However, those are just numbers in your head. Seeing the faces behind those numbers truly helped with acceptance.


I identify myself as a Ukrainian of Tanzanian descent. My mother is from Kherson, and my grandmother is from Chernihiv. 

I began to delve more into my family background since the start of the war. It was interesting to learn more about my grandfather's lineage, as there is hardly any information about him. The last thing I found was archived data on a German website, where his last name appeared: Besashchuk. I also found relatives' last names in archives in Spain, Canada, and America. I believe they emigrated, but I don't know the reasons because those dates weren't tied to political processes in Ukraine at that time.

My father is from Tanzania. I don't communicate with him or his family. He's still a part of me even though my father didn't play a role in my life. I resemble him, at least half of me does.

I'm considering visiting the place where he comes from. That would be wonderful if there's an opportunity to connect with family there. So first, I need to gather strength and do it. I know that time will come.


Iryna with son by Kateryna Kriuchkova


My home is the place where I was born and raised. This home remains the dearest to me, even though I haven't lived there for 13 years.

Home is a feeling of peace and belonging, a place where people welcome you with open arms and eagerly await your return. I was at home just a few days before the full-scale war broke out. I had come with my husband and son, but we had to leave on the 20th of February.

Thinking about how things are there now is painful and difficult. Everything has changed, not only due to shelling but also because of the explosion of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Station, which was nearby. Even the landscape is absolutely different from what I remember.

I hope that everything will be restored and safe. Going back home is something I deeply desire.

By Oksana Hrushanska and Olha Lukoje

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