Espreso. Global
Interview

Donating not only for drones, but also for prosthetics: how porn star changes public perception of military rehabilitation

21 March, 2024 Thursday
17:41

Recently, the name of Yulia Seniuk, one of the most famous Ukrainian porn actresses (stage name Josephine Jackson), went viral thanks to a charity photo shoot with soldiers who lost their limbs in the war. Society has been divided: the majority admires the actress's social activities, and there are those who do not accept the adult film industry. In any case, as Yulia Seniuk herself says, the point of the photo shoot is not in it, but in drawing public attention to an important issue - the rehabilitation of Ukraine's defenders

Why is there a problem with prosthetics in Ukraine?

The war in Ukraine with Russia has been going on for 10 years, of which more than two years have been full-scale. During this time, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of our citizens (both military and civilians) have suffered varying degrees of injury due to the hostilities. Unfortunately, many Ukrainians have lost their limbs and the only way for them to feel full and capable of various activities again is through prosthetics. In particular, as of the fall of 2023, it is estimated that more than 20,000 Ukrainians need prostheses, and most of these people are military personnel who sacrificed their health to stop the Russian invaders.

What does the state say in response? On paper, everything looks optimistic. The Ministry of Social Policy says that prosthetics in Ukraine is free of charge and every person who needs to be provided with a prosthesis can count on the support of the state. 

"In 2022, prostheses of the upper and lower limbs are provided to military personnel in the amount of more than UAH 64.5 million, in 2023 - in the amount of almost UAH 593.5 million," the department says.

However, reality is actually much more complicated. The price of a quality prosthesis is very high, so the state often cannot independently pay all the costs and the Ukrainians affected by the war are left alone with their problems.

"The cost of a highly functional modular prosthetic leg, which allows you to run, squat, climb stairs - can reach up to UAH 200,000 or more, simpler models cost about UAH 60,000-100,000. The most expensive types of prosthesis are bionic - the cost of such starts from 1 million UAH, " writes the All-Ukrainian Center for Rehabilitation and Prosthetics Health.

That is, we need not hundreds of millions, but tens of billions of hryvnias to provide all Ukrainians with high-quality prostheses. In addition, it is a complex process that takes time to manufacture, install, get used to, and in the end, it requires specialists who also have to get paid for it. Moreover, the prosthesis needs repair and various settings. Accordingly, the state does not have enough funds for all who need prostheses, and in general there are not enough specialists in this field. Therefore, in the network you can find posts about raising funds for prostheses, sending the military abroad for rehabilitation, etc.

Collecting funds for prosthetics is no less important than collecting for drones

Photo: Yuliia Seniuk

Espreso spoke with Yuliia Seniuk (Josephine Jackson) about her social work related to assisting servicemen who have lost limbs.

Yulia, please tell us how you became interested in the topic of military rehabilitation. I know you have been cooperating with the Kyiv Center for Complex Endoprosthetics, Osteointegration, and Bionics for some time now, and recently became their official ambassador. Why did you decide to join the center's work?

I first got acquainted with the center two months ago. My good friend Vadym Bulishev has his own charitable organization that helps the Armed Forces of Ukraine, including delivering vehicles to soldiers, so they collaborate with many volunteers. Vadym has a friend, Dmytro Tkachenko, who works as a rehabilitologist at this center. In fact, they proposed this idea to me - to get acquainted with the center, with the guys, and go to the pool with them, where soldiers who have lost limbs undergo rehabilitation. The atmosphere there is better, more comfortable, and pleasant. Accordingly, it was their initiative to send me to the pool and take photos and videos with the guys there for the center's advertising and the needs of soldiers who need rehabilitation.

At first, like most people, I was very superficially familiar with prosthetics and rehabilitation. Yes, we all know that it should be provided by the state, that there are some foreign aid programs, well, and that's it, the end. Most people don't even understand what it is, how difficult it is, and that there are different types of prosthetics. And there are prosthetics that are not funded by the state. Moreover, there are such complex amputations and prosthetics that are not funded by such well-known organizations as Unbroken or Superhumans. They explained to me that at the Center for Complex Endoprosthetics, Osteointegration, and Bionics, the most complex cases are collected, from which all other well-known rehabilitation centers in Ukraine have refused and have not helped them in any way.

When I started studying this issue, I looked at this situation differently. It became personally important to me. Because you no longer look from afar, but delve into it and understand that not everything there is so simple.

The fact that people are collecting funds for drones is very good, but collecting funds for prosthetics is no less important, and someone also needs to be involved in and highlight this matter.

I've spoken with each of the guys, learned their stories. The conversations deeply touched me and truly resonated with me, so I decided to continue helping them - spreading information about them.

The main thing is to create hype for the rehabilitation center and the guys without limbs. I don't need hype

Photo: Yuliia Seniuk

Actually, some people perceive your activity as hype. What do you think about this, how do you explain your role in the center's work?

Perhaps, some people think that I'm hyping this, but they forget that it's not my initiative, I just got involved in the process. My surroundings inspired me to work in this direction. In fact, we want to hype this center, the needs of these guys, and the issue of prosthetics itself. If we just tell the stories of the soldiers in their name, or on behalf of activists, then there won't be much result because no one talks about it. So my friend wanted to create a resonance with my participation. He said something like, imagine if you are with them and talk about them, then it will start to spread and create a buzz among other people, then many will learn about prosthetics!

The idea is to hype the center, the people rehabilitating there, to draw attention to them through my name. I absolutely don't need hype because I already get it everywhere. Everywhere you look, there are videos of me, various podcasts, and shows. So I'm already everywhere. Plus, I have my own successful work to which I also dedicate time.

So I absolutely don't want to hype about rehabilitation, but I want the rehabilitation center itself to be hyped, and for people with amputations to be more thought of in our society.

I'll say an important thing. After the first interview with me about the center, which was shown on TSN, a 3-minute video, essentially, was dedicated to me. My persona was praised from, elevated to the skies to the point that, honestly, I felt ashamed. It looks like some paid "yellow press" by me. I didn't like this approach. The goal was to talk about the center, but in the end, the news talked about me and my help. When other news companies started to approach me after that, I strongly asked each journalist not to praise my name and not to hype on me. Because if we talk about hype, the only ones who are really hyping are the news and various media. They put my name in the headline and talk about me everywhere when they should actually talk about the center, about prosthetics. That's what I constantly ask for, to mention me minimally and not to exaggerate the situation.

I want to emphasize some misconceptions that circulate on the internet - I don't teach English to the guys during rehabilitation, my friend does, who conducts English courses for them. Also, I'm not a rehabilitologist who conducts physical rehabilitation with them, I don't swim every week.

I just generate publicity through my name, my media presence, and through such an unusual, and for many, immoral profession. In short, I create resonance and develop this topic in society. That's my only purpose at the center.

And as we can see, it works because we're talking about it. As I mentioned earlier, if regular people were covering this topic, I doubt that TSN, BBC, Deutsche Welle, Belsat, and other major news companies would be talking about it, and people wouldn't learn about this center. Thanks to my name, we've gained publicity. I absolutely don't care if someone doesn't like it. Yes, it's hype, but in this case, news resources hype, specifically on my name, to increase their views on websites and channels because they'll write my name in the headline. But what's important to me is to create hype around the center and the issue of prosthetics.

Also read: Can a porn actress help Ukraine's army? Why Josephine Jackson opens Pandora's box

I communicate with the guys as with close friends, we talk about various topics, and they perceive me positively

Photo: Yuliia Seniuk

How do the guys undergoing rehabilitation, whom you've met at the center, react to you? How much do you feel that your communication with them has a positive effect not only regarding fundraising but also on a purely human level, when support is also important?

Each time I come to them, we communicate more openly and freely. I remember our first meeting. At that time, I behaved very shyly and was afraid to actively talk about anything myself. Because I didn't know if they knew me, if they wanted to talk to me, if all these guys wanted me to be in the pool with them? This uncertainty restrained me from freely communicating with them from the beginning. But after the second and third time, changes occurred. The last time we talked, I truly felt that our conversation was now like between close friends. Everyone notices this. Now I communicate freely with them and absolutely don't impose any restrictions. I don't produce pity; we communicate on equal terms. They are not inferior to me in any way. They are physically and mentally fully capable for me.

I know their stories, I'm interested in how their rehabilitation is going, and so on. But we hardly talk about the war, their injuries. I'm not the first to ask about their situation and history. If they want to share, then they start telling first. I never bore them with such questions because I understand that someone who has gone through something similar probably doesn't want to talk about it now. So I talk more about neutral topics, or to cheer them up, I talk about my profession. I know that many are interested in the nuances of my work, and the guys too. Overall, their attitude towards me is such - if not everyone knew from the very beginning who I was, not everyone was aware of my person, then now absolutely everyone treats me positively, and I enjoy talking to them.

How is the fundraising of UAH 1 million progressing?

The fundraising for UAH 1 million is progressing slowly. We have already raised over 40% of the required amount, which is over UAH 400,000. So, we have about UAH 400,000 left to collect. It took us a month and a half to raise these UAH 400,000. I'm trying to involve as many people as possible, but unfortunately, no news coverage, regardless of how big the news resources are, yields results. Very often, the news doesn't even provide a link to the fundraiser or the center, and as I've mentioned before, they focus on my persona. My fundraiser isn't progressing thanks to the news resources, which mostly just exploit the hype for their benefit. The collected funds will be transferred to the Complex Endoprosthetics, Osteointegration and Bionics Center for the prosthetics and rehabilitation of our military personnel.

The idea for the photo shoot belongs to Yulia, but there have been numerous obstacles from the side of the Kyiv theater to implement the planned concept

Photo: Yuliia Seniuk

Let's talk about our latest initiative – the calendar featuring wounded soldiers undergoing rehabilitation in this center. Tell me, where did the idea come from, what's its essence, and was it difficult to implement?

The idea to create such a photo session and release a calendar is my personal initiative. My good friend Olya Pysarenko, who is a makeup artist, and her husband Bohdan Pysarenko, who is a photographer, helped me with this. Bohdan was present during my first visits to the pool, taking professional photos of the guys. So, I came up with the idea to make such an interesting calendar. I reached out to Olya and Bohdan, and they agreed to join. Olya is not only a makeup artist but also organizes various events, so she took on the task of negotiating with the Shevchenko Opera Theater in Kyiv. My initial idea was to do a photo shoot in a ballroom style. I had this picture in my mind. But Olya suggested that we could do it at the theater. And that's how all our difficulties began. Olya found a stylist, found costumes, and negotiated with the theater. Although negotiating with the theater was the most challenging part of this process. From the beginning, the theater told us that we needed to submit a request on behalf of the foundation or organization that takes care of the guys, with an official letterhead. Then send it to the theater director for approval of the date. We did all of this and submitted the application one and a half weeks before the shoot was supposed to take place. We weren't given specific dates, just told to choose any and specify it in the application. We decided it would be March 13, which suited all the guys. So, we wrote and submitted the application.

March 12 came, and we still hadn't received a response, although we were told it would be done in a day or two. We waited for a week and a half, and finally, on the last day, we got the green light. But as it turned out, no one had actually brought our application to the theater director all this time. So, this official to whom we submitted the application essentially put obstacles in our way and dragged it out until the last moment, potentially ruining our shoot. Moreover, we were very limited in time and given only 3 hours. And they allowed us to turn on the lights in the theater for even less time, just 2 hours, because it's a state institution, and they pay for the lights. But most importantly, we weren't allowed to take photos in the main hall, where the stage is and where the audience sits! Even though that was the basis of the idea.

All our photos were supposed to be taken in the theatrical area, where the audience sits and there is a large stage. When we were finally granted permission for the shoot on the last day and went to the theater to check, the theater staff told us that no, we were not allowed to go there. Naturally, this was a big disappointment. So, we were only allowed to take photos in the corridor, that's it. And there was no time to change the location. We had to work with what we had.

Another nuance. They didn't even reserve a parking spot for the bus that brought and took the guys in wheelchairs. Even though we explained the situation that a special medical vehicle would come to bring the guys, and it would be good for us to park the car closer to the theater for just 5 minutes for our convenience. But we were refused, saying that it's our problem, and they have rehearsals scheduled for those days, even though they said this after the fact. In short, there were many obstacles from the theater's side, but nevertheless, we did it.

Photo: Yuliia Seniuk

So, what's the idea behind the photoshoot and this event? We have a lot of material where soldiers and the wounded are shown in their current state, whether it's in military uniform or lying in hospitals or rehabilitation centers. Such photos always evoke sadness. I didn't want this to be conveyed in our photoshoot. I wanted to do the opposite, so that they would look at themselves and feel proud of what they see. To see strong, handsome, brave, elegant, self-sufficient gentlemen with a beautiful woman by their side. Me as the other half. So, I'm not playing Josephine Jackson's role, but portraying the other half who stands behind them. Our photoshoot has a very deep meaning and essence.

I wanted to convey that they are beautiful, brave, wonderful, confident because behind them stands the feminine side – their other half. Symbolically, it could be any woman who didn't leave them, walks with them despite the obstacles, and supports them.

Each photo was carefully thought out with a deep meaning. There will be 12 photos in the calendar. Each photo features a different guy with me, so each photo has one of our heroes, and I am in the shadow next to him. The idea is that I want to be in the shadow, I want to be an unknown woman. And actually, to highlight the guys more. This is another goal – to give visibility and recognition to these heroes, not to me. We plan to include the story of each of these guys in the calendar so that everyone knows who they are and what they've been through, and why they are in this calendar. I really want each of them to be recognized.

When to expect the result of the photoshoot?

At the moment, I can't say for sure. Many things are still under discussion: who will print it, what design, the circulation, the price, whether it's only in Ukraine or worldwide, whether it's a limited edition, and so on. Maybe the calendar will be released in a month, or maybe even sooner. But one thing is certain, all the funds collected will be transferred to the center and their needs.

Attitude towards hate – not worth attention

Photo: Yuliia Seniuk

As always, there are people online who positively evaluate all your social initiatives, but there are also those who don't accept them because they view you through the lens of your profession. How do you react to criticism directed towards you? Does it affect your motivation?

In the world, there are always those who are "for" and those who are "against." There will never be one opinion or view on certain things. But I believe that the main thing is proportions. That is, you need to look at the proportions of who is more "for" and who is "against." Still, I feel and see that our society has certain positive changes in perception of my profession. Compared to what it was like at the beginning five years ago, it's indescribable how much mental changes have taken place, people's worldview expands, and in my opinion, it's positive.

Speaking of hate directed towards me, I take it absolutely fine.

I don't think it's worth my special attention, the opinion of these people in the comments, because most of these individuals have private profiles, zero accounts, and just try to shout out their opinion everywhere while hiding their own lives. So I don't consider it something serious. If a person has any real grievances towards someone else and wants to express it, then they will address it directly. But none of the haters who write their reproaches in the comments wrote to me about it personally in private messages. And in general, I don't see the point of taking seriously the opinions of strangers from the internet who don't show their lives, when you know nothing about them, and they love to criticize, point fingers, insult. You won't learn much from them because they don't feel any responsibility for what they say. What's the point of listening to the words of those who don't take responsibility for what they say? Instead, I listen to those who can tell me directly what they think. And these people are for me, they support me. People I personally know and communicate with, they have a positive attitude towards me, give compliments, say that I'm doing everything right. And these are media personalities who have achieved something in life. They don't hide behind empty accounts. I think it's worth listening to such people. Their opinion really matters.

My main lesson from all of this is this – people only talk about you when you're not nobody. If they talk about you, it means you're doing something significant in life, something that touches other people and makes them discuss it, ask questions, think. So I think it's good.

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