How a make-up artist fleeing Ukraine achieved her dream at the Cannes Film Festival

Ukrainian make-up artist Aliona Antonova had no idea when she fled her hometown on the morning of the Russian invasion that she would soon find herself among the stars of the biggest film festival in the world.

Antonova’s made-for-Hollywood odyssey in Cannes began at dawn on February 24, with the first bombs going off in Odessa, not far from her beauty salon and make-up school.

Now the 31-year-old single mother finds herself doing cosmetics for guests bound for the red carpet at the city’s much-vaunted film festival.

“I believe in my destiny,” she said.

“When I decided to come here, I didn’t know: would I have clients here or students? But I just knew that I had to come here.”

‘In a state of shock’

Antonova’s story began on that scary morning three months ago.

“One day before the war started, I was arguing with my uncle because he told me that the war was going to start soon. I didn’t believe him but I fell asleep and felt something unusual – it was fear,” she said.

The next morning at 6 a.m., her brother woke her up with the news, telling her to prepare to flee the country.

“I called a cab to check my living room and I heard a bomb and I was in shock,” she said.

Although she hated leaving her home, her employees, and her beloved city, her quick escape to Moldova proved to be a wise move given the massive queues that soon appeared at the border.

Luckily, her four-year-old son Micha was already with his parents in the Moldovan capital Chisinau for a family celebration.

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Harnessing the power of her 72,000 Instagram followers, she quickly landed work in Western European countries that had opened their borders to Ukrainians, doing makeovers and tutorials in cities like Brussels and Berlin.

Even back in Odessa, she had once set her sights on Cannes because “all the stars are usually in America but it’s very far – it’s the closest place with so many stars” to somewhere in that time.

She contacted local beauty salons and the first one she wrote to offered her a place as a freelancer during the festival.

“I was in shock because it was so easy,” she said. “So easy that until the date of coming here, I didn’t believe it would be true.”

Since she settled down, she has been doing good business, with the protagonists of the Netflix documentary The Tinder scammer among his favorite Cannes clients. “They were so fun! »

‘How brave’

Stargazing on Cannes’ famous La Croisette seaside promenade, she’s already spotted Julia Roberts and Anne Hathaway, as well as Brazilian model and actress Adriana Lima.

Antonova doesn’t tell people she’s Ukrainian because she doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her unless they ask.

“All the people who know I’m from Ukraine support me. They always ask, ‘How are you? How is your family?’ It’s very nice,” she said.

Charging up to 300 euros (RM1,415) per person for evening makeup and seeking investors for her own cosmetics line, she hopes to soon bring Micha and her mother to Cannes to join her.

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As for what the future will bring, Antonova holds back tears, admitting that anxiety sometimes gets the better of her.

“I think the whole world is surprised at the courage of our people,” she said.

“I hope it will end very soon. But anyway when the war is over, it will be very difficult for our people to (rebuild) everything.

“No one knows what will happen tomorrow. Now I’m on my way but I want to feel light. I try to be optimistic.” -AFP

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