I feel weird about fire. It made me disabled. It also took my dad away.
I was one year old, when he was building a holiday home in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, and it caught fire. My dad helped two people out of the house, went to get the third one and never returned.
The year 2004, I am four years old. I am home alone, my mum went shopping, but was probably held up by her drinking companion. There’s no electricity as it was cut off due to non-payment. It’s dark in the house, I try to light a candle — and suddenly my clothes catch fire and so does my skin. Both my skin and clothes were peeled from me later by the doctors. And then — intensive care, 2 months of coma due to aftershock, and endless surgeries later, skin transplantation, blood transfusion… They couldn’t save the breasts, though. 45% of my body was one huge burn.
I will never come back to my native city (Komsomolsk-on-Amur). That city is full of tragedies for me, I never feel safe there. Half of the citizens are ex-prisoners. In my neighbourhood the girls were raped so often, they even stopped going to the police. It was — for lack of a better word — mundane. All the neighbours knew my mother was beating me — no one ever did anything. They probably thought something like: “This woman is mental; she could do something to the gas supply and blow us all up.” So, they stayed quiet.
My mother was heartbroken. My dad was her one and only. She started drinking, and then changed vodka for ethanol. She also came from battery to murder attempts. She tried to get me drowned, strangled me, cut me — all these followed by her “I gave you this life, I will take it then “. Once she got angry with me for asking to go for a walk, and she threw a knife in me — the blade came through my cheek, crushed my teeth, nearly got the brain. This face scar is a cute reminder.
I would often run away from home. Besides, there was hardly anything to eat at home, and I had to look for means to provide for myself. At some point, when I was 9, my 13-year-old friend from equally disadvantaged background, dragged me into what I know understand was prostitution. I didn’t know what those men wanted from me. I just let them do everything they wanted, got my 500 rubles, and went to buy some food. I do understand now it was rape all along.
Commission in Minor’s Affairs would send me to orphanages for some time, but my mother would get sober and come to take me home every time. The police couldn’t do anything about the battery — they would just talk to my mother and still gave me to her back.
It had been like this for three years. When I was 12, the social workers send me the orphanage for good.
The orphanage was a safe haven to some extent. But there I got severely bullied for how I looked. I was called Coalgirl, Frankenstein and what not. I didn’t belong there. When you are a child, other children hate you just because you’re different. I was always an outcast because of my looks. The caretakers were not particularly encouraging as well. They would tell me: “If you don’t study, you’ll become like your mother”. I used to run away to that group of people where I could lose myself by drinking. I was raped there again. The guy who did it threatened me not to tell anybody, otherwise everybody will know what and how he had done it to me. It was him who called me “firegirl”.
Instagram just came into my life, it all really started with a “why not” thought. I uploaded my pics — scars, and all that.Of course, I was scared, but I forced myself to show myself to the world that made me… well, me. Then I contacted the model agency who worked with people of “unconventional appearances” — no answer. I started tagging them on my pics — the same. Then I started the target ads, and suddenly in worked. I was noticed.
After the interviews for BBC in 2018, the publicity kinda dawned on me. Thousands of new followers on Instagram, hundreds of comments, appreciation, support… I was used to getting quite opposite reactions, to say the least. I would tell my story over and over to all the media I could, and I kept doing it, though I had to re-visit all my darkest places all over again. I even did a draft of my own autobiography for a publishing house. However, at some point I started to find it difficult to tell the real life from the Internet one.
On Instagram you unwillingly create a perfect version of yourself, a version that is strong and inspiring, and could set an example. But in real life, you could just be lying on the sofa in the middle of nowhere and feel like you’re nothing. It was a bit too contrived for me, so at some point I just disappeared from the social media.
I feel bitter that I didn’t have a normal childhood. Sometimes as I am passing by a playground, I see the mothers taking care of their kids, — this makes me drop a tear or two. I don’t remember my mother ever even going out with me to the playground. I would go the kindergarten alone. My mother taught me how to drink and smoke. I don’t talk to her now — my therapist forbade me to.
Last year I
finished the course of psychological rehabilitation. I got my psyche restored
with hypnosis. I just slept in 3 months after that, I slept 16 hours a day and
couldn’t get enough. After that I could finally realize what had happened to
me. I started taking the pain I had been bottling up, I started crying over it
– I didn’t let it happen before. It’s still a question what scars are worse —
the psychical or the mental ones. I guess it was easier to me to accept my
burns. Now the wound is clean and empty, and I am learning how to fill this
void with something happy and healthy.
Any person with burns is self-conscious about the marks. It’s difficult to be different, to stand out. I was bullied and humiliated throughout my childhood, I combatted depression, I had a suicide attempt, I cajoled myself with promised to undergo surgeries and get a “normal” appearance. But at the end of the day, I learnt to accept myself as I am, with all my scars, finding a unique beauty here, in me. It was not easy, of course, but it was worth every minute of it. Finally, I feel like a girl, not like a warrior in a never-ending war.
Russian women seem to have low self-esteem embedded genetically. You make have a good body, a nice face — but then you hate your breasts. Or nose. I don’t get. I step out in the wide big world and don’t hide myself under layers and layers of cloth.
Sense of humor helps a great deal as well. Now, when some strangers ask me what happened to me, I can just reply with something like “Well, I am young and hot, sooo…”. One guy from Tinder once texted that I was hotter than his laptop’s back. That was awesome.
I am just an ordinary person. I use underground, live as many people do. I have a boyfriend. I have an ordinary appearance, I just have burns as well. My being on the BBC list of 100 most inspiring women in the world comes a surprise for me too. But I am really happy if my story helps someone to cope.