Tag Archives: model

Seven versions of the top model’s death in New York. Part One

KP journalist traveled to New York to find out if Ruslana Korshunova’s death was suicide or murder

You probably want to know why we’re continuing on with this story. Just because an attractive, young girl died? Even as her relatives are coming to grips with what happened and wiping away their tears, deep down there are still many unanswered questions about Ruslana Korshunova’s death. What seemed like a perfect fairytale ended with unexpected tragedy. A Russian girl from Nowhere, Kazakhstan who made the cover of Vogue and charmed the world all the sudden ended up dead on a street in the most prestigious section of Manhattan. It’s a hard story to swallow.

Imagine. They say she didn’t drink or do drugs and was afraid of heights. On Saturday, June 28, four days before her 21st birthday, she planned on going to the sauna with her girlfriend and then to party with her boyfriend. But instead she cut a hole leading from her balcony to a neighboring building, climbed three stories, ran around and then jumped off to her death. She left no note. She left behind her mother who she always was concerned about. And she also had several bank accounts with large sums and a yearly contract with the the largest modelling agency in the world IMG.

Doesn’t this seem a bit strange?

Piecing together the events

We’re sitting in the backyard of a typical two-story house in New York smoking one cigarette after another. The sun is beating down on us and together with the tobacco it feels like we had spent the whole night drinking. Yesterday there was a long, crowded ceremony quietly bidding farewell to the top model.

“Absolutely no one believes that Ruslana could have done this,” said Eduard Perchenok, father of the model’s ex-boyfriend, 24-year-old Artem. The Perchenoks were like a second family to Ruslana. Artem courted her for sometime and she often slept at his parents house.

“There were no adults who were closer to her than us here in New York. We were something like her mother and father in the U.S.,” he added, turning red from the dry tears.

Let’s try to recount the events leading up to Ruslana’s death.

Eduard’s son dated Ruslana over two years. It was her only long-term relationship. The couple broke up sometime in 2007.

“This was really due to how Ruslana was brought up,” said Artem’s mother Nina. “Her mother was supposed to come visit from Almaty. The two lived together in an apartment. But Ruslana was a bit embarrassed because they were living together unmarried. So she asked Artem to move out.”

Then the troubles began. When Ruslana’s mother left, she decided to rent an apartment closer to work — in Manhattan, right in the middle of the modelling and economic heart of the world. This made things a bit more difficult for Artem. His company was in another section of the city and it was too hard to reach her apartment through all the traffic.

“They were anxious when everything started to fall apart,” said Artem’s father. “But there wasn’t any way back. Although they always called and wrote each other, they rarely met. So in short they remained friends.”

Ruslana soon enrolled in psychological classes in Moscow where she met the young teacher, Vladimir Vorobev. The two began dating each other. However, Vladimir turned out to be engaged and his fiancee was pregnant.

One month later, Ruslana met Mark Kaminskiy at a party in New York. The 32-year-old Kaminskiy sold high-end automobiles. Judging from the photographs he published on his Odnoklassniki.ru page, the two hit it off straight away. But strangely enough, Ruslana spent the whole night before her death with Artem.

“The kids watched movies, read love poems,” Artem’s father said. “My son had this tiny book Ruslana had given him once. They read the poems from there. Later he put the book in her coffin — and his cross.”

At 04:00 Artem took her home

At around midday, Mark called Ruslana to agree on when they would meet to go to a party that evening. At 12:19, Ruslana went onto her page on Odnoklassniki.ru, but didn’t write anything. About two hours later she was found dead on the street.

Facts and Guesses

In the days following the model’s death, the Web was abound with versions about what really happened. But they’re only theories. Now we can recount them all taking into consideration the comments we received from Ruslana’s friends and family, who saw her only shortly before her death (as well as people in the Russian scene abroad who are party to information about top models, pimps, drug dealers, athletes and the wealthy.)

Version 1: Ruslana was killed by the mafia that provides top model escort services to the rich.

American papers initially published this version of the story. Ruslana, they wrote, could have learned confidential information from a client and been murdered as a result.

It’s no secret that models “do it.”

“In New York, these escort services pay just as much as working the podium,” a popular New York designer said. “That’s anywhere from $5,000-$10,000. When a girl has no shows, a lot of them earn money this way. Basically so they have pocket cocaine money…”

“I think it’s unlikely Ruslana was involved in something like this,” said a renowned New York photographer. He had previously worked with IMG. “The reason why is Korshunova was brought here omitting the Moscow agencies. Her whole story was like straight out of a movie. Her friend convinced her to do a photo shoot for the cover of a local airline magazine. The magazine wound up in the hands of the director of a leading modelling agency who was just leaving Kazakhstan. And at 15, she was already in New York. Conjectures about a Moscow-New York mafia using girls as escorts is out of place in her case.”

Version 2: She killed herself because of money problems.

The news that Ruslana had money problems was spread by her short-term lover and teacher in Moscow Vorobev, who said she didn’t even have $500 to buy a ticket back to New York.

“That’s nonsense,” said Eduard Perchenok. “Believe me, she was fine in this regard. The apartment she was renting in New York wasn’t cheap. Ruslana had paid rent until the end of the year, something like $40,000.”

Ruslana’s friends in New York who helped her mother with documents said they saw her bank account statements and they had fairly large sums.

Version 3: She was killed for the $500,000 that she was loaned by the modelling agency.

Ruslana’s girlfriends in Kazakhstan told journalists this version. Her agent was stealing her money and she was about to file a lawsuit.

“She did have problems with her agent around one year ago,” said Perchenok. “And Ruslana asked us to help her out. We called her agent and handled the negotiations. But this had nothing to do with money. Ruslana simply wanted to change her agency, but they wouldn’t let her go. But then everything solved itself.”

The Daily News made an official inquiry and learned Kornushova hadn’t filed any lawsuits. READ MORE

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Sex slaves to the model industry

The noise around the recent tragedy isn’t getting any quieter. Last month, the 20-year-old star model Ruslana Korshunova jumped from a ninth-story window in New York. Foreign press have recently reported the “Russian Mermaid”was without work, fell into depression and let herself go. Dark circles could be seen under her eyes in her home photographs. Her face looked tired and sad. Ruslana attended seminars in Moscow to help heal her mental breakdown. But her career troubles were accompanied by an unhappy love life. The result was a tragic suicide.

Foreign media have also wrote about the modeling industry’s “New York-Paris-Moscow” shadow mafia that forces Russian models to work for miserly pay, uses them and tosses them out like garbage. Korshunova’s friends were surprised that her agency didn’t even offer to pay for her funeral. Her loved ones had to collect money themselves.

We decided to find out more about the dubious “international model trade,”and to tell our readers the tricks often used to lure and keep innocent young women captive.

Trick One: Debt

Today, it’s impossible for a girl to break into the international fashion industry straight off the street. An entire network of modeling agencies exists in Russia that looks for young girls to send abroad. It’s easier for Western companies to deal with agencies that have an arsenal of beautiful women. So it’s hard for girls to make it in the business without an agent as everyone wants their cut.

Modeling agencies receive payments to their accounts and pay the girls after all the expenses have been accounted for. On the one hand, it’s easier to make a name in the business with the help of an agency. On the other hand, most models don’t become financial successes overnight and quickly fall into debt as they are rarely able to cover the expenses their modeling agencies incur.

We called the Russian model Vanya in Paris to learn more about the situation. She’s 17 years old and has worked abroad two years.

“Ruslana Korshunova was part of the same agency as I am in Moscow — ‘Black Model Management,'” Vanya told KP. “We have the same agent, Aleksey Kalinin. He has a lot of experience and huge connections abroad. Aleksey was her Russia-side agent until the very end. His agency takes a cut from all our work done abroad — something like 10 percent. The agency that represents us abroad also takes a cut — about 20 percent. Taxes are also deducted before we see any money — and taxes are huge in the U.S. Expenses for food and pocket money are also taken out of our salary as the foreign agency pays all these expenses in advance.”

Vanya said Russian girls usually work themselves into a debt within several years.

“I’m not in the ‘plus’ yet either, although I’ve already been working abroad two years,” Vanya said.

The models only receive $100 per week for food and transport. As a result, many models take the metro to get to fashion shows that may be held several times per day. Cosmetologists, hairdressers, masseuses and fitness experts are needed, too. They’re also quite expensive.

“Foreigners come up with all sorts of expenses and present models with astronomical bills,” said another model working in Paris. “For example, my agency made me make new photographs. But they prohibited me from using any photographer but their own. It turned out he charged me far more than the market price. The agency also overcharged me for other services so they could deduct the costs later.”

One model told us how a Moscow agency had played her for a fool after sending her to Tokyo. The Tokyo agency wired the money she had earned (before deductions) to her Moscow agency, which shut down immediately after. The directors opened a new agency within a matter of days.

How much do models earn? Beginners make $100-300 per fashion show (before deductions). Top models earn over $1,000 per show, but reaching that level takes time and few get there. Many young models starve abroad less for the sake of their waistline than bank account.

Trick Two: Health

Models have bouts of depression for two reasons — when they’re out of work or have too much work. The girls have to run around to all sorts of shows. They always need to look good and they start taking stimulants and drugs. And they run the risk of collapsing due to the crazy rhythm of life.

“Nervous stress is part of the package for new models,” Vanya said. “I was first sent to Tokyo at 15. I wound up in a strange country, without knowing the language and without any moral support. What happened to me occurs with all new models abroad. I started going to night clubs to relax and get rid of my nervousness. I drank, smoked and tried to save myself from my depression and stress. I started missing castings and went to some of them inebriated. I couldn’t sleep, called home and yelled: ‘Get me out of here. I don’t want anything anymore!’ But my parents weren’t rich enough to go to Japan to get me. And the agency wouldn’t let me go. No one wanted to give me work after seeing how I looked. I gained 8 pounds from going to all the night clubs. I was really out of shape. I remember my booker in Japan called Aleksey and complained. He said I was too young and didn’t know anything, I was acting horribly and he didn’t know what to do with me! But luckily they gave me a second chance. I went on a diet and lost weight. And now I’m in Paris. I’ve talked to other models and learned we all go through depression. It’s the school of life.”

“How do you fight depression now?” we asked.

“Sometimes I take sedatives and other times energizers. My stomach is ruined from all these diets. But I have to keep in shape. I hope I achieve everything I’ve set out to accomplish,” Vanya said.

“What can depression do to a model?” we asked

“It can drive her to suicide in Ruslana’s case! I’m just lucky nothing like that has happened to me,” she said.

But agents also say they take risks. When they pay for a model’s food and housing, they’re placing a wager on the likelihood that she’ll succeed. READ MORE

Yulia starves to death after winning beauty contest

The mother of a 20-year-old beauty queen is sure contemporary fashion killed her daughter

Vika knew something was wrong when she walked up the stairs to her apartment and heard the long intercity ring. The key was shaking in her hand. “Something’s wrong with Yulia,” she said to herself before picking up the phone. She was right. Her daughter’s roommate in Moscow was on the line.

“Are you Yulia’s mother? Please come immediately. Yulia’s been taken to the hospital,” she said.

“What’s wrong with her?” Vika asked.

“I don’t know. But she came back from a trip and she was just lying there… The ambulance took her. They told me to call you.” she said.

Vika didn’t have any money to go to Moscow. And her neighbors didn’t either. So she had no other choice but to call Yulia’s ex-husband. His secretary answered, listened and promised to pass the message to Yakov. Five minutes later she called back saying a roundtrip ticket had been purchased and was waiting for her, but “Yakov Mikhalych can’t talk at the moment as he’s at a very important meeting.”

Vika knew that Yakov wasn’t at a meeting. He just didn’t want to speak with her. He was too embarrassed to talk to “that mentally ill girl’s” mother. That’s what he called Yulia ever since the divorce. Of course, he would never say such a thing to Vika’s face. But it was a small town like many others in the Komi Republic — and any other region in Russia for that matter. A sneeze on one end is greeted by a “Bless you!” on the other. Vika’s coworkers had told her on more than one occasion with feigned sympathy how Yakov spoke about his ex-wife: “That anorexic idiot… You go to a restaurant with her, she swallows a salad shamefully and then she’s off to the toilet. Her hands smell like throw up and her mouth like dead mice.” But there had been a time when Yakov was proud to be marrying the most beautiful girl in town.

Gazelle among village cows

Yulia was always the most beautiful girl in town. The boys fought over who would dance with her in daycare or give her bike rides in first grade. In third grade each morning someone wrote on the chalk board: “I love you, Yulia.” In fourth grade she brought her first crown home from summer camp — “Miss Camomile.” In fifth grade her backpack was already full of angry anonymous messages from other girls who envied her. And in sixth grade Yulia entered the local modelling agency.

Vika’s mother laughed at her daughter’s friends at the time. They all wanted to be models. Yulia’s pimpled neighbor and even her plump schoolmate Valya. But Yulia looked like a gazelle among village cows in their company.

“I was so proud then,” Vika’s mom said. “I forgave her the occasional poor grades. I was so happy seeing her in the fashion shows at the local Cultural Center. The entire audience burst into applause when Yulia came on stage. I hung all her awards from the summer camps on our walls. I thought that I had raised a future star.”

Yulia first entered the adult competition at 15, but the judges, who come to the region only once a year, refused to accept her candidacy due to her age. At 16 she was disqualified because of her height. Yulia ran home in tears, crying: “The assistent said that I’m fat for 170 centimeters!” Vika’s initial response was to go complain to the casting director. But her reasoning got the best of her.

“You’re not fat at all!” she said calming her daughter. “That old witch was just jealous.”

“No, I’m fat. I have cellulite and I’m shaking like jello!” Yulia said, pinching her stomach and bottom hatefully.

“I should have started worrying when Yulia went on that diet,” Vika said. “But aren’t all girls on diets these days? I didn’t worry until I saw her hip bones protruding through her jeans and her ribs showing through her shirt. I started to force her to eat, but she just threw everything away. I even threatened to keep her inside until she ate. But she’d eat and then throw it all up in the toilet. Once I caught her on her knees making those horrible sounds and she told me: ‘Mom, you’re like a little kid. All the girls do it!’ And once again the judges came to that cursed beauty contest… And the worst of it is that they accepted her!”

Death by fritters

Yulia was crowned the town beauty and the most enviable bachelor in the area made her a proposal at the same time.

The next stage was the regional competition. But the girls still had several months left. Yulia decided to enroll at the law faculty at a local institute and married the son of the general director of a large local enterprise. She stopped losing weight and finally began to blossom.

But she lost the regional competition, although barely. Yulia received the special “Miss Charming” award. However, that night, Yulia got drunk, fought with her husband and went to her mother’s where she raised a scandal.

“You wanted my death with those fritters!” she screamed so loudly the neighbors started tapping their heaters loudly. “‘Yulia, eat, Yulia, eat. I lost a contract with a leading modelling agency because of my fat ass. I won the last competition because I didn’t listen to you and lost weight. And now what?”

From that day in 2005 onwards, Yulia simply stopped eating. She drank coffee and energetic drinks, smoked constantly, ate medicine that quelled her hunger and threw up in the toilet.

“She became irritable and was always cold,” Vika said. “Her blood pressure wasn’t over 90. She’d come to see me so thin… Her hands would be ice cold and she’d be crying. But she wouldn’t know why. ‘Depression,’ she’d say. And then she’d go to sleep. Yakov would call me and ask: ‘Is Yulia with you? Why isn’t she at home?’ What could I tell him?”

Finally, her son-in-law came to see her. Vika noticed something was wrong immediately. He wasn’t himself. Yakov was always such a cheerful man, but now he was gloomy and gray.

“Vika, please talk with Yulia,” he said. “I can’t take this anymore. I want a normal family — a wife and children. She’s nervous all the time and doesn’t want anything. She secretly bought a pregnancy test and I found the package in the garbage. I’m waiting for her to tell me about the baby, but she’s keeping quiet. I ask her and she says, ‘No,’ and she’s pale from head to toe. I think she has had an abortion.”

Vika spoke with Yulia that day and learned that she wasn’t pregnant. Yulia had just stopped menstruating four months earlier. Vika didn’t have time to get a grasp of the situation before Yulia argued with her husband and left for Moscow without even saying goodbye.

Yakov thought that she had a lover in Moscow and filed for divorce. Vika didn’t know what to think. Yulia only told her that she had found work in Moscow as a model and didn’t want to hear anything about returning home.

Modern beauty: Skin and bones?

Yulia called home and said that she participated in fashion shows periodically, but couldn’t lose the extra weight. Her boss at the agency was always calling her a fat-ass cow and Yulia was always on a diet. She told her mother about her friend Katya who was thinner than she was and two centimeters taller. But finally the long-awaited moment arrived when the prodigal daughter was to return home to take her exams.

“She took her clothes off and she was like a skeleton wrapped in skin,” Vika said. “I cried when she handed me her portfolio and said: ‘Mom, you don’t know anything about modern-day beauty.'” Then her friends came over, neighboring twins, and they flipped through the portfolio jealously. They listened to Yulia’s stories and I just started to doubt my own saneness.

Three years passed.

Yulia came home again, passed her exams and then left for Moscow. Word about her success in the modelling industry spread quickly throughout town. Soon Vika learned the twins were also on a diet. They wanted to be like Yulia. They just didn’t know much about the hidden life of the local supermodel. Only Vika knew and she kept silent.

I met Vika in winter 2007 when she came to Moscow to see her daughter. Yulia had suffered from anemia and oesophagus burns due to a vinegar diet. She was being treated at the Sklifosovskiy Institute. The doctor who registered Yulia called Vika and said that she had been brought in unconscious straight off the street.

“Come quickly or your daughter will kill herself,” the doctor said. “I’m telling you this as a mother and a psychiatrist.” She added that Yulia weighed 35 kilograms at 171 centimeters. Vika repeated the numbers to herself painfully, boarded a train and left for Moscow. He cried the entire trip.

Vika stayed with her friends in Moscow. She transferred her daughter to a psychiatric hospital with the diagnosis “anorexia” and appealed to me as a journalist to help her find finances so that Yulia could received treatment at a commercial clinic.

“They don’t cure anyone here, understand?!” Vika told me crying. “She hasn’t had her menstruation three years! They’re just giving her an IV, making her eat mashed potatoes and prohibiting her from closing the door to the toilet so she can’t throw up. But I know it won’t help. We’ve gone through this before. I paid them so they wouldn’t let her go until she started to gain weight. I brought her protein cocktails. She gained three kilograms and then they let her go. But she refused to come back home because Moscow is where the ‘work and fashion shows are.’ She stayed, promising me that she would eat and everything would be okay. But she then she started starving herself again.”

Yulia greeted us coldly at the hospital. She had bad skin and bruises under her intelligent brown eyes. The patient’s robe hung on her like a hanger.

“Mom, calm down,” she said. “Everything’s fine. I don’t need to go to any clinic. I’m just tired. They’ll let me go soon. I have a normal model’s appearance. Isn’t that right,” she asked, looking at me. “You write about Hollywood stars in the paper. They’re far thinner than I am.”

Gay boss doesn’t like women

At the time, I refused to print Vika’s request for funds in the section of the paper where we gather money for children sick with diseases.

“It’s one thing when people are dying, but Yulia’s just an idiot,” I said.

And in early summer, Yulia passed away. Vika called me several days ago out of the blue. READ MORE