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War narcissism: Berlin stylist becomes an Instagram star in Ukraine

Stylist Frank Peter Wilde supports people in Ukraine with his Instagram account. And they love him for it.

Two days before Russia's attack on Ukraine, Frank Peter Wilde steps into his two-square-foot elevator. He has pulled a Putin mask over his face, holds a large kitchen knife in one hand and his smartphone in the other.

A photo is taken, which is the beginning of a moving story.

Frank Peter Wilde is the fashion stylist and costume designer for German stars. Among his customers are the singer Sarah Connor, the actresses Heike Makatsch and Iris Berben as well as the governing mayor Franziska Giffey. In his long career, the Kreuzberger Wilde has equipped numerous national and international film and TV productions. In the Berlin scene, the 59-year-old stylist is known as a dazzling queer activist and was awarded the "Soul of Stonewall Award 2022" for his life's work as an activist at this year's Berlin CSD.

With Elevator-Pics to the German star in the Ukraine
Frank Peter Wilde has been designing so-called elevator pics for a long time. Photos he takes in front of a scratched mirror in the elevator of his Kreuzberg apartment building. With his fashion, his movements and his professional eye for aesthetics, the stylist tries to reflect on social issues. With the outbreak of the Russian war of aggression, his entire artistic concentration is now directed to the Ukraine. With its people, the culture and the suffering of the war.

This special kind of visibility, solidarity and raising awareness for Ukraine finds a lot of applause in Ukraine. Wilde's Instagram profile has grown from 3,900 to over 100,000 followers since February. The Ukrainian media are enthusiastic about this kind of support. In contrast to the Russian state television. With an emphatically homophobic and inflammatory contribution, Putin's propaganda broadcaster reported on the Berliner on Tuesday.

Frank Wilde, your first photo was taken two days before the Russian war of aggression. At a time when politicians did not expect an attack on Ukraine. Did you have a premonition?

Yes, I definitely expected that. If you observe politics, you will see that Russia always lies. We have seen this in Georgia, Crimea and Syria. In German politics, certain people were happy to comment on this. Politicians of the AfD and of course also a Sahra Wagenknecht, who has to add her two cents to everything and has no idea about any of this. Especially not from Ukraine. On the day I took the first picture of Ukraine, she was still talking about Putin never invading Ukraine. This was two days before the Russian war of aggression.

How are the reactions to your pictures?

After the first photos, a Ukrainian journalist from Village Magazine wrote to me that she would like to write an article about me and if I could briefly introduce myself. A few days later, a friend calls me and tells me that the article has been published. I had already forgotten the e-mail from the journalist. The number of followers on my Instagram profile had already risen from 4,000 to 8,000. The article was very sympathetic, they published great pictures of my Elevator series and quoted me: "Hey, I'm Frank Wilde, 59 years old, gay, working as a stylist and living in Berlin."

Since then my number of followers has increased. Many Ukrainians do the same and post great elevator pics. I get incredible encouragement from Ukraine. Other media also reported about me, like the largest Ukrainian TV channel 1plus1, which showed a report about me.

I have networked with many Ukrainians and organizations. Also here in Berlin with the associations "Voices of Ukraine" and "Vitsche Berlin". In addition, President Selenskyj's United 24 donation initiative wrote to me, and I am pleased that I can work with international personalities on this great initiative. For me it's an honor as it includes my favorite designer Demna Gvasalia from the famous fashion house Balenciaga.

Some of the elevator pictures were shown in a charity exhibition in Kyiv. How did that happen?

One of the organizers wrote to me and said they were going to do a charity exhibition that would feature fashion, photography, art, china and sculptures. The proceeds will be used to rebuild the destroyed cities in Ukraine. I agreed immediately. I think it's great that what I do in my little elevator in Kreuzberg will then break through internationally. That I can support a good cause that is close to my heart.

Is the queer community doing enough to show solidarity with Ukrainians?

I have to be fair I think the community is trying. The problem I see in Berlin is that so many small organizations and individuals are so incredibly divided and one doesn't begrudge the other anything. What I want to mention positively is the CSD-Berlin e. V. During Pride Week you organized a Ukrainian music evening with the Querteera association, where interesting items were auctioned off for the benefit of Ukraine. I auctioned off a great little rug. "Vitsche Berlin" had its own CSD car and the Ukraine flag could be seen on many of the cars. With my Stonewall Award, I was able to show solidarity with Ukraine in front of tens of thousands of people on the stage in front of the Brandenburg Gate. An incredible moment for me personally.

On Tuesday, the Russian state television reported on you with a homophobic report. How did you take that?

I received this excerpt the same night and couldn't place it because I don't speak Russian either. A friend translated it. The propaganda station makes fun of me and says: Look, this is what the supporters of Ukraine look like. If Ukraine has such friends, then it no longer needs enemies. Behold, this is the European dirt that wants to poison our pure Russian soul. Of course in a very homophobic context. I think that alone should be a reason for every queer person to support Ukraine.

I also get hate messages on Instagram like "You gay swine, you should be slaughtered and if Russian soldiers find you, you won't live a second more." I try not to let that get to me because I get such an enormous amount of support. I am now 59 years old and I have known homophobic hostilities all my life. But that won't stop me from continuing.

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