Raised in Russia, with a Ukrainian mum and Russian dad, Julia Edwards has found it heart wrenching to watch the war in Ukraine go from bad to worse.
With her mum’s side of the family predominantly based in Ukraine, the model and girlfriend of Fremantle Dockers player Bailey Banfield has heard first hand from her relatives in Ukraine how the conflict has been unfolding.
“From what they’ve said, it’s just devastating. Just constantly living in a state of tension,” she said.
Her cousin, who was in Melitopol — 200km from the coastal city of Mariupol, when Russia invaded Ukraine — told Edwards about the shells that rained down on their city and rockets hitting the airport. She has since fled closer to the Polish border.
“She has a two-year-old and they are hiding in the basement of their house, and her husband is out on the front line fighting the Russian troops,” Edwards said.
“She was just basically telling me how her son, at two, knows what the siren means, like ‘oh we have to go hide’.
“It just elicited so much emotion, just pulled on my heartstrings.”
Edwards, whose first language was Russian, translated the message from her cousin on TikTok and implored others to help by donating and raising awareness.
But Edwards, who turns 24 on Saturday, has teamed up with The Square Mirrabooka for We Welcome Ukraine in partnership with the Ukrainian Association of WA and the Red Cross.
The event, on today from 11am, is an opportunity to come together in solidarity with WA’s Ukrainian community and those displaced by the conflict who now call Perth home. The funds raised will to go to Ukrainian refugees in Australia and those in Ukraine.
“I’m so keen to just meet as many Ukrainians as possible . . . and to give them some reassurance and tell them ‘we’re here. We just feel so much for what you’ve gone through,’” she said.
Melbourne-based celebrity stylist Elliot Garnaut has also thrown his support behind the cause. Off the back of styling 150 looks for Fashion Week’s headline show this week, called Future of Fashion, Garnaut jumped on a plane on Friday to join his father, Chris, of the Fawkner investment group which owns The Square Mirrabooka shopping centre.
“To be able to use my voice and do my small part, I think is super important,” he said.
“I also think as well that working in the fashion industry, you have minimal opportunity to be able to use your voice really impactfully. I think that we are very fortunate in the way that we get to use our voices for things like diversity and inclusion and sustainability and they’re also really important pillars, but when someone’s livelihood is at stake, I think it’s equally as important to use your voice.”
The sentiment is echoed by Edwards, who moved from St Petersburg to Perth when she was 12 years old.
“I was really against moving to Australia originally,” she said. “But looking back on it now I’m really glad that we did make it over and I very well know, it could have very easily not been this way and I could be there, and I absolutely don’t know what I would do, especially if I was in Russia knowing that our Ukrainian family is being attacked by our country.
“We haven’t gone back to Ukraine in years. I reckon I was probably 11 the last time I went. But my dad still lives in Russia. So every two years, we visit.”
Since resettling in Australia she discovered modelling — and was named Miss West Coast 2019 — and has her sights set on becoming a psychologist.
“I thought I’d finish my degree and just go be a cool businesswoman and work in the city and thought that was just like the best thing,” she said.
Looking back on it, she admits she was a bit naive and wanted something more fulfilling.
I just realised ‘OK, I don’t feel like I’m helping anyone’ . . . so I realised that I do want to be a psychologist,” she said.
“I’ve started doing Lifeline, and disability support work as well. So that’s just much, much, much more down the way that I wanted to go in terms of fulfilment from work,” she said.
She joined Lifeline as a crisis supporter while studying honours followed by a masters in psychology.
Being there for someone in their darkest moments can be confronting but Edwards describes as “the best thing”.
(It’s) one of the best things I’ve ever done,” she said.
“I think it was (confronting) at the start. But you get to the stage, because I think I’ve been doing it for nearly a year now, where literally not much can shock you any more.
“You almost assume a different persona like I change the way I speak. I change my tone of voice. I’m not 23-year-old Julia who does modelling and loves posting on Instagram.”
Edwards’ Instagram and TikTok feature an enviable highlights reel, but she also shares candid posts, from unfiltered photos of her acne to details about her relationship with Fremantle forward Banfield, who will face Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium on Sunday.
“I never really used to share as much with my followers. But then I decided you know what? I want people to know me as they would if they’d met me,” she said.
“I’m not private. I just … I’m not.”
The couple were introduced by a mutual friend, but it was Banfield who asked her out.
They went out for dinner and Edwards was enamoured by his love of reading and cooking and that he could speak French, rather than his skills on the footy field.
Three years on they’re happily living together, with Edwards’ cat, and she remains impressed by his culinary prowess in the kitchen.
“That was one of his ways to get me on one of our first dates,” she said.
Banfield invited her over and showed her how to make prawn and chicken laksa, which she described as a scene from a rom-com.
“It was the classic standing next to each other and cutting things up, just making eye contact,” she laughed.
“And still to this day, every time he makes me something I’m like ‘I need to lock this man down, his cooking is so good’.”