Text and photography by Merja Yeung.
Translated from Finnish by Rebecca Watson.
Suomeksi teksti löytyy TÄÄLTÄ.
Academic wearing designer shoes
Yulianna Bellini became Ukrainian at the age of six, when the Soviet Union collapsed. Her parents came from the other side of the new border, but decided to stay in Nikolaev. The children would spend their summer and winter holidays with their grandmother in Tver, Russia. Most residents in Nikolaev never leave or at least don’t go further than 100 kilometres south to the Black Sea, but Yulianna’s early trips to Russia made her a more avid traveller.
Yulianna still feels more Russian than Ukrainian: mentality and blood ties run thicker than geography.
While studying at university, Yulianna met French diplomat, Serge. Their love continued to bloom despite Yulianna leaving to study in Milan for a while.
Serge was posted to Moldova and pregnant Yulianna followed him. The couple’s twin girls were born in 2009.
Daily life in another Eastern European country didn’t differ that much from Ukraine, but it now centred around baby twins. The couple missed their relatives, and Yulianna wished her mother would have been around for some extra help. Life revolved around a small circle. After four years, Serge was posted to the French embassy in Cambodia. The couple’s relatives had been fine about the move to Moldova, but Cambodia came as a shock. Yulianna’s family kept repeating “poor thing, poor thing” almost until she’d got on the plane. Yulianna herself thought: “I’ll cope for two years!”. In other words, her own expectations weren’t that high, either.
The family has now lived in Cambodia for a good 4 years, and Yulianna has come to terms with the new step in her life. She actually really enjoys it.
In many ways, life feels even easier than in Moldova. The children are now bigger and have their school and routine, the climate is pleasant, and Yulianna has had time to prioritize her own work life again. A part-time maid helps around the house.
Although Yulianna doesn’t miss her life in Ukraine and Moldova, back home she would appreciate the distinct seasons, and wouldn’t mind getting to enjoy herrings, buckwheat porridge and traditional marmalades made with a Soviet recipe.
Yulianna thinks “everything” is different in Cambodia compared to Eastern Europe. It was easier to “read” people at home with its different mentality, but in Cambodia people are always friendly. Also Cambodian food is delicious, and nature and climate have their appeal. She would love to spend more time chatting with locals if it wasn’t for the language barrier.
Yulianna runs her own company, Bellini Style Studio, designing interiors and interior products for hotels and private consumers. She also provides styling services for magazines and advertisers.
Although Cambodia may not be a style mecca, Yulianna has found excellent, reasonably priced seamstresses and outlets with designer labels.
Yulianna doesn’t think she will be returning back to Ukraine anymore, as it would be like trying to go back to a childhood that no longer exists. Also the political situation in Ukraine is unstable.
Out of European countries, Italy and France feel closest to heart, but Yulianna is also keen on possibly settling down in Mexico, Argentina or Columbia in South America.
Yulianna feels that her years in Cambodia have made her grow. She has learnt to cross boundaries, take a plunge and seize opportunities, becoming a whole lot braver in the process.
For anyone thinking about moving to a new country, Yulianna recommends taking things as they come without spending too much time comparing. It’s good to thoroughly do your homework on practical aspects beforehand, especially if moving with children. This makes the process of sorting out housing and schools much easier. Ask, Google and learn from mistakes.
Right now, Yulianna is more than happy: “This is the best time of my life so far!”.
Don’t live the same year 85 times and call it life.
Born in 1984 in Nikolaev, Soviet Union.
Family: Husband Serge, diplomat, b. 1961, and children Marie, b. 2009, and Elise, b. 2009.
Education: Masters in linguistics and foreign literature from Petro Mohyla Black Sea State University and fashion studies at Milano Fashion Campus and online at École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture.
Employer: Self-employed at Bellini Style Studio.
Languages: Ukrainian, Russian, English and French.
Lived in Phnom Penh since August 2013.
Phnom Penh tips
1. Wat Phnom
2. Silver Pagoda
3. Kravang Restaurant
2. Mondulkiri, ”Ocean of trees”
3. Angkor Wat