Mila Kunis says Ukrainians’ response to Russia’s invasion has left her “awestricken” and “proud” to be from the region, fueling her decision to start a $30 million fundraiser. Still, she wants Americans to remember that Russia’s people aren’t the enemy.
In a sit-down with Maria Shriver for her #ConversationsAboveTheNoise digital series, Kunis opened up about her feelings around the ongoing war in Ukraine and the $30 million GoFundMe campaign she’s launched with husband Ashton Kutcher to support refugee and humanitarian aid efforts.
The star said the Ukrainian response to the conflict sparked a new sense of pride she hadn’t previously had after growing up in America. Arriving in the U.S. in 1991 around the age of 7 or 8 meant that she grew up having a much stronger connection to her identity as an American.
“It’s been irrelevant to me that I come from Ukraine. It never mattered,” she said. “So much so that I’ve always said I’m Russian. I’ve always been, ‘I’m from Russia’ for a multitude of reasons. One of them being, when I came to the States, and I would tell people I’m from Ukraine, the first question I’d get was ‘Where is Ukraine?’ And then I’d have to explain Ukraine and where it is on the map.”
She said that “everything changed” when Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. “I can’t express or explain what came over me, but all of a sudden, I genuinely was like, ‘Oh, my God, I feel like a part of my heart just got ripped out.’ It was the weirdest feeling,” she said. “It doesn’t take away from who I am as a person, but it just adds an entire different layer.”
Part of this “sense of pride” comes from having friends from Ukraine whose family members have chosen to remain in the country. They go to sleep in bomb shelters at night, Kunis says, and during the day, they take “whatever they have to protect themselves in the city, and they go to their office to continue working.
“I’m not pleasantly surprised, but I’m awestricken by this group of people. They’re fighting with their own makeshift weapons,” Kunis said. “It is inspiring.”
She shares the same reverence for Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, whom she met with alongside husband Ashton Kutcher before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Kunis said they both questioned why he would take on one of “the worst jobs” — being a political leader — after his past career in entertainment. It led to a “beautiful conversation” in which Zelensky said he wanted to “empower the people” and the country.
“He’s like, ‘I don’t need money. I don’t need fame. I don’t need success. I love my country, and I don’t want it to be corrupt anymore,’” Kunis recalled. “He genuinely loves where he’s from and the people and who he is.”
While she’s been moved by Ukraine’s response, Kunis says some of the “rhetoric” around boycotting Russia in response to its invasion misses what — and who — the real problem is.
“I don’t think that we need to consider the people of Russia an enemy,” she said. “I think that there’s now [a] ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’ mentality, and I don’t want people to conflate the two problems that are happening.
“Not to get technical, but call the propaganda a problem. The infrastructure is a problem. The political powers that be are the problem. It’s not the people. The people didn’t vote for [Vladimir] Putin.”
In another moment directly addressing the Russian president, Kunis said that his invasion of Ukraine “wasn’t a shock to anybody that followed the news” or knew “the type of person Putin really was.” Describing him as a leader that “wasn’t for the people, by the people,” she said many “that live there [were] like ‘F this guy.’”
“The country was still incredibly poor, and him and his best friends were insanely wealthy on the backs of the people that were starving,” Kunis said.
Kunis also addressed criticisms around how the response to Ukraine has differed from reactions to other conflicts. For her, the thing that makes Ukraine’s crisis different is the nuclear element.
“I honestly think that what sets this apart from the horrible events that happened in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen — in any of these other countries where things like this have happened — is that in this case, its nuclear power,” she explained. “There’s a lot of other issues involved that aren’t just about Ukraine, but about its neighboring town.”
That’s part of why she and Kutcher spent so much time launching the fundraiser. “I kept saying, ‘I think whatever we do, you have to be able to pivot,’ because this is not … a civil war. It’s not a religious-based war. It’s not somewhere that we have pattern recognition on,” she said. “We don’t know what the end goal is, in this case. I don’t believe that the end goal personally is, ‘Oh, we just want Ukraine.’”
So far, the duo has raised more than $21 million of their $30 million ask, with Kunis confident they’ll reach their goal in light of another match commitment. The campaign funds will go to Flexport and Airbnb to help them deliver supplies and provide housing to refugees fleeing Ukraine.
Kunis said they picked these organizations because they have existing infrastructure to handle getting people support and supplies, which helps avoid donations “sitting on a barge somewhere.” The donation process, in particular, was something Kunis says people feel they can do and find a sense of purpose in that will also keep them invested in the long haul.
“That, to me, in the grand scheme of things, is so much more important than anything — is giving and allowing the community to feel like they’re a part of the solution, not just the part of the problem.”