Ruslana Sergeyevna Korshunova was known as the “Russian Rapunzel” for her long cascading locks and ethereal good looks. Admirers from every corner of the earth marveled over her glinting crystal blue eyes, compared to the ice of the Siberian taiga, and her youthful beauty and elegant 5’8 frame. She was on the front covers of Elle and Vogue, and modeled for IMG, whose client list includes the likes of Kate Moss and Lauren Hutton. She lived in a world of glamour and money.
All this could not keep her alive: She died in June of 2008, days before her 21st birthday, falling to death from her ninth floor apartment building. Police deemed it a suicide.
Almost immediately, controversy, conspiracy theories, psychological analyses, and curiosity followed. How could such a gorgeous, young, successful girl kill herself? And did she really, or was she murdered?
Ruslana had lived a short but charmed life. Her father, a former Red Army officer, died when she was only 5 years old.
She was very close to her mother Valentina, a cosmetic company executive, who would be her most intimate confidante and best friend until her death. In fact, Valentina had washed Ruslana’s long hair her whole life, until she went to Paris to model and was forced to do it alone for the first time.
A pal of Ruslana’s would admit after her death that “the most important thing about her and her internal world was that she was lonely. There was no one who was really dear to her, except for her mother.”
The family lived in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and were not financially deprived in any way. Ruslana went to one of the best schools in the city, and wanted to eventually go to university in Germany.
But at the age of 15, Ruslana’s life changed in a flash. After her photos were printed in a magazine in 2003, she was noticed by agent Debbie Jones from Models 1, who was immediately struck by her alluring appearance.
She was deemed “A Face to Be Excited About” by Vogue magazine, and Debbie went on to say that “everyone… adores Ruslana. I saw her by chance and she looked like something out of a fairytale! We had to find her and we searched high and low until we did! She’s really incredible with feline features and timeless beauty.”
The fairy tale would not last long, but it was exhilarating. Valentina was hesitant about letting her daughter enter the lurid modelling business, and preferred that Ruslana went to college instead, claiming there was no future in the industry. Ruslana refused, and wouldn’t stop pestering her mom until she agreed to accompany her to a casting call in London.
Ruslana still had braces, and was a naive wide-eyed girl in a big Western European city. She had no idea what she was in for. The world of coked up, anorexic, cynical and desperate fashion models was still alien to her, and she tried to retain a constant mantra in the wake of this new chaos: “Instead of moaning at the thorns/I’m happy that a rose among them grows.”
Money was scarce at this time and modelling gigs were few and far in between. A friend of Ruslana’s from this period describes how “in Paris and Milan there’d be these dinners, rich men would pay to come, we could join in for free. Ruslana and I would go. It would be our only chance to eat. The men could tell we were not like THAT. We were dunces, the ones who went to bed early.” In other words: they didn’t put out; look but don’t touch, etc.
Ruslana was packed into crammed flats full of aspiring models, waiting for her big break. She received this when she was 18 years old, in the form of a Nina Ricci fragrance commercial.
In the ad, she wears a pale pink backless ball gown, and climbs up a pile of apples to pluck the fruit-shaped perfume bottle down from a tree. It was this corny yet indelibly dreamy piece of advertising that turned her into a star.
Soon she was flying high, being invited to New York and Moscow’s classiest parties, and being barraged with the attentions of dozens of wealthy suitors. Alarmingly, she was even summoned to covert parties thrown by Jeffrey Epstein on his creepy private island.
Unfortunately for Ruslana, she soon fell in love with a wealthy unnamed Russian oligarch who brutally broke her heart. Friends say that the man was attractive and super rich, and she fell head over heels for him. She wanted marriage and children, and even introduced him to her mother, but to the oligarch, this was only a temporary fling.
He began ignoring Ruslana’s desperate phone calls, and the oligarch’s personal assistant requested she leave him alone. Being dumped caused Ruslana to lose her mind. She lost weight and became fraught by depression. She would never recover from this disappointment.
Years later, in March of 2008, Ruslana would write on her blog:
“Why, sooner or later, love will die. What is even worst is if it will end earlier for my partner than for me. It really hurts when someone stops loving you but you continue to love.
Reason says that it is better to be loved, but in life, we love more often than we are loved. To love, especially without return, is very hard, painful and takes away from the soul’s strength.”
And so she went through a string of disappointing relationships. She grew anxious about finding the “right one,” and often dated several men at a time, hoping one would take. A friend noted how “she was always searching for love. I used to say to her never search for love. The love will find you.” But she kept pining for true romance, and making bleak choices in the process.
To add on to personal injuries, Ruslana’s career began experiencing a decline at this time. It wasn’t completely over, but employment did start to dry up. A friend said she balked at the world’s newfound indifference to her: “She couldn’t understand. Suddenly she was one of a thousand girls. One of a million. A no one.” The world of fashion is a cold one; here today, gone tomorrow. The phone had stopped ringing.
Ruslana’s life became more stressful than the 20 year old could handle. She was still making $5k per fashion show and photoshoot, but sent much of that money back home to her mom and brother. She rented out a Manhattan apartment for a whole year at the price of $40k, and lived mostly alone, or with whichever man she was currently dating.
With her family on the other side of the world and constant unstable relationships being her only close sense of support, she started crumbling under the pressure. It was around this time that Ruslana joined a self-help cult named Rose of the World. Similar to Scientology in its operation, the Rose stems from a 1980s American cult named Lifespring, which was banned at its outset.
In training sessions, participants are encouraged to share their most traumatic life experiences and mistakes. They are then told to accept responsibility for these, and it is supposed to purge members of their demons. The sessions can run up to $1,000 for only three days. Desperate and isolated, this became Ruslana’s only emotional outlet. She was said to be extremely vocal at these sessions.
Friends reported a change in Ruslana, noticing she began moody, agitated and aggressive after her sessions at the Rose. She attended the program for three months. Former participants claim the organization gave them PTSD and emotional scars, but fellow model Anna Barsukova said “it’s a popular thing to do. One of my friends went there too… They do training about developing your personality.” However, there was a dark side- Ukrainian model Anastasia Drozdova also committed suicide by jumping after attending the Rose for a year.
According to a friend from the Rose, Ruslana told them her darkest secrets, talking tearfully about her failed romantic relationships and her father’s death. One claims “she tried suicide five times in different ways. She’s tried it since she was 15, 16 years old. It was a loneliness that no one understood.” One must note that those were the ages upon which she began her modelling career.
When questioned about Ruslana’s death, a Rose life coach had harsh words: to him, she was a “typical victim. Sometimes it’s better to commit suicide than not to change.”
Ruslana had also been embroiled in a lawsuit with her former agent, who she sued for $500k due to embezzlement of funds. She complained to acquaintances about money troubles, and told her mother she was getting fed up with the modelling business and wanted to eventually leave it.
The most salient insights into Ruslana’s psyche lie in her personal blog. She explains herself in her own words, growing more and more frustrated in the months before her death:
It hurts as if someone took a part of me, mercilessly tore it out, stomped all over it…threw it out.
If I am for others, then who is for me? And if I am for myself, then what am I for?
there’s disorder! i don’t have a home. I need an boss for there to be order
my dream is to fly..oh my rainbow is too high..
I’m a bitch. I’m a witch. I don’t care what you say … I know why my other relationships didn’t work out, ’cause I’m unpredictable.
life is very fragile, and its flow can easily be ruined.
i’m so lost..will i ever find myself?..
Her final entry came on May 30, a month before her death:
“Do not confuse love and desire. Love is the sun, desire – only flash. Desire dazzles, and the sun gives life.
Love does not take away from one in order to give to another. Love – this is the essence of life. But you will not give your life to another.”
On June 28, 2008, at 2:30 p.m., Ruslana fell to her death from the ninth floor balcony of her apartment at 130 Water Street, Manhattan. She left no suicide note.
She had returned from a modelling gig in Paris, and showed no outward signs of distress or abnormality. The doorman noted she was all smiles on the day of her arrival. Friends claim she was “on top of the world,” and had no reason to have done what she did.
Ruslana died four days before her 21st birthday. There were no alcohol or drugs in her system, and in life she was known to hate drinking because it made her sick. Ironically, even though she was afraid of heights, she chose to die by jumping.
Before her death, Ruslana’s famously long Rapunzel hair had been hacked off. This spurred on rumours of murder, but it may have been a final act of defiance, or the symptom of a manic and self-destructive episode. As a model, she had to keep herself in pristine condition, always rail-thin, always presentable. It seemed she had had enough.
Although she already had a new boyfriend, luxury car dealer Mark Kaminsky, Ruslana chose to spend her last hours with her ex Artem Perchenok. He was her only real long term relationship: the couple had dated for 2 years.
Artem describes her as impressionable and sensitive: “She would cry for any, even trivial reason. She took everything so personally.” He said that the two were each other’s first loves, which explains why Ruslana spent her last night with him. They also continued to share a cat together.
Artem’s father states that “the kids watched movies, read love poems. 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.” The film in question was Ghost (1990).
Hours after Artem dropped Ruslana off at home, she was dead. He felt that she was trying to say goodbye to him. To honor her memory, Artem had a tattoo of Ruslana’s name in Russian done on the inside of his wrist.
At the building, police found that the construction netting on the balcony of Ruslana’s apartment had been sliced open, in order to facilitate her jump. Bizarrely, her body was found 28 feet away from the building. This meant she would have had to have taken a running leap from the balcony.
The sound of her fall to earth startled witnesses, who say the impact sounded like a bomb, a bass drum and a gunshot. Just as she lived, Ruslana died in a very public manner.
Distraught concierge Muhammad Naqib described the grisly scene: “I was shocked when I saw her on the pavement. She was on the road, small and pitiful, in a puddle of blood, surrounded by a crowd. Her arms and neck were broken.” She had no shoes on, and wore only a purple tank top with blue jeans.
Murder was ruled out, as anyone who went upstairs to Ruslana’s apartment would have had to have crossed paths with the concierge. She had no known enemies who wanted her dead, but some assert she had connections to the Russian underworld. This has never been substantiated
Ruslana’s mother had her buried in Moscow, the city she loved best. At the funeral service, dressed in a black veil, she gave a final touching and heart-wrenching speech about her lost daughter:
“She was very strong, even though she looked so fragile. She was the closest person in the world to me, the most trusted; she would never let me down. I was always proud of her. And I’m proud of her today.”
Until the end, Ruslana supported her family and kept them close to her heart, visiting her mother and brother in Kazakhstan mere months before she died. She kept a small and close circle of friends, which she preferred over the hustle of big parties and Hollywood.
Yet she still felt alone in all the foreign countries she lived in and traveled to, and deprived of the romantic love she always dreamed of. Her online posts show a deep obsession with loss, love and feelings of emptiness. Artem accused her of giving up on herself, and Mark wondered how she could do this when she was loved by so many.
None of us will ever fully understand what motivated Ruslana Korshunova to kill herself, but her pain will continue to resonate deeply with all who read her tragic story.