Veronika Didusenko is known around the globe as a model and as an advocate for women’s rights. But her impact on the world is not limited to those roles. She is also the 22-year-old mother of a five-year-old son, the real reason behind her hard work. 

We had the chance to interview Veronika about her extraordinary career and motherhood journey. Her mantra is bold but simple: “Having children is not a verdict.”

Veronika was eighteen when she discovered she was pregnant. “I was already in my second year at the university studying mathematics,” she explained. What’s more, she was about to kickstart a life-changing career as an international model in Paris. In spite of the obstacles ahead of her, Veronika was determined to raise her son: “More than anything, I wanted to have my baby.” But she was also determined to accomplish her educational and professional goals. 

“Shortly after Alex was born, I flew to Paris [for work]. I am a multitasker and thrive on challenges. I had agreed with my university that I would do all my homework online. This was key to being able to travel abroad for work. My mother helped me to take care of the baby while I worked during the day…we would schedule his feeding in between the shoots, and mom looked after him while I was busy. In the evenings and often during the night, I did my homework.” 

With hard work, discipline, and the help of her family and her university, she was able to do both. “Today, having met women from different walks of life, I realise that being able to combine maternity, work and university, all at once, is a luxury,” she shared, “And I am immensely grateful to all the people who have made this possible for me.” Her story is a testimony to the power of community.

Miss Ukraine 2018: Winning and Losing Her Title

In 2018, Veronika won the Miss Ukraine beauty pageant, a franchise of the Miss World organization. Today, prestigious pageants such as Miss Ukraine and Miss World are more than just beauty competitions—they are a platform for humanitarian causes and an enviable opportunity for women to make an impact in fashion, media, and entertainment industries. Although these competitions are still cast in the shadow of stigma by the general public for being overly concerned with physical appearance, they have become more inclusive over the past few years and have made great cultural strides with regard to female empowerment and the expansion of standards of beauty. 

For Veronika, receiving this title was not only an honor, but also an important step in furthering her career: “[F]or many women, a beauty pageant is an opportunity to access better career opportunities. In my case, I was coming from the fashion industry, and becoming the winner meant significantly enhancing my profile as a fashion model… If you think about it, winning Miss World for someone like me is similar to winning an Oscar for an actress, or an Olympic medal for an athlete.”

But much to her shock, Veronika’s title of Miss Ukraine was taken away when the organization discovered she had a four-year-old son. Miss Ukraine, like its sister pageants, has a strict rule that women who have been married or have children are not allowed to compete. The organization states that the rule exists to protect children from forced separation from their mother while she is performing her role as a global ambassador. 

But despite the appearance of altruism, this rule actually serves to take away a woman’s freedom to decide what she can and cannot handle, and shows young women that motherhood would make them ineligible for the goals they want to accomplish before they can even begin. “According to this logic and the rules which are based on it, Serena Williams would have been banned from tennis competitions after having a daughter,” Veronika explained, “Or Sheryl Sandberg would have had to leave her career after having her first child.”

While Veronika told us that she was aware of the rule when she applied, she strongly believed that being a mother should not disqualify her from achieving her dreams and making a difference in the other areas of her life: “Having children should not have an impact on a woman’s ability to be a professional in the industry of her choice.” Veronika knows that she is capable of being successful as a model and raising her son simultaneously, and she refuses to let anyone tell her otherwise. 

#RightToBeAMother Campaign

Veronika is dedicated to raising her son in a world where motherhood and professional ambition are not seen as mutually exclusive. After her crown was revoked, she launched her #RightToBeAMother campaign to fight for the respect of motherhood and marital status in the beauty pageant realm. Just as pageant regulations have evolved over time to be more inclusive to all kinds of women, Veronika believes that now is the time for that evolution to include wives and mothers. In an instagram post announcing her campaign, Veronika writes, “I don’t want my crown back. I want to get the rules changed for our wider society. These rules are a systemic, widespread and international policy that results in discrimination on large scale across many countries.”

In 2013, Miss Great Britain removed the restriction against mothers from their eligibility requirements, stating that they “strongly believe that a woman who is or has been married or has children can be a strong positive role model for others.” Change is coming, but it has only just begun.

Not every young mother will face discrimination on such a large scale, but they all have their own mountains to climb. We asked Veronika for the most important piece of advice she could give to encourage ambitious mothers. Her response? “Ask for support and don’t be shy to take it.” While Veronika worked extremely hard on her own, nursing her son in between photo shoots and doing homework at night, she acknowledges that she would not have the opportunities she’s had without the support of family and friends who want to help her achieve her dreams. Success, she says, is “a mix of luck, a support network, and one’s own hard work. It’s not just one thing.”

Now is the time to create a world where every mother is empowered to embrace both her child and her future. With strong support systems and the fierce advocacy of those like Veronika, our culture can see that a child is not an end to a future but rather a beautiful part of it. As Veronika says, “Having children is not a verdict.”

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