S'pore teen behind T-shirt worn by Ukraine President Zelensky in Shangri-La Dialogue address

Ava Soh started working on the illustration in late April after an "extremely inspiring" meeting with Ukraine's ambassador to Singapore. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed delegates virtually at the Shangri-La Dialogue on Saturday (June 11), his choice of attire - and the Singaporean girl behind it - became an unexpected talking point of his speech.

The black T-shirt bearing an illustration of a girl spray-painting the blue and yellow colours of the Ukraine flag had been passed to him along with a handwritten letter from its Singaporean creator, 16-year-old Ava Soh.

Speaking to 575 delegates from 40 countries at Asia's top security summit, Mr Zeleksky said: "She wrote me a letter asking to support her initiative called Spray Paint Ukraine - an initiative aiming to help Ukraine."

His sartorial choice came as a shock to Ava, who said she sent the T-shirt to the Ukrainian President via the Ukrainian embassy in Singapore only a week ago.

"It was very unexpected for me," said the Secondary 4 student at St Joseph's Institution International.

"I know he is going through something very important right now, so him wearing this girl's shirt was probably not a top priority," she said with reference to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

"If he could even hold it in his hands, that would be enough for me. But the fact that he wore it and talked about the project, it was a very emotional moment for me."

She said she wrote to Mr Zelensky with a request that he wear the T-shirt in a photo or short video clip, with little expectation that he would fulfil the request - let alone wear it "at such a big event" as the Dialogue.

Ava, who started her Daughters Of The Revolution (Dotr, pronounced "daughter") brand when she was 14, said she started working on the illustration in late April after an "extremely inspiring" meeting with Ukraine's ambassador to Singapore, Ms Kateryna Zelenko.

"I thought that I should help people, as it's something I've always been taught, and I did the Ukrainian rendition of the flag to promote self-belief, confidence and also as a commentary that women too can build the country."

The Spray Paint Ukraine is being sold on this website as a “wearable non-fungible token (NFT)”, or T-shirts with the NFT printed on it, to raise funds for Ukraine. Sales proceeds will be donated to the Ukrainian Embassy in Singapore.

Coming up with the illustration took two to three weeks, she said. It entailed scouring the Internet for images of a back view of Ukraine's traditional dress, modelling the pose for the image, and finally drawing it on digital illustration app Procreate.

Then, it took another three weeks of being "fully immersed" in the project to fine-tune the image, mint it as an NFT and set it up for sale.

Coming up with the illustration took two to three weeks, said Ava. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

There are 1,000 pieces of the "wearable NFTs" for sale and Ava said she would like for the proceeds to go to the women and children displaced by the war.

But the teenager, who said there may be more Ukraine-themed NFTs in the mix, will leave the choice of beneficiaries to the discretion of the Ukrainian embassy, for what she said was an urgent cause.

"Of all the times, Ukraine needs it now," she said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.