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Dolls of European, Asian and African ethnicity

Collector Lyubov Chernyavskaya has about 50 Barbie dolls, made by the same American firm, which began production in 1959. We get a closer look and discuss what makes the collection so special
By Yekaterina Panteleeva

On entering the room, my heart sinks a little: to the left of the windows are three shelves of dolls, their faces taking me back to my childhood, 15 years ago. Lyuba tells us, “In the 1990s, all girls dreamt of Barbie. However, we only had access to poor-quality fakes. The first my parents gave me had one hand darker than the other.”

Approximately two years ago, Lyuba went looking for 1990s Barbies, noting, “I bought a ‘Mermaid’ doll from a Minsk resident, advertised online. It was the first in its series. Unfortunately, it no longer had its original outfit. I found it two years later, on an American auction. It then took two months for the parcel to arrive.”

I notice Barbie ‘Secret Hearts’, who once smiled from the cover of a ‘Barbie’ sticker book. We used to spend all our pocket money on buying those stickers.

Lyuba recalls, “One Russian firm raffled off such dolls, asking us to send in stubs. Some girls from my courtyard won but wouldn’t bring the precious doll outside, so I visited them at home. I was able to hold a real Barbie, just for one minute.”

Another two beauties in smart dresses attract my attention and Lyuba tells me, “These are ‘kholideiki’ (holiday dolls) issued just before Christmas and New Year since 1988. I have the 1989 and 1990 models. Some people only collect ‘kholideiki’.” I ask if she knows any other collectors but she admits that this is only so from online forums, explaining, “Online, I’ve chatted to a man from Russia who collects ‘dolls of the world’: Barbie dressed as a princess from India or in Russian national costume.”

I’m surprised at a man being interested in these dolls but Lyuba insists that quite a few men are serious collectors. “Such toys are collected by a wide range of people. Most are girls but there are some men, and even old ladies. Many collections boast 100-150 exhibits. One friend’s apartment has a room crammed with dolls. She’s not a collector; she just buys them for her little daughter.”

Suddenly, I see Kira and Christie — Barbie’s Asian and Afro-American friends. Lyuba explains, “I bought the first within six months of starting my collection but, for some reason, I decided that I didn’t like her and got rid of this doll. Time passed, and it became clear that, without her, my collection was incomplete. I started searching for her again and came across her by accident: a seller asked whether I’d like to visit to see her collection and there was the Barbie I’d fallen out with. Meanwhile, once I had a doll I couldn’t get on. Once she was present in my flat, I felt uncomfortable!”

Celebrity dolls
On the top shelf, I notice dolls just like real girls.

Lyuba notes, “They don’t move and, unlike Barbie, are created to look like real celebrities: Ursula Andress in the character of a Bond girl, Penйlope Cruz as Angelica in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and two Shakiras (there are eight versions in all).

Do any look like you?
I can’t answer this question modestly but there is a doll with long dark hair that my son Vanyusha calls ‘Doll-mum’.

How do people react to your collection?
My husband supports me, as he collects lighters. He especially likes 1990s Barbies, as they are part of his childhood too. Visitors often photograph the dolls and ask what I actually do with them.

Tell us more...
When I was 5, I was coming home late with my parents when we passed a basement window in which was sitting a dirty, matted-haired doll, looking out at me. I convinced my father to take a torch and retrieve the doll. Despite its state, after a few hours of cleaning, it was like new. Since then, I’ve understood that I love such toys. I’m serious person, being a lawyer, so it can help to spend a few minutes looking at my dolls when I feel weary. It helps revive me. Many view collecting as the pursuit of the lonely, but it’s not true in my case. I’m a happy wife and mother; my dolls are simply an interesting hobby and make me nostalgic for my childhood. My collection proves that dreams can come true, no matter how many years pass.
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