Tragic Details About Model Ruslana Korshunova

Vogue declared her "a face to be excited about" in 2005. The New York Daily News ran with her nickname within the fashion world: the Russian Rapunzel. It seemed a promising start to Ruslana Korshunova's career as a model. The Kazakhstani-Russian girl was in 11th grade when she first got a taste for the job through her school's German club. The head of the group asked her to pose for an extracurricular magazine project. Korshunova's mother wasn't too keen on her daughter carrying it any further and was particularly reluctant to sign off on a talent scout's offer. It would be better, she felt, to focus on school.

And it wasn't as if the family needed the money that could come from a lucrative modeling contract. According to the Daily News, Korshunova's father — who died when his daughter was only 6 years old — became a rich man after moving from the Red Army to the private sector. As a teenager, Korshunova had the desire to get out of Kazakhstan, at least for a while. Before modeling came along, she had her sights on Germany, but with a contract and a chance to visit London on the table, she pushed her mother to at least let her give it a try.

That trip set her down the road to stardom in the modeling world. According to Newsweek, a fairytale-style ad for Nina Ricci perfume brought her international acclaim. But the whirlwind of success that took Korshunova from her home almost immediately exposed her to the ugly side of success through the dangerous party atmosphere surrounding the modeling profession.

Her death was a shock to family and friends

Confronted almost from the beginning of her career with drugs, drink, and late-night frivolity, Ruslana Korshunova initially kept her head on her shoulders. In his Newsweek piece, journalist Peter Pomerantsev found that she was early to bed and preferred writing poetry on early online social networks to champagne and cocaine. Her close friend, Dinara Bogaoutdinova, told the New York Daily News that her "best friend" remained her mother. After her Nina Ricci campaign made her one of the most in-demand models in the world, she was feted by the Moscow elite. The Russian capital became one of her favorite cities — and would eventually be home to her grave (per The New York Times).

But in Moscow, Korshunova also had her first taste of heartbreak and failure. A young tycoon who made a habit of dating models won her heart but was quick to dump her, and her career stalled just as she was dealing with the relationship's end. And while Korshunova's family insisted that she didn't take modeling that seriously, many in the profession experience mental health issues. Indeed, it's a field that requires a great deal of artifice, and the line between image and reality is obscured by external and internal expectations.

Still, friends who saw Korshunova in her final days told the New York Post that she seemed positive, enthusiastic, and busy. They were shocked to learn of her death in 2008 from suicide. Only 20 years old, Korshunova jumped nine stories from her Manhattan apartment, according to The New York Times. She left behind no note.

Korshunova was one of several models who died after connecting with a cultlike group

Ruslana Korshunova's death from suicide was so sudden that her family harbored doubts. It made no sense, they said, that someone who wrote so much wouldn't even leave a note. And how could she have managed to land 8.5 meters from the building? These family suspicions were on Peter Pomerantsev's mind as he investigated Korshunova's fate for a documentary and, later, the book "Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia" (via ABC News).

Digging deeper, Pomerantsev found that Korshunova wasn't the only model to have died from suicide around that time (per Newsweek). Her friend had met the same fate, and they were connected by the group Rose of the World. Operating out of northern Moscow, Rose of the World offered "life training" that involved hidden recordings, deliberate efforts to stifle thought, and the expectation of a mental breakdown as part of the healing process — what the group called a "rollback."

Korshunova was reportedly an enthusiastic participant in training sessions, and her life coach told the New York Daily News that she unloaded a lot of heartbreak and loneliness. But Rose of the World, modeled on the controversial Lifespring practice, had a cultlike dimension that some friends said noticeably and negatively impacted Koshunova and her friend before their deaths. Some went as far as to blame Rose of the World — which later changed its name to Novgorodtsev Education — for their demise.

The Jeffrey Epstein scandals invited a fresh look at Korshunova's death

The circumstances leading to Ruslana Korshunova's death were revisited in January 2024, when her name was among those published in connection with convicted pedophile and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. That Korshunova had once visited Epstein's notorious island was not breaking news — Peter Pomerantsev included the trip in his Newsweek article on her death. Per the New York Post, previously released flight logs put Korshunova on the island mere weeks before Epstein's conviction, and less than two years before Korshunova's death. Epstein was with her on the flight.

The documents unsealed in 2024 did not confirm any abuse of Korshunova or indicate what happened while she was on the island. They did reveal that Virginia Giuffre was asked by lawyers in 2011 if she had known the model, but Giuffre didn't recognize her from photos or a provided Newsweek article. She passed on her condolences to Korshunova's surviving family.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

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