Give Me a Sign
Cat’s Out of the Bag
According to the United Nations, more than 3.5 million Ukrainians have fled their country since Russia launched its stalled but brutal invasion last month. Every refugee surely has an important story to tell, but one has been getting quite a bit more attention than most. That’s because he’s a cat with 1.2 million followers on Instagram and nearly as many on TikTok.
Stepan is his name. A 13-year-old brown and black tabby, Stepan who used to live with his owner, known to followers simply as Anna, in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.
Thanks to his big green eyes and a face so expressive and malleable he could be a Pixar character, Stepan became a sensation during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly for his “party of one” pictures where he was typically seen lounging nonchalantly next to a glass of wine or a colorful cocktail. Occasionally he wore a bow tie. Sometimes he looked stylishly bored; sometimes he looked mischievous; sometimes both.
The mix struck a chord with a world under lockdown, winning Stepan a fan base that includes Britney Spears and Hailey Bieber. Also the fashion house Valentino, which featured Stepan in an ad, posing with his usual glass of wine and a bejeweled $2,800 purse. Hello, kitty!
In the days leading up to the invasion, Stepan’s Instagram feed veered from lifestyle concerns to urgent messages calling for peace. (Though come to think of it, war is a lifestyle concern.) Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city, has the misfortune of sitting near the border with Russia. Missiles and artillery fire have bombarded it since the war’s first night. On March 3, a week into the invasion, Stepan’s Instagram declared “We are alive!” with a picture of the tabby looking resolute, but then went dark for almost two weeks.
Stepan’s followers scrambled to get information on his and Anna’s fate. But no one knew if they were safe until Stepan finally posted again on March 16. He, Anna, and her two sons were now safe in France. But their experience had been harrowing. In Kharkiv, according to the post, “Shells hit the neighboring houses every day; the houses burned before our eyes. By some miracle our house remained safe exactly for a week.”
But then Stepan’s home was shelled, too. The family huddled in the basement for two days, without electricity, then sheltered in a neighbor’s basement. Volunteers guided them to a railway station where they boarded a train to Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, then made their way to the border with Poland, more than 40 miles away.
There, they stood in a line of four to five thousand people waiting to cross to safety. It took nine hours, but they made it. Waiting for them was the World Influencers and Bloggers Association, a loose organization that, according to its Web site, aims at harnessing influencers’ “unique talents and abilities” to “do good things for others and for this world, and to make this planet a better place to live.”
To be honest, that sounds like the kind of well-meaning but vague mission that never amounts to much, various awareness days notwithstanding. But the World Influencers came through for Stepan, Anna, and her two sons, bringing the family to France and renting them a house while they “wait for the very day when we could return home,” as Stepan’s post put it.
Air Mail Pilot hopes the wait won’t be long. In one new photo, Stepan is staring out the window of a train or bus at a gray landscape, looking sad and maybe thinking about home—and a waiting nice glass of Bordeaux. Millions of his fellow Ukrainians would no doubt like to join him in such a toast.—Bruce Handy
A Star is Born
At just 10 years old, Mykal-Michelle Harris has more film and television credits than most veteran actors.
Born in New Jersey, Mykal-Michelle—who goes by Mimi—first rose to prominence at three years old when she recorded a video of herself holding a copy of Sports Illustrated with Serena Williams on the cover. Pint-size and wearing an all-pink outfit, she goes on to tell the story of Williams’s impressive tennis career.
The video, titled “Like Serena,” is adorable and Mimi was clearly a natural in front of the camera. The world agreed—the video quickly went viral. Suddenly, Good Morning America was asking Mimi to appear on TV. The born performer excelled in the spotlight and booked commercials, modeling jobs, and, eventually, parts in movies and shows.
“Nervous isn’t even in my vocabulary,” Mimi tells AIR MAIL Pilot over Zoom. Lucky for us, she squeezed in an interview between her on-set academic classes and her rehearsals for the show she stars in, Raven’s Home. In that Disney Channel show, she plays Raven Symoné’s young cousin. This is far from her first stint on TV: She had a recurring part on ABC’s 2019 show Mixed-ish, as well as roles in HBO’s hit shows Big Little Lies and The Affair.
Her latest role is on the big screen. She’s in the new Disney+ movie Cheaper By The Dozen, a reboot of the 2003 film about the hazards of raising 12 kids. In it, she acts alongside Zach Braff and Gabrielle Union.
When asked about her favorite project, she says “they are all my favorite.” She explains that, ”On Cheaper By The Dozen, I had all these amazing people to work with and all these kids to talk to. On Raven’s Home, I have the beautiful and talented Raven. ”
Mimi credits her family with her huge success at such a young age. “My mom is my number one cheerleader,” she says. “She’s the one who’s always prepping me.”
Mimi is eager to explore all aspects of the entertainment industry. “I want to direct. I want to produce. I want to do everything in the business,” she explains. Plus, she wants to keep acting. “I want to play everybody.” —Bridget Arsenault
Most people plug their noses when opening a can of pet food. It might not look—or smell—like it, but the chicken, fish, and beef in that food really is the same stuff we humans eat. In fact, pets eat about 20 percent of the total meat consumed on Earth.
While our dogs and cats enjoy gravy-and-chicken kibble for dinner, the environmental impact of their food isn’t appetizing. In the U.S. alone, the production of dog and cat food creates 65 million tons of CO2 per year. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Agronomics, an investment firm, is helping create a new kind of pet food: Good Dog Food, meals made with lab-made meat.
To make the faux meat, Agronomics has teamed up with Roslin Technologies. Back in 1996, Roslin Technologies became known across the world for being the first research group to successfully clone a mammal. Led by Professor Sir Ian Wilmut, a team of scientists took a cell from a six-year-old Finn Dorset sheep and combined it with an egg cell from a Scottish sheep. After fusing the two, the scientists implanted the cell in a surrogate sheep. On February 22, 1997, Dolly—named after Dolly Parton—was born. She both looked and baaed like non-cloned sheep.
Now, Roslin Technologies is using that innovative cell technology to make faux meat. Researchers are taking fat and muscle cells from cows and replicating the tissues in a lab to make meat without actually raising and killing cows. The traditional process requires a lot of land and food for the animals, which emits tons of carbon into the environment.
The lab-made way is also much faster. With real cows, it takes about seven or eight animals, and about 28 months, to make 6,600 pounds of meat. In contrast, with the lab-made version, it only takes 40 days to make that much meat.
Good Dog Food is set to hit shelves in England within 18 months. In the future, the company intends to make faux meats for humans to eat, too. AIR MAIL Pilot is excited to indulge in a juicy, lab-made filet mignon. —Elena Clavarino