After ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ Kamaliya readies charity ball
She still remembers the time when her family had no money to buy food and she had to work hard to support her family.
That’s why now, singer, actress and 2008 Mrs. World winner Kamaliya, wife of Kyiv Post publisher Mohammad Zahoor, pays a lot of attention to charity.
“I have been poor, and now I take pleasure in helping other people,” says Kamaliya, born 40 years ago in Russia’s southeastern Chita Oblast as Natalya Shmarenkova. She was born in a military family and recalls the times when her father wasn’t paid his salary for up to eight months.
To deliver her support, in 2014 she established St. Nicholas Charity Night, run by her Kamaliya Foundation. The event is held in the first part of December for different purposes each time: to raise money for children of killed Ukrainian soldiers, children with Down Syndrome, medical equipment and winter clothing for orphans. The shows have different themed music — one year, for instance, it was diva music.
Last year, she raised more than $18,000 that went to the Kyiv Lions Club, an international service organization, that has raised and spent more than $3 million in Ukraine — mainly to help needy children and purchase medical equipment for hospitals.
This year, the event is scheduled for Dec. 6 at the Hilton Kyiv, the night after the Kyiv Post Tiger Conference in the same place. The theme of the charity ball will be Oscar-winning songs. Organizers plan to raise up to 50,000 euros, and the money will go to purchase mobile dental clinics in Lviv Oblast for 6,000 children 15 years of age and under. The recipient is Germany-based Regine Sixt Children’s Aid Foundation and the project is run by Malteser International.
“Dental surgeries are often located in distant cities and dental treatments are not affordable for the impoverished population. A doctor
appointment usually only takes place in case of emergency,” according to Malteser International’s explanation of the project. “Due to the fact that many young people return into poverty after leaving the children’s home, their dental care does not improve and many do lose teeth in young years.”
Kamaliya hopes her involvement will promote a “culture of charity for others to follow.” Unfortunately, she said, philanthropy is not always appreciated in Ukraine.
“The majority of people believe that if you have money you either stole it or earned it in a very dishonest way,” says the singer-actress. “Somehow, they prefer to forget that my husband provides workspaces to thousands of people in Ukraine, invests in this country his own money and we both give a lot for charity.”
With such strong support from her husband, a multimillionaire, she is portrayed in some media as a spoiled wife who would not have a career without Zahoor. The reality is that Kamaliya broke into show business long before meeting Zahoor 14 years ago.
On her way to success
Before getting married in 2003, Kamaliya was a young, aspiring singer with potential. She had a band and used to sing at weddings, corporate parties, hosted TV shows and recorded music videos. By the age of 25, she had already received numerous music awards.
Tall, blonde and gifted with an enchanting voice of great range, Kamaliya always had more than her share of attention from men. Some bookings to sing at corporate parties were motivated by men looking to meet her. Kamaliya came up with a way to deflect unwanted interest. “I would simply send all these fellows to my mother,” Kamaliya says.
Her mother even became her manager and helped Kamaliya to organize concerts. “It was a time when I did not rely on men and called myself a feminist,” says Kamaliya.
When her future husband stepped in, she paid no special attention at first and referred him to her mother.
Happily ever after
July 11, 2003: This is the day that changed the lives of Zahoor and Kamaliya. They met for the first time at a business party. She came with a friend of the family and Zahoor was there to talk business with his partners.
Back then, he adored Sarah Brightman, a British singer with a strong soprano. But after meeting Kamaliya, Brightman faded to No. 2 on his list of favorite singers. Kamaliya has been his No. 1 ever since.
In 2003, Zahoor knew nothing about Ukrainian music. He found out about Kamaliya’s popularity only after being introduced to her.
“Could you sing something?” he asked. She could — and did. “It was a one-two punch,” recalls Zahoor. “She was both beautiful and had an amazing voice.”
Kamaliya says that Zahoor made a great impression, although she had no idea who he was or his success in business.
“It came to my mind that he was not a simple man, but that was all I knew,” she says.
In a week, she received a call.
“Good afternoon. My name is Zahoor,” she remembers a confident voice saying. “Do you remember me? I would like to invite you to sing at our corporate party.”
Although Kamaliya did remember him well, she worried that his intentions were not serious.
“Please, talk to my manager,” she said, sending him to her mother as usual.
But the voice over the phone did not give in.
“My manager will talk to your manager,” he said. “And I will talk to you.”
And that’s how their relationship started.
In a week, Zahoor invited Kamaliya to sing at a corporate party. She did not know yet about Zahoor’s penchant for doing things on a grand scale. ( He sold his steel business in Donetsk in 2008 for close to $1 billion, a year before he bought the Kyiv Post for $1 million from its American founder Jed Sunden.)
The party turned out to be a performance at the Metallurg Arena, with a capacity of 15,000 spectators. Their relationship developed quickly. In less than two months, they got married.
Ukrainian music scene
While her marriage bloomed, Kamaliya found it harder to develop her singing career in Ukraine.
“My songs are listed in the top charts all over the world, people know me there, but in Ukraine at radio stations, I was told my music is not the type they are looking for. In Ukraine, I am portrayed as the spoiled wife of a rich husband who does nothing but spends her husband’s money.”
As an example, she brings up “The Rich Also Cry” TV show aired on 1+1 TV channel in 2012 which, according to her, portrayed her as a lavish spender but did not “show hours I spend in the recording studio working hard on my new songs and how serious I am about my singing career.”
Kamaliya rose to the peak of her popularity worldwide by participating in the UK reality show “Meet the Russians” where she was the leading character. Kamaliya was also among the first Ukrainian artists to openly support equal rights for the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender communities.
Another pivotal event took place when Kamaliya took part in “Dancing With the Stars” in Ukraine. Invited to participate, she took note of Zahoor’s skepticism.
“If she won, people would say I paid for that,” says Zahoor. “So I did not see the point for her to participate.”
But Kamaliya convinced Zahoor that participating in the show was important to her, regardless of whether she won or lost the competition.
“Dancing With the Stars” kicked off on Aug. 27 on 1+1 TV channel. With her dancing partner, ballroom dancing champion Dmytro Zhuk, Kamaliya performed samba, pasodoble, rumba, contemporary and jazz live on stage and caught the attention of the Ukrainian audience.
“I have received so many e-mails, had such a huge support,” Kamaliya says. “I think people got to know me better as a person.”
Zhuk helped Kamaliya to feel confident on the stage. Yet the judges criticized the couple. “Dmytro and I were the ones to be criticized,” she complained.
She also seriously injured a muscle, complicating her performance and forcing her to dance on painkillers.
“I would split my time between workouts and visits to the doctor to sedate my pain,” she says. “It was a very tense time.”
After the show, she would watch the recordings of her dancing. Kamaliya notices that the illness influenced the way she performed on stage.
“If it wasn’t for the pain, I would do much better,” she said. “I knew the moves.”
Kamaliya left the show on Oct. 1 because she and her dancing partner didn’t win enough votes from judges and the audience.
Yet these five weeks of hard training paid off in greater fitness and strength, which she’s keeping up by sticking to a healthy diet.
Now, besides raising their 4-yearold twin daughters, Arabella and Mirabella, she has recently recorded her new album called “Timeless.”
Kamaliya’s music has changed over the years. She started her career singing techno and now sticks to dance, lyric, pop and classical crossover.
The happy mother and wife is doing what she loves — developing her talent, music and voice — while remembering to raise money for Ukraine’s neediest children, just as she cannot forget her own humble origins.
Kamaliya Zahoor, wife of Kyiv Post publisher Mohammad Zahoor, talks about her ”Dancing with the Stars” experience, charity work, career and family on Oct. 3.
Kamaliya performs at her third annual St. Nicholas Charity Night in Kyiv on Dec. 12, 2016.