PakAlumni Worldwide: The Global Social Network

The Global Social Network

Pakistani Steel Mill Engineer-Turned-Oligarch Shapes Ukrainian Politics

Oligarchs have shaped politics in post-Soviet Russia and other former Soviet republics including The Ukraine since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. One such oligarch is Karachi-born Pakistani Ukrainian Mohammad Zahoor, a member of growing Pakistani diaspora which is already the world's 7th largest. He owns Kyiv Post newspaper which is widely believed to have led the campaign to topple pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Mohammad and Kamaliya Zahoor

In 1974, Zahoor left Karachi, Pakistan, for the Soviet Union to study metallurgy in Donetsk in the Ukraine. Though he moved back with his Russian wife to work at Pakistan Steel Mills plant in Karachi, Pakistan upon graduation but he didn’t stay there long.

“Having a Russian wife limited my career development there,” he told Newsweek. “The secret services were also very active during the ’80s, and I thought it better to leave.” He moved to Moscow to work for a Pakistani steel company in the late ’80s, and hasn’t looked back since

He learned Russian and metallurgy well. Then he eventually found a way to apply those skills in Ukraine, one of the world’s top 10 steel-exporting nations. Zahoor also displayed a talent for knowing when to get out of a business, as he did in 2008 by selling his Donetsk steel mill for a top-drawer price of $1 billion, according to Kyiv Post. He has since invested in media and real estate businesses.

Zahoor divorced his first wife to marry Kamaliya (born as Natalya Shmarenkova in 1977) in 2003. Kamaliya won Mrs. World title in 2008. She is involved in charitable work in both Ukraine and Pakistan. They live in a mansion designed to resemble Dubai’s hotel Burj al-Arab in the suburbs of Kyiv. The couple had twin daughters last year. Zahoor has two grown children, Arman and Tanya, from his previous marriage.

Zahoor and Kamaliya have starred in a Fox Entertainment reality show "Meet the Russians". Kamaliya has a singing career with hit singles like "Crazy In My Heart," "Rising Up," and "Butterflies," and she is also famous for singing duets with Russian pop star Philipp Kirkorov.

Here's a Kamaliya music and dance video:

Kamaliya - Butterflies (Fabinho DVJ & DJ Antoine vs. Mad Mark R... from Fabinho DVJ on Vimeo.

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Views: 999

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 10, 2015 at 10:10pm

On September 19 next week, the Kyiv Post will complete 20 years of existence, 20 years in which this tenacious newsweekly with a print circulation of little more than 15,000 has consistently scrapped and punched above its weight.

This is in part because it publishes in English, making it the source of first resort for news on Ukraine for embassies in Kiev and chanceries around the world, as well as for any expat doing business in this country of simpatico citizens and venal officialdom.

The other element of its success has been its consistent, and cussed, independence. The paper tells it arrow-straight in a part of the world where much of the media twists the news to suit the interests of oligarch owners and corrupt politicians.

By contrast, the record shows that the Kyiv Post gets the story right most of the time; and apart from a few instances of turbulence between owner and editors, the quality of its journalism is not inferior to any reputable publication in the West. Staid it may be on occasion, but it’s never dodgy or unreliable.

* * *

I am in Koncha-Zaspa, a zippy 30-minute drive south of Kiev in a daredevil local journalist’s car. This is a wooded suburb of the capital, dotted with mansions of questionable taste, some grotesque.

By the standards of the zip code, Mohammad Zahoor’s pile is restrained, though it could hardly be called understated. The security is relaxed — one man at the gate who waves us through, another who ushers us to a parking spot; and as we descend from our car, a tall Pakistani man, about 6-foot-2, approaches us. It’s Zahoor, Ukraine’s richest expat, a “minigarch” worth about $1 billion (some say), and the owner of the Kyiv Post.

Zahoor is 60 years old, though his jet-black hair isn’t a day older than 30. His physique suggests regular trips to the gym. He is a virile chap, with two little toddlers to prove it. They’re twins — Arabella and Mirabella — his daughters with his wife Kamaliya, a bombshell blonde who was Mrs. World in 2008, and is today a singer of some repute not just in Ukraine but in those parts of Europe where the pop culture is unfussy.

We banter with Zahoor’s twins for a while before they’re whisked off by a posse of nannies (I count four). A housekeeper brings us chai made in the way of the Indian subcontinent, strong brick-red tea with lots of milk and sugar. After a few sips — the tea is hot, and we slurp noisily — Zahoor starts to reminisce. His speech is languid, his accent a mix of Pakistan and Britain. “You want to know my story?” he asks.

Men of steel

The owner of the Kyiv Post arrived in Moscow in 1974 on an engineering scholarship. He’d been at college in Karachi, and when he learned of his selection by the Soviet education ministry his parents were on a pilgrimage to Mecca, so he left without telling them. He was one of 42 students flown in from Pakistan: 14 stayed in Moscow, 14 went to St. Petersburg, and 14 unlucky ones — among them Zahoor — were put on a train to Donetsk, a shabby, polluted industrial backwater in then-eastern Soviet Ukraine. Showing early acumen, he changed $40 on the black market before embarking on the 32-hour journey. “I’m from Pakistan. I wouldn’t sell my dollars at the official rate!”

Zahoor studied engineering and steel-making at Donetsk, turning in a thesis on the rolling plant at the Donetsk Steel Mill in 1980. “Sixteen years later I bought that mill,” he says, with obvious — but not off-putting — satisfaction. He returned to Pakistan shortly after with a Russian wife, and worked for Pakistan Steel. “I was a safety engineer. We translated Russian safety manuals into English.”


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