Alla Pugacheva, Russia's leading pop diva since the '70s, is so famous that in the Russian-speaking world she's simply known by her first name. A concert in the 72-year-old's honor a few years ago sufficed with the moniker “Our Alla.”
Pugachev's biggest hits like “Millions of Scarlet Roses” and “Love Like a Dream” are known by heart by grandmothers and their grandchildren alike. The romantic comedy “The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath” was a fixture in Soviet New Year’s Eve celebrations, buoyed by its soundtrack packed with Pugacheva hits.
And now, one month into Russia's invasion of Ukraine, two sources have told Haaretz that Pugacheva is in Israel with her family.
At the beginning of March, the Russian media began reporting that the singer and her husband – comedian, impressionist and super-popular TV host Maxim Galkin – had left Russia for Israel. Their children, Liza and Garry – 9-year-old twins born to a surrogate mother – are here with them, the media reported.
Pugacheva and Galkin – whose mother is Jewish – are refusing to be interviewed, and it's not clear how long they plan to stay in Israel. But the 45-year-old Galkin has six performances scheduled around the country in June – from the Haifa area in the north to Be’er Sheva in the south.
Pugacheva and Galkin generally do not give interviews and very rarely make political statements. Galkin's only unambiguous comment on the war came on the first day.
“Have been on the phone with my relatives from Ukraine since early morning,” he wrote on Instagram on February 24. “I cannot describe what I am feeling right now. How is this all possible! There is no justification for war! No to war!”
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Two days after this post, which according to a new law in Russia could be considered a crime, Galkin announced he had opened a Telegram channel so his followers could remain in touch if Instagram ran into trouble. Sure enough, the service has been halted in Russia.
Galkin posted a video from a 1999 appearance and added the caption: “The best part is at the end.” The clip showed Vladimir Putin, then prime minister, sitting in the audience next to Naina Yeltsina, the wife of then-President Boris Yeltsin.
During the performance, Galkin imitated Yeltsin: “If Clinton brandishes his warheads at us, Putin will drown him in the toilet” – a takeoff on Putin’s famous comment on Chechen terrorists.
The future president actually rolls in laughter after the joke, and Galkin continues with his imitation. “I’m very happy that all of you have gathered here and are entertained because reasons to be happy are not expected in the near future.”
For her part, Pugacheva has posted on Instagram a video showing the famous Russian Orthodox priest Andrei Tkachev, who is originally from Ukraine, attacking her. “We’re living in a satanic nightmare," he says. "Have you paid attention to how the air has been cleansed? Pugacheva has left Russia forever! God, how long have I waited for this!"
Later in the clip, Pugacheva turns to the priest and says: “Your joy comes too early, Androysha," using a diminutive for Andrei. "A vacation and medical care aren't considered emigration. I’ll return and we'll clarify things. I’ll go to your church and pray for you, blasphemer.”
Since the '90s, Pugacheva has been known as someone who determines the fate of people in Russia's entertainment industry. She has been dubbed the grandmother of Russian pop and has taken young artists under her wing. And she's normally busy denying rumors about her ability to destroy the careers of people she doesn’t like.
For 11 years she was married to another Russian megastar, Philipp Kirkorov, 18 years her junior. He is known in Israel for his cover of Dana International’s “Diva,” among other hits. Her daughter from her first marriage, Kristina Orbakaite, is also a big pop star.
Pugacheva, whose 500-plus songs have been translated into languages including English and Hebrew, was named a People’s Artist of the USSR in 1991, the highest state honor an artist can receive. And in 1995 she won the State Prize of the Russian Federation.
Galkin is Pugacheva’s fifth husband. The two were married in 2011, when Galkin was already a huge star. For years he hosted the Russian versions of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “Dancing with the Stars,” both on the official television station Russia 1.
Despite their spots in the mainstream of Russian commercial television, which is big on lowest common denominator, Pugacheva and Galkin are also known in Russian intellectual circles.
For years, Pugacheva was a very close friend of author and standup comic Mikhail Zhvanetsky, who became a symbol of freedom of thought and sociopolitical satire already in the Soviet period. Galkin, who as a younger man dropped his doctoral studies in linguistics, is known as a brilliant conversationalist with broad horizons.
Last year the Ukrainian security services put Galkin on a list of Russian cultural figures who threatened Ukrainian national security; after the invasion of Crimea in 2014, he took part in a gala performance of Russian artists in the peninsula. And in 2018, Pugacheva recorded a video where she alluded to criticism of her friend Laima Vaikule, a Soviet-era pop star and Latvian citizen, for her refusal to perform in occupied Crimea.
Still, it wasn't clear video if Pugacheva was targeting Vaikule or Russia's shortfalls on freedom of expression.
A video of a Galkin appearance in 2019 shows him criticizing the censorship of Russian television – and even Putin himself.
The couple’s departure from Russia – whether for a few months or longer – reflects the breakdown at the top of the Russian pop and TV industry since Putin's tanks rolled west.