'I only entered because there was a child I know who needed an operation and I wanted to help," she said. 'I did not mean to make the whole country cry.'
By Peter Graff and Akram Walizada
|Kseniya Simonova, the winner of TV show contest 'Ukraine's Got Talent', creates a drawing in sand in Yevpatoria, Sept 24, 2009. Photograph: Stringer/Russia/Reuters|
The appearance of a shy 24-year-old on a Ukrainian TV talent show this year has caused a nation to revisit its painful wartime past and is well on the way to becoming an international sensation.
About 13 million people watched Kseniya Simonova win Ukraine's Got Talent live with an extraordinary demonstration of "sand art". Most of them, according to reports, were weeping. The judges and studio audience sobbed throughout. Ukraine, where a fraught presidential election campaign is under way ahead of a vote in January 2010, is enduring a deepening financial crisis and the raw, sentimental depiction of Ukraine's suffering, even drawn in sand, was too much.
Ever since May, when Simonova first stepped on stage with a light-box full of sand and drew pictures in it, deftly creating tableaux of the country's history, her performances have collected new viewers. Her winning appearance has now notched up more than four million hits on YouTube. The number of hits is extraordinary for a foreign web clip, especially given that few people watching it could understand its message.
Ukraine lost one in four of its population during the Second World War, the largest losses of any country and about 20% of the total deaths.
Simonova's sand story portrays the human loss after the German invasion in 1941. The opening scene shows a couple sitting on a bench under a starry sky. Warplanes appear and the happy scene is obliterated to be replaced by crying faces. Then a baby arrives and the woman smiles again, but war and chaos return and a young woman becomes an old widow, before the image turns into an obelisk – the Ukrainian monument to its Unknown Soldier.
Simonova has returned to ordinary life in the Crimean seaside town of Evpatoria, where she has used her £80,000 prize to buy a modest house and set up a children's charity.
Simonova has told interviewers she is happy to stay in Evpatoria and will not be travelling abroad to cash in on her growing global fan base. Her success has taken the young woman by surprise. "I only entered because there was a child I know who needed an operation and I wanted to help," she said. "I did not mean to make the whole country cry."
September 27, 2009 — Return to cover.