Two days after Vladimir Putin’s forces marched into Ukraine last month, New York art collector Dasha Zhukova postponed all of the exhibits at the Garage, her contemporary museum in Moscow, to protest “the brutal and horrific invasion.”
But while Zhukova, 40, has been emphatic in her condemnation of Russian aggression, she has remained silent about her ex-husband and the father of two of her three children, billionaire Roman Abramovich.
The Russian oligarch and confidant to Russian President Putin was sanctioned by the European Union and the UK earlier this month. The US has held off with its own sanctions, reportedly at the urging of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who told President Biden in a recent telephone call that Abramovich, 55, could be useful as a go-between to help negotiate a peace deal, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
Zhukova, who is on the boards of the Metropolitan Museum, the Shed and the Los Angeles County Museum, declined comment on Abramovich’s possible role as a negotiator through a spokesman Wednesday.
“As someone born in Russia, I unequivocally condemn these acts of war, and I stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people as well as with the millions of Russians who feel the same way,” she said through the spokesman, repeating the same statement she made to The Post at the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine.
Zhukova and Abramovich, owner of Britain’s Chelsea Football Club, separated in 2016, the spokesman said. Their divorce was finalized in 2019, shortly after Abramovich transferred $92.3 million in New York real estate, including three Upper East Side landmarked townhouses that are being joined into a mega-mansion, to Zhukova in September 2018, according to public records.
“All assets which were transferred are in accordance with the judgment of divorce,” the spokesman said. “Since then Dasha has moved on with her life and is happily remarried.”
Zhukova married Greek shipping heir Stavros Niarchos in a celebrity-packed 2020 wedding in St. Moritz. Guests included Britain’s Princess Beatrice, CBS News anchor Gayle King and art dealer Vito Schnabel, among others.
But although Zhukova and Abramovich separated their assets, the avid collectors are still partners in the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, which they founded in Moscow in 2008. Abramovich is listed along with Zhukova as one of the museum’s three trustees on the Garage’s website under the heading “Governance.”
The notice shutting down the Garage until the end of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is presumably made on their behalf, and reads in part, “We cannot support the illusion of normality when such events are taking place.”
In happier times, Zhukova and Abramovich were the powerhouse “It” couple of the contemporary art world. Abramovich raised eyebrows when he spent more than $86 million on a Francis Bacon triptych at a Sotheby’s auction in New York in 2008. The duo were also known for throwing fashionable parties in London, New York and St. Barth’s, the Caribbean island where Abramovich owns a sprawling mansion overlooking Gouverneur Beach and docked his $700 million yacht, Eclipse, at the harbor.
Their epic New Year’s Eve parties on the French island were multimillion-dollar affairs, featuring performances by Prince and the Black Eyed Peas, among others. Guests included Kanye West, Orlando Bloom, Demi Moore and Beyoncé. Zhukova herself counts Oprah Winfrey, model Karlie Kloss and Gwyneth Paltrow among her close friends.
“She’s adorable and everyone was always fawning over her trying to get invitations to their parties,” said a New York socialite who attended the soirees. “Hey [Abramovich] was always in the background and never said anything, pretending that he didn’t speak English. Nobody was terribly surprised when they broke up.”
Daria “Dasha” Alexandrovna Zhukova was born in Moscow on June 8, 1981, the only child of molecular biologist Elena and Alexander Zhukov, a businessman who began selling personal computers in Russia in the 1980s before making his fortune in oil in Ukraine. Her parents divorced when Dasha was 3 years old. Six years later, in 1991, she moved with her mother to Houston, where Elena took a position at Baylor College of Medicine.
“When the Soviet Union collapsed, my mother found it very difficult to be in this quite aggressive environment and she couldn’t really handle the abrupt changes,” Zhukova told the Financial Times. “So we didn’t actually emigrate to America, we thought we were just going for a year or two and then, I guess, she decided to stay. You know, I can’t imagine what it takes to get up in your 30s, with a child, and say, ‘OK, now I’m leaving and going somewhere I don’t know.’”
A year after settling in the US, Dasha’s maternal grandmother, Maria Rudnitskaya, a scientist, moved to the US to help look after her. Dasha attended a Jewish school when she first arrived in the US, and identifies with her mother’s religion. Her father is not Jewish.
“My parents have always stayed good friends and I feel like I’m part of a huge family,” she said. “I don’t think of any of my siblings as half-siblings — I’m actually very close to all of them.”
After their stay in Houston, Elena was offered a teaching position at UCLA and enrolled her daughter in Pacific Hills, a small private school in West Hollywood whose alumni include the actor Jason Bateman and Monica Lewinsky. After high school, Dasha enrolled at UC Santa Barbara, where she took up Slavic studies and literature.
At 22, she moved to London to study homeopathic medicine but became obsessed with contemporary art instead, never finishing her course of study. She lived in one of her father’s luxurious apartments and dated Marat Safin, a Russian tennis player. In 2005, Dasha put Abramovich at a dinner in Moscow. The spokesman said they were introduced by a mutual friend.
Abramovich, who is worth more than $13 billion, largely made his fortune after buying an oil company from the Russian government in an allegedly rigged auction in 1995, according to a recent BBC investigation. Abramovich paid $250 million for Sibneft before selling it back to the Russian government for $13 billion in 2005, the broadcaster noted. Abramovich’s lawyers denied that there was any criminality involved.
The moneyed couple plunged further into the world of contemporary art, attending art shows around the world after they opened their museum in a converted Soviet garage in Moscow in 2008. The museum eventually moved locations to the city’s Gorky Park, where Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas converted Vremena Goda, a Soviet-era restaurant, into a sleek, 5,400-square-foot exhibition space featuring an auditorium, classrooms, offices and a cafe, completed in 2015.
The eager art aficionados once angered residents in Venice when they arrived at the city’s Biennale in June 2011 and parked their 377-foot yacht, Luna, in the Grand Canal to throw a party for artists Gillian Wearing, Sarah Morris and Tom Sachs, blocking views of historic St. Mark’s Basilica.
Marco Paolini, a co-owner of the Caffè Florian on St. Mark’s Square, called Abramovich’s boat “idiotic” in an interview with the Guardian.
“There are so many beautiful places here, why do these people have to bring their houses with them?” he said.
Luna has a covered swimming pool, a communications tower and a crew of 40.
Zhukova’s critical eye was partly nurtured by Upper East Side art dealer Larry Gagosian, “who became a mentor,” said an art world source who did not want to be identified. Abramovich and Zhukova became so close to Gagosian that they bought property across the street from his East 75th Street mansion when they moved to New York, according to public records.
In addition to her work at the Garage Contemporary Art Museum, Zhukova founded Garage Magazine, a glossy fashion and art journal, which she sold to Vice Media in 2016. Zhukova is also the founder of Ray, a real estate development company that is developing a 222-unit residential building and performance space for the National Black Theater in Harlem.
The couple’s separation was amicable, said the spokesman, who did not elaborate on the cause. “It’s not so hard to figure out why they split,” said the socialite. “These oligarchs have such big lives and they can’t be normal husbands or fathers. They’re always on to the next big thing.”
The couple’s children—Aaron Alexander, 12, and Leah Lou, 8—are in private school in Manhattan. Zhukova also has a son, Philip Stavros Niarchos, who was born last year and is named for her husband’s father.
Zhukova and Niarchos have a couple’s combined net worth estimated at more than $200 million, and the Niarchos family’s holdings topped $12 billion after the death of his grandfather in 1996, according to reports.
Dasha, who regularly posts on social media, stopped uploading glamorous photos of herself even before the beginning of the war — perhaps anticipating the backlash of comments, such as the ones that now appear under an Instagram picture of her wearing a fur coat in San Moritz .
Write one social media user: “Tell Roman to stop Putin.”