Are you still confused by Ukraine's 2007 Eurovision entry?
Trashy, consumerist, loud, countryfied, super-sized, Gogolian, Verka Serduchka is, to some approximation, Ukraine's Vicky Pollard.
Created by character comic Andrey Danilko
(b. 1973, also Andriy Danylko depending on language of choice), she is a tapestry of ugly stereotypes, a story of rags to riches, the target of both repulsion and admiration, and an enduring female media personality.
Reportedly, Danylko was born to a poor family in Poltava, in eastern Ukraine (wiki
; some local flavor
via a travel blog). Danylko was raised by his mother after his father died of lung cancer in 1980. Shy and a mediocre student according to his schoolteachers, Danylko applies to study music and pedagogy, but is rejected, only managing to finish a year of trade school. In the early 90s, Danylko tours Ukraine and western Russia with a character comedy act in the tradition of much-beloved, older, cruftier Soviet character comedians (e.g. in Russian
and Danylko's version
). An early version
of Verka is among Danylko's character sketches, as are a number of other male and female caricatures (e.g.
and stuff like this
Crash course in linguistics: many Slavic languages offer speakers a bevy of choices for diminutives (TVT
, sorry) and augmentatives (wiki
). For the armchair experts, here's Learn Russian the Fun Way on diminutives
. "Verka" is a crude, childish augmentative from "Vera," faith
. "Serduchka" is an augmentative schoolyard nickname from a typical Ukrainian surname (Сердюк → Сердючка).
In 1997, Verka begins appearing as the host of her own comedy chat show. Verka, in character as a train conductor lady
, is visited by various media personalities. The show migrates from Ukrainian TV to Russian TV. The show looks like this.
The show runs for a long time. It's vaguely reminiscent of Graham Norton's schtick. (In the aftermath of Eurovision, Danylko would incoherently call in to Norton's show.)
Linguistics crash course, part 2: aside from Eurovision, Verka speaks a kind of broadly Russified Ukrainian… or, perhaps, Russian with a broad Ukrainian accent… or, maybe, a crazy in-between dialect flavored with occasional Ukrainian. Whatever it is, it's ridiculed by Russians, derided by Ukrainian linguistic nationalists, and widely spoken (using various proportions of Ukrainian to Russian) by swaths of people living in Ukraine, inluding Danylko's native Poltava. (Kennan Institute explains surzhyk
. Contested Tongues
, Laada Bilaniuk's ethnography of Ukraine's contemporary language culture has a lot on Verka and her language, but this PDF manuscript
has lots of interesting sociolinguistic detail as well. Languagelog reports
on Russian vs. Ukrainian.)
What's a megastar to do but sing? Before long, Verka embarks on a musical career. Widespread acclaim arrives with her fourth album, Kha-ra-sho!
with a broad Russian accent). The album is full of cheap, tinny-sounding music and becomes very popular. Several music videos appear:
More albums and music videos follow. Verka often works in collaboration with VIA Gra, a popular band whose name is a cheap three-way Russian-Ukrainian-English pun:
- Чита-дрита (Verka visits her backward country relatives, singing starts at 2:35.)
- Тук-тук-тук ("Knock-Knock," Verka takes her backward country relatives to a fancy restaurant.)
- Я попала на любовь ("I Stumbled Into Love," Eurokitsch nosebleed.)
Around the time of the Orange Revolution (Foreign Affairs PDF
), Verka begins to sing in unaccented Russian:
Nor is Verka absent from the screen, appearing as a supporting character in a variety of TV productions alongside other well-known entertainers.
In 2003, Verka appears as the ugly sister Brunhilda in a musical version of Cinderella (representative sample
). Here's a musical number: Я не поняла
("I Didn't Get It").
In 2005, she appears as the shrewish and commanding Khyvrya (Хивря) in a televised pop-music version of Gogol's "The Sorochinsky Fair," a quintessential Ukrainian farce from his collection of Dikanka tales
. (There also exists an opera version of this story, in part due to Mussorgsky, but I doubt it has strong connections to this one.) Note that the historic village of Great Sorochintsy
is in the vicinity of Poltava, Danylko's hometown. The musical offers a torrent of Ukrainian folk kitsch and musical atrocity. A couple selections: Ти напився як свиня
("You Are Drunk Like Pig") | ending
This was not Verka's first Gogolian excursion. Several years prior she appeared (sample
) as the village moonshine brewer in a musical version of Gogol's Night Before Christmas
. (There is also a classic film version of the story, featuring this amusing scene.
Danylko, rather than Verka, appeared
as Cherubino in a trashy TV version of Beaumarchais's The Marriage of Figaro
, appearing alongside a variety of trashy aging stars like Filip Kirkorov and Sofiya Rotaru. A bit later he also appeared in a musical
based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," playing alongside Kristina Orbakayte, Layma Vaykule, Gennadiy Khazanov, and Natalia Vetlitskaya. Perhaps most importantly, he (as Verka) appeared alongside Alla Pugacheva,
the dowager queen of Russian popular music, in Chase After Two Hares (Catch Neither)
(a remake of a musical Ukrainian farce, previously filmed in 1961
I promise that all of these people were big in the USSR. Trust me.
In 2007, Verka appears on Eurovision with Dancing Lasha Tumbai. You already knew that. Verka's selection as Ukraine's Eurovision representative was not without controversy: among other things, she was burned in effigy (UKR
news coverage). Verka's career, already an intensely politicized sociolinguistic act, takes a hit because the nonsense phrase "lasha tumbai" sounds like "Russia, goodbye!" to people who don't speak English. The Russian St. Petersburg Times covers the controversy.
Elsewhere, the press echoes it back
. Here's an interview with the artist
in UK's free daily Metro. And here's a post-Eurovision summary
in PRI's The World. Here's some informed, though not impartial cultural criticism
of the Verka phenomenon. Verka was awarded the title
of "people's artist of Ukraine" by then-president Viktor Yushchenko (himself no stranger to controversy
). To complicate things, here's Verka dancing
with Belarusian dictator Sergey Lukashenko. Partisan news organ RT reports
on Verka's post-Eurovision bid for Ukraine's parliament
. Here's a post-Eurovision music video, EVRO VISION QUEEN.
Here's a concert version of the more recent Dolce Gabbana.
Verka's albums can be streamed from this shady Russian site
. I'm sure you can also buy them somehow, somewhere.
Since the Eurovision incident, Danylko has had a few TV roles (here
as a female genie in "Aladin's New Adventures" and here
as Little Red Riding Hood). Generally, his trajectory seems to have stabilized. Verka makes regular
and also periodically goes on concert tours, taking her Eurovision schtick to the US
In repetitive Russian
interviews, Danylko himself appears tired, defensive, and muted. Here's a recent interview in English (PDF
Notably, while English Wikipedia
devotes a page to Verka, the analogous Russian
pages are specifically about the character's creator first and the character second. The Russian page is significantly more detailed than the Ukrainian.
that, earlier this year, Danylko bought Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury's Rolls-Royce at auction and apparently intends to donate it to a museum.