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Supermodel Irina Shayk - and her amazing Siberian spy link

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16 August 2012


Irina Shayk, real name Shaykhislamova. Picture: Irina Shayk's official website

With one of the globe's most recognisable faces, she is famed for her shoots for Sports Illustrated, Intimissimi and most top glamour magazines, plus the eligible man on her arm, footballer Christiano Ronaldo.

But here in Sibay, nudging Siberia - a world away from New York which she now calls home - we find she is not the first in her family to venture victorious onto the international stage.  

In a modest one room flat in an unremarkable block in this copper and zinc quarrying town in the Republic of Bashkortostan, lives a rather distinguished lady who also knows a thing or two about conquering, and has the medals to prove it.

Galina Shaykhislamova (Irina's real surname), is Irina's 88-year-old babushka - or grandmother - but also 'a great role model for Irina, showing that by sheer hard work at a young age you can do whatever you want', explained a family friend.  

While Irina seldom visits due to the pressure of work, she often calls to speak to her grandmother.

Irina Shayk  Irina Shayk
Irina's grandmother Galina, left, aged 20, and Irina Shayk. Pictures: The Siberian Times, Irina Shayk's official website

Today 26 year old Irina's official website boasts how her 'magnificent body and emerald green eyes won her the place in many prestigious top rankings.

She is the 13th in 20 sexiest models on and the 57th in 100 hottest supermodels on '.

She is also the new presenter of popular TV show 'Russian Top Model', taking over from Ksenia Sobchak, who it is claimed dumped after participating in anti-Vladimir Putin protests.

'I wish her luck and speak only about fashion, otherwise she might have problems,' Sobchak cautioned her. 

Galina's achievements were in a different sphere to her granddaughter, yet were at the time unquestionably far more important.

The lives of granddaughter and grandmother could scarcely be more different: at the same age as Irina was when she began wowing the West, Galina had begged to be enlisted, and was deployed as an intelligence agent by Stalin on the frontline of the Red Army's surge through eastern Europe, her role to pinpoint key Nazi troop and strategic targets for the air force to bomb or the army to rout.

'I was 18 and training to be a teacher when I first asked to join up,' she recalled. 'My father was reported as missing in Leningrad - later we learned he had died - and at first they refused, saying I should study at the Air Force Academy. So I started studying and eventually joined the front in 1944.'

This was no ordinary training. 'It was the military and aviation school of the intelligence services,' said Natalya Kodakova, author of a book on wartime heroes which features Galina. 'When she graduated with honours  in 1944 she was sent to the front as part of the intelligence department.'

When she reached the front in Romania she was - astonishingly - a spy who was still in her teens.

Irina Shayk

Irina's grandmother Galina Shaykhislamova. Picture: The Siberian Times

Her task was to make maps from pictures taken by reconnaissance aircraft, pin pointing 'the spots with Fascist troops and machines' so they could be destroyed.

'We drove along war devastated roads in a special car equipped as a laboratory, and were under frequent bombardment. There were three girls and a driver, though sometimes I drove the car myself.

'We developed and reconstructed the films, decrypted them, made maps and sent them to headquarters. Some days were so busy we didn't leave our car at all.'

The war took her through Bucharest, Budapest and on to Vienna.

'This is a picture of me when I was 20' - she says, pointing to a portrait on her wall, close to a photograph of Irina.

'I'd already seen the horrors of war by then, travelling through these east European countries.

'Everybody feared they would die in the next minute or the next day. That's how it was.'

Irina Shayk

Block of flats where Irina's grandmother Galina Shaykhislamova lives. Picture: The Siberian Times

She is modest about the bravery she undoubtedly showed, feeling that each generation has its own challenges, and confident that Irina would have managed the stresses of war if she'd lived in an earlier time. 

'You know, I think Irina would cope with such a task if that was what was thrown at her - she's a courageous girl.'

She paused and chuckled. 'I wore a military shirt and a unformed skirt or trousers. She wears other clothes. She has long hair, but I had to have a short cut because of conditions in the war, it was easier to handle, and we were doing everything on the go.

'Putting on make-up? No way! I was ecstatically happy to be able to wash my face in an ice hole, in freezing water.

'But still, the war or no war, we were girls and we tried to be beautiful.'

She was in the Austrian capital when she thought the end had come.

'I remember how I was woken one night by such intense gunfire that I felt the Germans had breached our lines.

But it turned out it was our soldiers firing into the air and shouting ecstatically 'Victory! Victory!' It was 9 May 1945. The war was over.'

Galina remembers the happy faces of those they liberated, though in fact the liberation rapidly turned for many into a new oppression as the Iron Curtain split the continent.

This, though, was not at all how loyal Communists like Galina saw it and until recently, in her old flat in Lenin Street, she had on her wall a signed edict by Stalin praising the forces that defeated the Nazis. 

Irina Shayk

Irina's grandmother Galina Shaykhislamova. Picture: The Siberian Times

Galina won the Zhukov medal for service in the Great Patriotic War, and has since collected a number of jubilee medals commemorating the achievements of Russian forces. She still joins the annual parades for veterans.  

After the war, she herself was sent for three years with her new husband to a highly secretive Soviet military base in Communist East Germany, a period she still declines to speak about.

Later she would work in both the petroleum and agricultural industries.

Her own marriage failed soon after the birth of Irina's father Valery - who died eight years ago after an incident in the Urals gold mine where he worked in Yemanzhelinsk, where Irina was born on Orthodox Christmas Eve in 1986.

To Irina, her babushka remains her connection to the Tatar father who did not live to see her remarkable fame and fortune, but from whom she inherited her striking looks. 

'My father was dark skinned, because he was Tatar, sometimes Tatars can look Brazilian,' she once said. 'I get my light eyes from my mother - called Olga, a pianist who was a music teacher at a kindergarten'.

Irina Shayk

Irina Shayk

Irina's father Valery, Irina Shayk. Pictures: The Siberian Times, Irina Shayk's official website

Galina - who often nursed Irina as a child - uses all her old intelligence skills to protect her granddaughter, being extremely reluctant to talk to journalists about her, though fortunately making an exception for us.  

She is especially wary of discussing Ronaldo's role in Irina's life, fearing that too much media scrutiny can strain their intercontinental relationship.

On her last visit to see her granny, Irina brought pictures of the Real Madrid star and talked to her about the man in her life.

Galina confided: 'She told us a lot a lot about him, that he is a dignified person who measures up to Irina. So we have permitted her to marry him when the time is right'.

She insisted that for now Irina 'needs to work' and denied that she is upset that she is so far away from Russia, seldom venturing home. 

Galina insists: 'Let her live the way she wants to. What may I tell her? 'Come and live here in Sibay? She won't come.

'Or should I say: 'Go to Chelyabinsk (the nearest big industrial city)? She has nothing to do there, there's no job for her. No, she's in the right place with her mother in New York'.

Irina offers her babushka expensive presents, but she will not accept money gifts from her wealthy granddaughter, saying her war veteran's pension is plenty to live on.

Galina tells her: 'I don't need it. You do need it, you're young.  You need to enjoy your life'.

Comments (6)

she is so sexy i like her figure she is sweet irina shayk is super star i saw her bol pictures on
rose patel, Usa
26/10/2012 01:16
The model in the magazine picture her grandmother is holding is not Irina Shayk. It's Emily
a, london
10/10/2012 19:06
Great read. Great website. thanks.
Davina, UK
24/08/2012 20:29
Irina is so beautiful. I love pictures of grandmother and Irina put together. Galina has very strong eyes and beautiful face... Irina is very lucky to have such family behind her
18/08/2012 17:06
they are of a completely different material, these people who were so young when the war hit them.... in a way we are living a much easier life
Michael, Russia
17/08/2012 16:10
what a beautiful lady she is, Irina's grandmother!!! and what a life she had. Irina must have inherited an iron cast character
Tina, London, UK
16/08/2012 17:30

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