News, Culture & Society

Ukrainian refugee who tempted ex-Wonga boss Haakon Overli to leave wife and children was a model

This is the stunning Ukrainian amateur model who tempted former Wonga boss Haakon Overli to leave his wife and children after taking her in as a refugee.

These exclusive photos of Mariia Polonchuk, 39, show a very different side to the motoher-of-three who once co-authored a Ukrainian cookbook and has hitherto only been seen in photos at a village fete.

Earlier this month, MailOnline revealed that stunning Mariia began a relationship with 52-year-old multi-millionaire Mr Overli after she fled the war in Ukraine with her sons and moved to the Overlis’ £3m Surrey mansion.

Soon after arriving in the UK, Mariia featured in a photo tweeted by local MP and former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who wrote: ‘It was great to meet a Ukrainian being hosted by a local family… nothing more English than the village fete to welcome them.’

But Mariia’s former partner Andrey Sheldunov, father of her three sons, is a photographer back In Kyiv who specialises in portraits and nudes, and Mariia has modelled sensational swimwear shoots for him in the past.

Her beguiling portfolio on social media shows she is a natural in front of the camera, whether frolicking sleek and sexy in the surf, leaping from the water or draped on the beach.

This is the Ukrainian amateur model Mariia Polonchuk – a mother of three – who tempted ex Wonga boss Haakon Overli to leave his wife and children after taking her in as a refugee

Last month MailOnline revealed that stunning Mariia began a relationship with 52-year-old multi-millionaire Mr Overli after she fled the war in Ukraine with her three children

Last month MailOnline revealed that stunning Mariia began a relationship with 52-year-old multi-millionaire Mr Overli after she fled the war in Ukraine with her three children

And in portraiture, her piercing blue eyes mesmerise the viewer, in serious or smiling poses.

Although it is not clear whether she and Andrey married, they were evidently long-term partners, with all her sons, Hrihhorii [Ukrainian for Grigory], 18, teenager Maxim and 12-year-old Korney taking his surname.

Andrey also co-authored a Ukrainian cookbook with Mariia and the pair were co-directors of a Kyiv-based company called Kontakt Media from 2006 until June of this year.

They appeared to have a comfortable life before the war, with foreign holidays and Korney, a child prodigy on the violin, was sent to a specialist music boarding school at the age of six.

His skills have seen him perform and win prizes all over Europe and he even played to world leaders at Davos at the World Economic Forum two years ago.

He won a major music prize in Kyiv in February – only a few weeks before Russian tanks rolled across the Ukrainian border.

Happy families: Former Health Secretary and South West Surrey MP Jeremy Hunt shared this pictured with Mr Overli, his now ex-wife, their children and new girlfriend Mariia Polonchuk

Happy families: Former Health Secretary and South West Surrey MP Jeremy Hunt shared this pictured with Mr Overli, his now ex-wife, their children and new girlfriend Mariia Polonchuk

Mariia came to the UK with her three sons after fighting broke out in Kyiv and people right across the UK opened their homes to refugees like her escaping war

Haakon Overli, 52, is said to have begun a relationship with Mariia after taking her into the £3million family home in Surrey following the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Haakon Overli, 52, (right) is said to have begun a love affair with the Eastern European woman just months after taking her into the family home in Surrey following the Russian invasion

Mariia, Andrey and their family originally lived in Ukraine’s second city Kharkhiv, but moved to Kyiv more recently.

Mr Overli, former boss of disgraced payday loans firm Wonga, is estimated to be worth £5 million and is said to have lobbied the government to help bring refugees to the UK from Ukraine since the invasion.

He reportedly began weeks of lobbying former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former Home Secretary Priti Patel in March to speed up the process of bringing his now girlfriend to Britain.

Ms Polonchuk’s arrival in the UK earlier this year with her boys may have spared her eldest son, now aged 18, from being called up to join the brutal war against the Russian invaders which has claimed thousands of lives.

The family were able to join 52-year-old Norwegian-born Mr Overli, his wife and children at their sprawling Surrey estate.

But only a few months after the Ukrainian family were granted visas, Ms Polonchuk and Mr Overli moved out of the marital home in Surrey, with her children, leaving his wife Imogen, 46, and his school-aged children behind.

Andrey Sheldunov - the long-term partner of Mariia and father of her three children

Andrey Sheldunov – the long-term partner of Mariia and father of her three children

Mrs Overli herself shares a love of classical music and is chairman of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, whose members specialise in playing period instruments.

Other photographs and postings on social media from Ukraine discovered by MailOnline give a poignant glimpse into the Sheldunov/Polonchuk family’s happy existence there before Putin’s cynical war turned their lives upside down.

Around 2007 and 2010 Andrey took stunning photographic portraits of his partner Mariia, calling her affectionately Manya or Masha on the caption.

And in 2015, the pair collaborated on a book featuring Ukrainian culture, history and cookery.

Translated into German as Das große Buch der Ukrainischen Küche [The big book of Ukrainian cuisine], it received scores of glowing five-star reviews from readers on Amazon.

One said of the 2015 hardback edition: ‘An absolutely authentic, really good cookbook with a very good selection of recipes. The best Ukrainian cookbook I know of.’

Mariia and Andrey’s eldest son Hrihorii appears to have inherited his father’s gift behind the lens and now describes himself on social media as a London-based photographer, appearing to specialise in lifestyle and portraits.

Mariia’s former partner Andrey is a photographer back In Kyiv specialising in portraits and nudes and Mariia featured as a model in some of his shoots

Mariia’s former partner Andrey is a photographer back In Kyiv specialising in portraits and nudes and Mariia featured as a model in some of his shoots

Mariia and Andrey's eldest son Hrihorii appears to have inherited his father’s gift behind the lens and now describes himself on social media as a London-based photographer. One of their other sons is a gifted violinist who is due to play in Oxford

Mariia and Andrey’s eldest son Hrihorii appears to have inherited his father’s gift behind the lens and now describes himself on social media as a London-based photographer. One of their other sons is a gifted violinist who is due to play in Oxford

Mariia’s two other sons are Maxim and Korney Sheldunov. Korney has already played violin at international concerts, and is understood to be due to perform in Oxford soon.

Remarkably mature and articulate social media updates from Korney dated April 2022 tell his followers he has moved to London.

Korney was born in Kharkhiv in 2010 and began playing the piano at four, enrolling in a specialist music boarding school in the city aged just six, before switching to the violin.

A touching 2017 home video posted on social media shows dad Andrey in pyjamas on electric guitar, with Hrihhorii on acoustic guitar, belting out US singer LP (Laura Pergolizzi]’s 2016 hit Lost on You while Korney joins in with a violin solo.

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk