A woman who used to sleep on a flea-infested sofa has revealed how she pulled herself out of extreme poverty and became a multi-millionaire.
Victoria Unikel grew up in a cold and crumbling flat in communist-controlled Russia – a home she shared with three families including her own – but always knew she was destined for a better life.
She claims her father was imprisoned for political reasons, while her grandparents were exiled to Siberia as enemies of the state.
Now 45, Victoria’s life looks vastly different to her traumatic childhood – with the businesswoman running several companies worth a combined total of $17 million (USD).
But it’s been a long road to get there.
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“I remember watching political broadcasts on TV that promised so many things to people like my family but our reality was very different,” the influencer, who has 520,000 followers (@victoriaunikel), told Jam Prime.
“The walls of our flat had cracks in them, letting in freezing wind in the winter.
"Most of the time I was hungry and surrounded by stressed-out adults who were dealing with the constant threat of imprisonment for stepping out of line or criticizing the government.
"I'd wake up every day with red spots from flea bites and there were cockroaches under the furniture.
“There were no holidays and no free time, my only escape was music.”
As a child, Victoria, who played the cello, pursued a career in classical music and gained a merit-based scholarship to a prestigious school.
Once older, she also worked as a model and artist, slowly building up her own finances.
In 2009, she left Russia for good, moving to Germany and later California, where she met her husband, Ukraine-born Gene Avakyan, now 51.
She said: "I always felt uncomfortable with the politics at home, but I couldn't leave my family.
“After my last living relative, my mother, passed away, I decided to move away from Russia.
“I lost everything and had to start again.”
In 2018, Victoria used her experience and business savvy to launch her own entertainment company with Gene, dubbed VUGA Media Group.
The pair did so with next to no money to huge success. In 2023, the organisation runs 70 outlets, as well as TV channels, and has an audience of 10 million people.
She said: "We founded the company with minimal investment.
“It was truly nothing, and we built this business from the ground up.”
That same year, Victoria also tackled the trauma from her past through another creative outlet – designing her own comic book to “fight back” against her demons.
Called The Exorcist, the character fights against dictators across space and time.
It was published on the digital platform ComiXology and released as a series of NFTs, and is also being worked on into a motion picture adaption and graphic novel.
She said: "Although I had left Russia, I still had nightmares of the evils I had witnessed growing up.
”So I decided to create a strong female justice fighter called The Exorcist – because if I couldn't see out my dreams to fight my demons and win in the real world, then she would do it for me.
"Now I say she is my alter ego.
"I love to dress as The Exorcist and wear her costume to ComicCon and fundraising events.”
Victoria’s life now looks vastly different from her childhood, with the star wanting for nothing and living the high life with Gene and their cat in a 4,000 sq ft beachfront condo.
She added: “I truly believe that if we all make a conscious effort to choose good over evil in our own lives, it will spill over to the world around us.
"Together we can bring about positive change.
“I am always hungry for more and am excited for what the future will bring for my business.”
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