Zhanna D’Art: Who was the controversial vegan raw food influencer who died from ‘starvation’?

Russian-born ‘influencer’ was once an aspiring model, who died in intensive care in Malaysia after falling ill

Roisin O'Connor
Monday 07 August 2023 05:44 BST
Vegan raw food influencer Zhanna D’art shares summer soup recipe

Zhanna Samsonova was just 39 when she died, reportedly from “starvation and exhaustion”, thousands of miles from her birthplace in Moscow, Russia.

The Instagram influencer’s tragic story has come under scrutiny due to her promotion of a completely “raw” diet, which reports have suggested was linked to her death.

Under the name Zhanna D’Art, Samsonova regularly wrote about how she subsisted exclusively on fruit, vegetables, seeds, smoothies and juices while living in Malaysia.

Her mother, Vera, attributed Samsonova’s death to a “cholera-like infection” that was exacerbated by her diet.

In recent weeks, Samsonova had been unusually quiet on Instagram, with the exception of a troubling post shared just days before her death on 21 July.

“Life is meaningless but worth living provided you recognise it’s meaningly,” she wrote, over a photo of herself wearing sunglasses, with a gasping expression on her face.

Vera, 63, told Russian newspaper Novye Izvestia how she had begged her daughter to return home as she feared for her health.

“I understood that Zhanna was about to die, but still I could not help her in any way. My daughter's life has turned into a nightmare,” she said, via LBC.

She told the publication that she had “fought for years” to save her daughter, once an aspiring model, but she “refused to listen”.

Samsonova is believed to have left Russia in 2006, buying a one-way ticket to spend the past 17 years travelling around Asia while blogging and practicing yoga.

Photos shared by Vera showed a smiling Samsonova apparently taking part in a modelling contest. The images are in stark contrast to the final photos she shared of herself before her death, where she appeared visibly gaunt and malnourished.

Her friends also spoke with local media, confessing they feared she was suffering from anorexia and that her diet was becoming increasingly limited.

One of her neighbours, who was not named, said she was “horrified” when they met in Sri Lanka a few months ago, as Samsonova looked “exhausted” and had swollen legs “oozing lymph”.

“They sent her home to seek treatment. However, she ran away again. When I saw her in Phuket, I was horrified,” the friend said, according to The Sun.

“I lived one floor above her and every day I feared finding her lifeless body in the morning. I convinced her to seek treatment, but she didn’t make it.”

Samsonova regularly made claims about the supposed benefits of her raw food diet, including that it offered “natural” protection from Covid-19.

She also claimed that her body did not “require” water, writing last year that her fruit-based diet meant she had gone without water for the past six years.

In recent months, she appeared to have become a fan of the durian fruit, sharing frequent posts that promoted it.

“It’s that fabulous time of year again – Durian Season in Thailand!” she wrote in the caption of one of her final videos.

“Wake Up And Smell the Durian! For all you durian lovers out there, isn’t it just the best? And for those who haven’t yet experienced the joy of durian, you’re in for a wild ride!”

When she died, Samsonova had around 16,000 followers. At the time of writing, however, that number had increased to 33,000.

There have been previous cases where people have starved to death due to their extreme diets, including children whose food intake was controlled by their parents.

Last year, a vegan mother was sentenced to life in prison over the death of her 18-month-old son, who was fed a diet of raw fruits and vegetables.

Prosecutors said that Sheila O’Leary’s son Ezra was severely malnourished, and weighed just 17 pounds when he died in September 2019.

O’Leary was convicted by a Florida jury in June 2022 of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child, child abuse and two counts of child neglect.

For anyone struggling with the issues raised in this article, eating disorder charity Beat’s helpline is available 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677.

NCFED offers information, resources and counselling for those suffering from eating disorders, as well as their support networks. Visit eating-disorders.org.uk or call 0845 838 2040

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