Moscow: Russia’s minister for emergencies leaped into an Arctic lake during a training exercise on Wednesday in an attempt to rescue a prizewinning film director, but both died in the incident.
The deaths occurred during Arctic emergency drills ahead of Russia’s massive quadrennial Zapad military exercises with Belarus, which are due to begin Friday.
Yevgeny Zinichev, the emergency management chief in President Vladimir Putin’s government, had previously served as the president’s aide-de-camp and was a trusted member of Putin’s inner circle from his home city, St. Petersburg. Zinichev, 55, also shared a Soviet-era KGB background with Putin from St. Petersburg, then known as Leningrad.
Zinichev was on Putin’s security detail from 2006 to 2015, according to Russian media.
According to reports, film director Alexander Melnik stumbled and fell from a cliff into the Kitabo-Oron waterfall on the Putorana Plateau outside Norilsk. The minister then dived in to save him.
Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of RT television, said on social media that Zinichev struck a rock when he jumped into the water.
She said Zinichev and Melnik were both standing on a ledge close to the edge when Melnik slipped.
“He did not hesitate for a second and acted not as a minister, but as a rescuer, carrying out a heroic feat. He did that all his life,” his deputy, Andrei Gurovich, told Russian television.
Melnik, 63, a feature film maker and member of the Guild of Russian Filmmakers, was in Norilsk to shoot a documentary about the development of the Arctic and Russia’s Northern Sea Route. His feature films included New Earth in 2008 and Territory in 2015.
Zinichev was appointed as head of the FSB, Russia’s domestic intelligence service, in Kaliningrad in 2015 before becoming acting governor there. He returned to Moscow and became deputy director of the FSB.
Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said Zinichev’s experience running the intelligence service influenced the president’s decision to appoint him to his current position as emergency services minister in 2018.
He said Putin sent a telegram expressing condolences to the family.
“They had been working together for many years. This is a great loss,” Peskov said.
The drill involved training to handle crisis situations in the Arctic. About 6,000 personnel were involved in the exercise which involved 12 emergency scenarios from Murmansk in the west to Chukotka in the east, with 18 government agencies involved, according to the ministry.