A grief-stricken Vladimir Putin appeared devastated as he bade farewell today to his emergencies minister – and former personal bodyguard – who died on Tuesday while trying to save a man’s life.
The Russian leader twice rested his head on the open coffin of Yevgeny Zinichev, 55, which was draped in the country’s flag.
Putin then sat with the minister’s widow Natalya and son Denis at the funeral ceremony. He twice approached the open coffin, bowing his head, and as he walked away appeared distraught.
Putin has spoken of his ‘irreplaceable personal loss’ in losing Zinichev – a former FSB deputy director – who he called a man of ‘incredible inner strength, courage and bravery’.
Zinichev died while trying to save documentary filmmaker Alexander Melnik, 63, who had fallen into icy water while filming an Arctic military drill on Tuesday.
A grief-stricken Vladimir Putin appeared devastated twice resting his head on the open coffin of his emergencies minister Yevgeny Zinichev after died on Tuesday ‘trying to save a man’
The devastated Russian leader laid to rest his emergencies minister Yevgeny Zinichev’s open casket, which was draped in the country’s tricolour flag, at his funeral today
Putin made a cross across his body as he stepped away from the open casket of former emergencies minister Yevgeny Zinichev
Some believe Putin was grooming Zinichev (pictured right with Putin in 2010) – like him, once a KGB operative – as his eventual successor
Putin has spoken of his ‘irreplaceable personal loss’ in losing Zinichev (pictured) – a former FSB deputy director – who he called a man of ‘incredible inner strength, courage and bravery’
Putin has awarded Zinichev a posthumous Hero of Russia award, the country’s highest honour.
Some believe Putin was grooming Zinichev – like him, once a KGB operative – as his eventual successor. He had enjoyed a spectacular rise under Putin and had been tipped recently for a new powerful role on the Kremlin’s security council.
Details have been sketchy but Zinichev is believed to have died at or near the 90ft Kitabo-Oron waterfall at Putorana Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Arctic.
The official account says he sought to save filmmaker Melnik who had slipped as they stood on an icy rock.
‘While rescuing a life, he took risk without a second of doubt, and died while fulfilling his duty,’ Putin said.
Russian President Putin then sat with the minister’s widow Natalya (right) at the funeral ceremony in Moscow today
A devastated looking Putin sat next to Zinichev’s widow Natalya (right) and son Denis (left) as he laid to rest his emergencies minister today
Putin laid flowers next to the open casket of Yevgeny Zinichev today as he laid the late former emergencies minister to rest after he died while trying to save another man on Tuesday
Mourners attend at funeral of Russian emergencies minister Yevgeny Zinichev in Moscow today
Official accounts have not confirmed the exact location of the tragedy.
But reports said the army general, 55, fell from a rock while trying to save a cameraman who had plunged into the icy water.
He was taking part in military drills and exercises by law enforcement agencies in the city of Norilsk at the time.
The Ministry of Emergencies said: ‘We are sorry to inform you that while on duty saving a person’s life in Norilsk during interagency exercises to protect the Arctic zone from emergencies…Yevgeny Zinichev was tragically killed.’
‘He and the cameraman stood at the edge of a ledge,’ RT boss Margarita Simonyan said, adding: ‘The cameraman slipped and fell into the water.
‘There were many eyewitnesses – no-one even had time to figure out what had happened, as Zinichev rushed into the water after a man who had fallen off and crashed against a protruding rock.’
Some reports say Zinichev died in a helicopter as he was airlifted to hospital from the scene of the accident.
Putin – also on a trip to Siberia – was informed of Zinichev’s death and paid tribute to his colleague in a condolence message to his wife Natalya and son Denis.
‘I am stunned by the tragic news about the death of Yevgeny Nicholayevich Zinichev,’ Putin wrote
‘I ask you to accept my sincere condolences and words of support at this sorrowful hour. We have lost a true combat officer, a comrade, a man of incredible inner strength, courage and bravery.
‘For me this is an irreplaceable personal loss.’
Describing the ‘long years of work’ he shared with Kinichev, Putin wrote that: ‘I always knew that I could rely on Yevgeny in any, even the most complicated, situation as a reliable, loyal friend, and a professional of the highest rank.
‘He dedicated himself to service to the Motherland, to the people. And while rescuing a life, he took risk without a second of doubt, and died while fulfilling his duty.
‘We will keep a bright memory of Yevgeny Nikolayevich Zinichev in our hearts.’
Zinichev (pictured centre on Tuesday), a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was taking part in military drills and exercises by law enforcement agencies in the city of Norilsk when he died
Zinichev was a former KGB and FSB officer, and had been deputy director of the Federal Security Service counterintelligence agency.
He previously served as governor of Kaliningrad region, and like Putin, was born in Leningrad, now St Petersburg.
From 2006 to 2015, Zinichev served as Putin’s personal adjutant and is thought to have once been part of his security detail. Sources said that Putin had ‘total trust’ in Zinichev.
He had held his position as emergencies minister for three years and also sat on Russia’s powerful security council. In Russia, the emergencies minister is seen as an action man role with a high profile.
Former president Dmitry Medvedev described Zinichev’s death as an ‘irreplaceable loss’.
Documentary filmmaker Alexander Melnik (pictured), 63, who Zinichev had been trying to save, also died on Wednesday
Alexander Kots, of pro-state tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, said the minister had died a hero.
‘He died as a professional who, even on a subconscious level, had no other reflex than to rush to the rescue, without thinking about himself.’
‘He came to the Emergencies Ministry from the Lubyanka [FSB headquarters],’ he said. ‘But …it doesn’t matter what came before or who he was before.
‘It is important how he died.’
Zinichev was in the Arctic to oversee large-scale drills and visited the construction site of a new fire station in Norilsk, as well as a search and rescue team in the area, the ministry had said in a statement earlier on Wednesday.
The the drills involved Dudinka Arctic Search and Rescue team.
Melnik, the documentary filmmaker, was famed for his work in Russia’s polar regions. He was married with three children and six grandchildren.