Russia’s emergencies minister has died during a training exercise in the Arctic Circle city of Norilsk after officials said he jumped from a cliff in an apparent rescue attempt.
Yevgeny Zinichev, a member of the influential security council and minister of emergency situations since 2018, died “while saving a person’s life in the course of an interdepartmental exercise … in the Arctic zone”, the ministry of emergency situations confirmed in a statement.
Zinichev, a former bodyguard and personal aide to Vladimir Putin, previously served in the Federal Security Service (FSB) and was briefly appointed governor of Kaliningrad region before being nominated to head the ministry of emergency situations.
The exact circumstances of his death remain unclear. The head of the Russian television network RT said Zinichev died trying to save the life of a camera operator who fell from a cliff during the work trip.
Margarita Simonyan, the head of RT, wrote: “[Zinichev] and a cameraman were standing near to the edge of a ledge. The cameraman slipped and fell into the water. There were a number of onlookers – no one had time to figure out what happened before Zinichev dove into the water after the person who fell in and hit a rock jutting out.”
The cameraman also has reportedly died. The ministry of emergency situations has identified him as Alexander Melnik, a well-known Russian film director who made the 2015 drama Territory about the discovery of a remote gold deposit in the Soviet Union’s far north. He regularly worked with the ministry, state media reported.
The accident occurred while the team was shooting a video, the Russian news outlet RBC said it was told by a source.
Zinichev was a former KGB officer who had been close to Putin since the mid-2000s. The former bodyguard to the president did not have a political career until he was elevated by Putin to the role of regional governor in 2016.
“President Putin offers deep condolences over the tragic death of Yevgeny Zinichev,” Dmitri Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, told the Interfax news agency. “They shared many years of joint work, and it’s a huge loss. The president has sent a telegram to extend his condolences to the family and friends of the minister.”
The former Russian prime minister Dmitri Medvedev and the current prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, also offered their condolences.
Zinichev had been inspecting the construction of a new fire department in the Norilsk region, according to a press release published earlier on Wednesday. The exercises were said to have ended on Wednesday shortly after reports of his death were confirmed.