Russian emergencies minister and former Kremlin bodyguard Yevgeny Zinichev has been killed while reportedly trying to save another man from a fatal fall into a remote Arctic river.
Officials and Russian state media said Mr Zinichev (55) had tried to stop film-maker Alexander Melnik slipping from a cliff but had also either fallen or jumped into the water below, where he struck rocks and was killed. Both men were evacuated by helicopter but died before reaching hospital.
Mr Zinichev was a bodyguard from 2006-2015 for Russian president Vladimir Putin, who subsequently appointed him acting governor of the Kaliningrad region, deputy head of the powerful FSB security service and finally head of the emergencies ministry in 2018.
“We have lost a real military officer, a comrade, a person who was close to us all, who had huge inner strength, courage and bravery,” Mr Putin said on Wednesday.
“This is an irreplaceable personal loss for me. We were linked by long years of joint work. And I always knew that one could rely on [Zinichev] in any – even the toughest – situation, as a trustworthy, loyal friend and professional of the highest order.”
Several Russian media outlets said the accident happened near the Kitabo Oron waterfall on the Irkingda river in the remote Putorana nature reserve of northern Russia, where Mr Zinichev was overseeing training exercises along the Arctic coast. Mr Melnik (63) was reportedly scouting locations for filming in area.
"Our comrade, our colleague has died. He died like a real rescuer, as he was in life," said Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu.
“We will really miss him. We will always remember [Zinichev] as he was during many years of serving our country, serving the fatherland.”
Andrei Gurovich, the deputy emergencies minister, said Mr Zinichev had "without a moment's hesitation, acted not like a minister but like a rescuer, and performed a heroic deed. That's how he lived his whole life."
The Arctic exercises on land and sea were scheduled to involve some 6,000 people from 18 Russian government agencies and state firms, training to respond to 12 different emergency situations.
“The exercises are taking place in regions that directly border the waters of the northern sea route. And this is the first time that such events are held in the Arctic,” Mr Zinichev said when launching the drills on Tuesday.
“The format, geography, number and composition of the forces and assets involved [in the operation] confirm its uniqueness. The competence of each specialist taking part is important and needed. And the situations that are being worked through are typical for the Arctic region,” he added.
The two-day exercises ended on Wednesday, before news of the death of Mr Zinichev and Mr Melnik reached the training area.