Russian Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev has died while attempting to save a person’s life during training exercises in the Arctic city of Norilsk.
Zinichev, 55, 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 said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies on Wednesday.
Margarita Simonyan, chief editor of the state-funded RT news broadcaster, said Zinichev died while rescuing a cameraman who slipped and fell into the water, the Moscow Times reported.
“There were plenty of witnesses, but no one even had time to figure out what happened as Zinichev jumped into the water after the fallen man and landed on a protruding stone,” Simonyan tweeted.
Zinichev was one of a handful of prominent politicians who began their careers in the security services, a similar career path to the one taken by President Vladimir Putin, himself a former KGB spy.
“This is an irreparable personal loss for me,” Putin said in a telegram of condolence published by the Kremlin. “We had worked together for many years.”
Zinichev had headed the Emergency Situations Ministry since 2018. His predecessor stepped down not long after a major fire in a shopping centre in Siberia killed more than 60 people, sending shockwaves throughout the country.
A biography carried by state-run media said Zinichev was born in St Petersburg and served in the state security services from 1987 to 2015 and was also involved in security for Putin.
He served as a bodyguard and personal aide to the Russian leader, according to the RBC news site. Multiple photographs of Putin at public events over several years show Zinichev standing at the president’s shoulder.
Zinichev later became deputy head of the Federal Security Service and served briefly as acting regional governor of Kaliningrad.