Tag Archives: KGB

Lyudmila Putin, Russia’s Former First Lady

The PutinsWhen Lyudmila stood alongside her husband Vladimir Putin on Russian state TV to confirm that “our marriage is over,” just before their 30th anniversary, it was a rare glimpse into the private life of Russia’s soon-to-be-former first lady.

Such is the secrecy surrounding the Russian president, a former KGB agent, that little is known about Lyudmila or their two children.

Putin often cuts a lone figure at public events. His wife tended to accompany him only for high-profile occasions, such as voting in last year’s presidential elections. She has also been seen with him at Orthodox Christmas in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, now famous as the stage for all-woman punk group Pussy Riot’s anti-Putin performance in 2012 that landed some of them with prison sentences.

Lyudmila was born on January 6, 1958, in Kaliningrad, formerly Königsberg.

Putin’s website is uncharacteristically forthcoming about how they met. A mutual friend invited him to a concert in St. Petersburg, promising that there would be girls that night. “And so there were girls,” Putin recalled, with his future wife among them. He returned to the theater the following night and “this time I got the tickets,” he said.

Putin was already working for the KGB, and the young Lyudmila was charmed. “There must have been something about Volodya [Vladimir],” Lyudmila said on the website, “since in three or four months I had decided that he was the very person that I needed.” Putin had decided if he did not marry soon, he “would not marry at all,” and they tied the knot in July 1983.

Lyudmila studied Romance languages and literature at Leningrad State University and later received awards for promoting Russian language and culture.

She and Putin had two daughters – Maria, born in 1985, and Ekaterina, born in 1986 – but little is known about them.

Toward the end of their relationship, Lyudmila was a distant figure. Celebrations for her 55th birthday this year saw no public celebrations and barely a mention in the media.

Source: Albina Kovalyova, Producer, NBC News

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A Visit to a Unique Museum in Odessa

Excerpts from an article by the American novelist, A.D. Miller, author of Snowdrops, in the November/December issue of Intelligent Life.

…This wonderful museum, housed in a pale-blue, tsarist-era palace, isn’t devoted only to Odessa’s own, or to its magical and dreadful history, though it encompasses both. Because of its location – on the Black Sea, at what was the Russian and then the Soviet empire’s sunny southern limit – many of those empires’ greatest authors were exiled to Odessa, fled through its docks, or came here for their health or a debauch. Embracing the transients and flâneurs, this is, in effect, a museum of Russian literature. And, being Russian, it becomes a museum of censorship and repression as well as art: of genius and bravery, blood and lies.

There are lots of museums devoted to famous writers, but fewer dedicated purely to literature. This one was conceived and founded by Nikita Brygin, a bibliophile and ex-KGB officer. He left the KGB in murky circumstances, but remained sufficiently well-connected to secure a handsome venue near the sea for his eccentric scheme – the ceilings are cracking, but the chandeliers and reliefs conjure the mood of the aristocratic balls for which the palace was built. He sent a team of young women across the Soviet Union to secure writerly artifacts for the collection, which is arranged in a suite of bright first-floor rooms reached by a grand double staircase. Opened in 1984, the museum survived Odessa’s transition from the defunct Soviet Union to independent Ukraine. Today, it is overseen by elderly attendants whose sternness yields to solicitous enthusiasm when one of their infrequent visitors approaches. The place runs on love….

Pushkin is partly to blame for the city’s raunchy reputation. In the margins of the manuscripts of Eugene Onegin, which he started writing in Odessa, he doodled portraits of some of the women he slept with here. Facsimiles, complete with lavish crossings-out, are on view in the museum. You look at the sketches and think of the young poet, bored by his own genius. Legend has it that, exiled from St. Petersburg by the tsar, Pushkin began an affair with Countess Vorontsova, the wife of Odessa’s governor. Another of his local flames, Karolina Sobanska, was also the some-time lover of Adam Mickiewicz (a cherished Polish poet commemorated in the museum), and a long-term spy for the tsarist secret police. Count Vorontsov, the peeved governor, dispatched Pushkin to write a report about a locust infestation, before running him permanently out of town….

Yet, like many ports, Odessa stands for freedom as well as sleaze. Revolutionaries and their ideas have been smuggled in and out along with contraband goods. Each of the museum’s rooms represents a period in the city’s intellectual history, evoking a particular era through furniture and design, and often concentrating on a characteristic genre. In the room depicting the 1850s and 1860s, there is a run of issues of the Bell, the journal published by Alexander Herzen during his London exile, which was sneaked into Russia through Odessa’s docks.