A top Russian government official — who previously worked on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security detail — died Wednesday while trying to save a popular film director who had fallen off a cliff during a drill in Russia’s Far North, officials confirmed in a statement to Russian news agencies.
According to the New York Times, Yevgeny N. Zinichev, the minister of emergency situations, dove off the cliff into the water below in an attempt to rescue film director Aleksandr Melnik.
The minister “was tragically killed while on duty, while taking part in interagency exercises designed to protect the Arctic zone from emergencies, as he tried to save a person’s life,” the ministry’s statement read.
Melnik, who was scouting locations for a documentary, had slipped on a wet rock and fallen off the cliff during a multicity drill involving 6,000 people. Zinichev was visiting the city of Norilsk as part of the effort, the ministry said.
“He and the cameraman were on the edge of a cliff. The cameraman slipped and fell into the water,” said Margarita Simonyan, head of Russian broadcaster RT, according to the BBC.
“Zinichev rushed after the fallen man and died after hitting a protruding rock.” According to Russian media, the incident occurred at the Kitabo Oron waterfall in the Putorana nature reserve in northern Siberia, some 165km (100 miles) west of Norilsk.
“He did not hesitate for a second, not as a minister, but as a rescuer, having committed a heroic act,” Russia’s deputy emergency minister Andrei Gurovich told the Russia 24 TV channel. “He lived like that all his life.”
In his role as minister of emergencies, Mr. Zinichev worked to manage Russia’s natural and man-made disaster response, including the Siberian forest fires. The prominent position was previously held by Sergey K. Shoigu, a close friend to Putin, who after two decades in the position became defense minister in 2012.
In 1987, Zinichev started working for the Russian security services and later became part of Putin’s security detail. In 2014, Zinichev took on the role of the deputy head of the counterterrorism service of the country’s domestic intelligence agency, commonly referred to as F.S.B. In 2018, he was appointed emergency minister and served on Russia’s Security Council.
The BBC reported that Zinichev’s death is the first-ever for a sitting minister in Russia.