Life and Morals of the P. Era

A tale of a presidential aide, his devout wife, their secret earnings and kidnapped Ukrainian children

A story of how ostensible religiosity and righteousness intertwined with corruption and immorality in Vladimir Putin’s inner circle

Mikhail Maglov and other journalists of Proekt

August 21, 2023

Русская версия

In early March 2021, citizens of Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, could witness an amusing spectacle. A delegation from Moscow, led by a slender, elegantly dressed blonde in high heels, brought a large heavy object into the territory of a military unit of the National Guard of Russia (Rosgvardia). It was an icon of Peter and Fevronia of Murom, patron saints of the family, measuring 1.8 by 1.2 meters, made in the icon-painting workshops of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, and inside it were parts of the relics of the semi-legendary Russian saints. The icon was intended as a gift to the Rosvardia brigade stationed in Grozny.

Elena Milskaya in Grozny. Source: www.chechnyatoday.com

The blonde woman leading the delegation was Elena Milskaya, the head of several non-profit organizations, the very names of which speak of the great religiosity and beneficence of their leader. 

Elena Milskaya

President of the Archangel Michael Foundation
since October 2014 to present.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Center for Assistance to Missing and Injured Children
since December 2014 to the present day

Director General of the Saint Basil the Great Foundation
since January 30, 2018 to December 24, 2019 (founder Konstantin Malofeev)

Milskaya frequently visits Chechnya, but she appears even more often at charity and religious events. At one such event in 2014, Milskaya told an almost biblical story: a young ostiary at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow presented her with a diamond ring so that the gem in it could be placed in the embroidery of the face of Sergius of Radonezh on an icon that Milskaya was going to present to Patriarch Kirill. Milskaya often gives icons to celebrities, and just as often advocates traditional family values and Internet censorship and stigmatizes LGBT+, Western values and secular education. By all accounts, Elena Milskaya is a deeply religious and ever-busy woman, spouse and mother.

However, whenever she returned to Moscow from her travels, Miskaya seemed to become a different person. There, she was a businesswoman living out of wedlock, with billions of rubles of income recorded in the names of her elderly parents. There, she is not as meek as in the parish: she prefers to drive a Bentley Continental or a Mercedes Benz AMG G63, the most brutal modification of the most brutal premium-class SUV, colloquially called the G-Wagen. She prefers to reside in the Rublyovskoe highway, where houses cost huge amounts of money, and her wardrobe is filled with numerous expensive outfits from Dolce & Gabbana, a fashion house run by a couple of open homosexuals. In short, we get a rather different image of the same person.

Elena Milskaya in Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabanno

There is no contradiction here. And the reason for it is not even Milskaya herself, but rather the men surrounding her.

Elena Milskaya and Konstantin Malofeev

May 7, 2018. Moscow. Kremlin. Inauguration (fourth already) of Vladimir Putin. While welcoming the guests, the Russian head of state greeted some of them separately. He also stopped near Elena Milskaya and shook her hand (as can be seen in the photo published on the day of the inauguration on the website of the St. Basil the Great Foundation). “I believe in our country, I believe in our president, I believe in our people. Our people are the most intelligent, the most just… When we are united, we are invincible. God is with us!” – the excited Milskaya told the Tsargrad TV channel that day. 

Vladimir Putin and Elena Milskaya. Source: Press Service of the National Center for Missing and Injured Children

By then, Milskaya was already a prominent figure in the so-called “Orthodox lobby” in the Russian government. “Her emergence is directly linked to [Konstantin] Malofeev,” recalled The Proekt’s source among Russian philanthropists, who first encountered Milskaya in 2017. The St. Basil the Great Foundation, the organization where Milskaya worked (as vice president from 2017 and CEO from 2018 till the end of 2019), was founded by the Orthodox oligarch and monarchist-imperialist Konstantin Malofeev, who is suspected of sponsoring the war in Ukraine.

Konstantin Malofeev

In 2018, the foundation came under Ukrainian sanctions. The reason (as Malofeev himself believes) was “helping the critically ill children of Crimea,” who were taken from Simferopol to Moscow with the help of another organization led by Milskaya, the National Center for Missing and Injured Children. Among the organizations created by Malofeev there is another notorious entity that our heroine is associated with. It is the Safe Internet League, a censorship body that monitors “morality” (as understood by Orthodox fundamentalists) on the web. Milskaya is a member of the organization’s board of trustees, and Ekaterina Mizulina, daughter of Senator Elena Mizulina, is its director. Mizulina Jr. was “embedded” in Milskaya’s projects. In addition, Ekaterina Mizulina is the director of the National Center for Missing and Injured Children and, among other things, traveled to Chechnya together with Milskaya, recalls Proekt’s interviewee.  “When I first saw Ekaterina, I had the feeling that she was Milskaya’s secretary,” she said.

However, Malofeev is not the only man in Milskaya’s life, nor is he the most important.

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Elena Milskaya and Alexander Kurenkov (as well as Yevgeny Zinichev)

“Minister of Emergencies Yevgeny Zinichev has died. He died in the line of duty, like a real rescuer. The tragedy happened in Norilsk, where the Minister flew to oversee training exercises. Famous film director Aleksandr Melnik was also there. He has been cooperating with the Ministry of Emergencies for many years, and came to Norilsk to choose a filming location. Melnik fell off the cliff, and the Minister was the first to rush to his aid without hesitation. Both died,” – that’s how Channel One reported the tragic death of the then head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations in Krasnoyarsk Krai on September 8, 2021. As is well known, Zinichev was not just a minister, and at least one other person apar from his family was very worried about his death. That person was Vladimir Putin, as Zinichev had long served as his aide-de-camp. This position is a very important position in the structure of the Federal Security Service (FSO). All of Putin’s aides, at least four of them, accompany him on his trips (the same interviewee continues).

Vladimir Putin’s guards: Alexei Dyumin and Evgeny Zinichev

During his last two terms in office, Putin has taken special career care of his guards – one after another, they have been appointed to important positions, sometimes as ministers or governors. But even among these, Zinichev was one of the favorites. The reason may be that he had been with the president for a very long time – 23 years of service in the FSO, 8 of them as Putin’s aide-de-camp. It is also possible that the reason was Zinichev’s positive personal qualities, which a former official of the presidential administration described to Proekt: “Unlike many others in the FSO, he was just a good man, in terms of corruption, too.”

Putin first sent Zinichev to serve as governor of Kaliningrad Oblast, an important western outpost of Russia, where one of the president’s residences, a huge dacha on the Baltic coast in the village of Pionersky, is located. The good security guard had an embarrassing experience in Kaliningrad – it turned out that he was not cut out for public politics. Zinichev retreated from his very first press conference, limiting himself to a few phrases. As a result, he left Kaliningrad only 2 months later, “for family reasons”, as it was officially stated. Unofficially, it was reported that Zinichev simply asked Putin to spare him the need to hold a public position. However, the president did not give up on Zinichev, and soon sent him to work as a minister. Thus, in the fall of 2021, the former guard turned minister found himself in Norilsk. What happened there was presented by the state media as a death during the rescue of a man. However, a local resident who knows the circumstances of the incident describes the events differently from Channel One. Proekt correspondent talked to this person shortly after the fatal incident in the fall of 2021. On the first day of his trip to Norilsk, the minister was busy with business – he met with the governor, inspected local rescuers, and so on. In the early morning of the second day, taking with him his friend director Melnik and two of his closest subordinates (his deputy Andrei Gurovich and his chief of staff Vadim Soinikov, who, by a funny coincidence, would later be arrested for financial crimes), Zinichev took a helicopter to the Putorana Nature Reserve, one of the most beautiful places on Earth, a large mountain plateau with many rocky crevices and cold waterfalls. The distance from Norilsk to Putorana is 170 kilometers, and Zinichev had no official need for this trip. The Ministry of Emergency Situations would later claim that the incident allegedly happened during some kind of rescue drills. The state media wrote that Zinichev and Melnik were allegedly looking for locations for a new movie. Both of these claims are most likely nonsense. By the time the guests arrived at the Kitabo-Oron waterfall, they were quite drunk (says Proekt’s source). Melnik didn’t need to search for locations in this place – he had already shot episodes of his previous movie “Territory” in Putorana, some even specifically at this waterfall. But Zinichev was here for the first time, and in his free time at that: our interlocutor assumes that the director invited his friend to check out the local sights. “The minister was the first to fall. When they were standing next to each other, he slipped and started sliding down, and Melnik tried to grab him. As a result, both of them flew down. After that, I read all sorts of nonsense: for example, that Melnik fell into the water, and Zinichev tried to pull him out. They both fell head down and died instantly,” recalls Proekt’s interviewee.

Be that as it may, Putin was in mourning. He awarded Zinichev a hero’s star posthumously and came to his funeral. As the president mourned his former security guard, the place at the head of the Ministry of Emergencies was left vacant. Employees of the ministry speculated which of Zinichev’s deputies would be promoted, but their predictions were wrong. Eight months later, Putin arrived at the Ministry of Emergencies accompanied by a tall, strongly built and heavily balding man – it was then 49-year-old Alexander Kurenkov. “Alexander Vyacheslavovich is not a careerist in the bad sense of the word. On the contrary, he is a servant, he knows the job he is taking on thoroughly, he knows how to immerse himself in it, he knows how, being a mature person, to build relationships in the team, relying on professionals”. – Putin introduced the new minister briefly and with a couple of stutters.

Kurenkov next to Putin in 2017

It turned out that the new head of the Ministry of Emergencies is also Putin’s aide-de-camp, a former colleague of Zinichev, as well as of another presidential aide and favorite Alexei Dyumin, who is now governor of Tula Oblast.  Kurenkov clearly had no more experience and skills in public politics than Zinichev. Before the FSO, he worked as a PE teacher at a Moscow school. Then he also received a non-PE higher education in one of Moscow’s universities, the quality of whose degrees is questionable. According to his official biography, Kurenkov graduated from the non-state Moscow Psychological and Social Institute (MPSI) in 2004.

Careers of Putin’s security guards

Viktor Zolotov

FSO officer in 1991-2013, First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs in 2014-2016, Director of the National Guard of Russia (Rosgvardia) since 2016.

Alexei Dyumin

FSO officer in 1995-2014, Deputy Defense Minister in 2015-2016, Governor of Tula Oblast since 2016

Dmitry Mironov

FSO officer in 1991-2013, Assistant to the Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in 2013-2015, Deputy Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in 2015-2016, Governor of Yaroslavl Oblast in 2016-2021, Presidential Adviser since 2021

Sergey Morozov

FSO officer in 1994-2016, Assistant to the Minister of Defense 2016-2017, Deputy Head of the Federal Customs Service in 2017, Acting Governor of Astrakhan Oblast i 2018-2019, returned to the security services in 2019

Roman Gavrilov

1FSO officer in 1997-2017, Assistant Director of the National Guard of Russia (Rosgvardia) in 2017-2019, Head of the Security Service of the Rosgvardia in 2019-2021, Deputy Director of the Rosgvardia in 2021-2022

Yuri Kotov

FSO officer until 2015, Assistant Director of the Rosgvardia since 2017

Dmitry Stepanenko

FSO officer in 1998-2004, Minister of Agriculture of Moscow Oblast in 2014-2016, Head of the Government of Yaroslavl Oblast in 2016-2021, Deputy Head of the Federal Property Management Agency (Rosimushchestvo) since 2022.

Sergey Khlebnikov

FSO officer in 1991-2004, Deputy Director of the FSO and Commandant of the Kremlin in 2004-2020, Head of the Moscow Department of Regional Security and Countering Corruption since 2020.

Igor Babushkin

FSB officer in 1992-2012, worked for Putin in 1999, Governor of Astrakhan Oblast since 2019

This long digression into the lives of Putin’s guards was necessary for the following reason: the story of Zinichev and Kurenkov played an important role in the life of Orthodox activist Elena Milskaya. Kurenkov is actually Milskaya’s current husband, whose marriage to her has opened up great material and political prospects for Milskaya. Proekt learned about the marriage of Milskaya and Kurenkov from a source who worked for a Russian state-owned company. We also confirmed it with a document we found that referred to the couple as husband and wife. Milskaya’s cell phone number is saved as “Kurenkov’s wife” in other people’s contact lists. However, one other person saved her number as “Cons Rich Men out of Money”. 

You will not find information about the marriage of these people in any official sources. Kurenkov’s biography on the website of the Ministry of Emergencies lacks even the standard mention “married, has children”. There is no mention of family in any official biography of Milskaya either. There can be both personal and corrupt explanations for this. First of all, both of them were still sort of married while already in a relationship with each other. Kurenkov officially divorced his previous spouse in 2019, and married Milskaya almost immediately afterward. Our heroine’s situation is even less coherent with traditional family values – according to the documents that Proekt has studied, the head of the Michael the Archangel Foundation did not get legally married at all, at least not secularly, with her previous partner Anatoly Kovalchuk. It should be noted, however, that this happens quite often, and in situations where it does not conflict with a person’s public image, it usually does not cause any complaints. On the other hand, Milskaya has centered her activities around promoting the “spiritual staples” invented by President Putin in 2012. By the way, Putin himself and his daughters also prefer not to formalize their relationships – Putin isn’t officially married to Alina Kabaeva, nor were Katerina and Maria married to their now former boyfriends Kirill Shamalov and Jorrit Faassen, respectively (this was covered in the first episode of the our series “Life and Morals of the P. Era”). 

The record of the marriage between Kurenkov and Milskaya

However, just like Putin, Kurenkov also has a material incentive to conceal his personal relationships. FSO officers have always resisted disclosing information about their income and assets, and those who did report it were always caught lying. Such is the case here as well. Proekt has discovered that Kurenkov and Milskaya personally own at least two expensive houses (not counting government real estate, which comes with the rank of a minister) and a fleet of fancy cars and have numerous government contracts, which they essentially secured by being close to Putin. Let’s start by talking about where and how Putin’s aide-de-camp and his devout wife live. 

In 2018, Milskaya, who had never owned a business before, became the owner of a plot of land in the village of Razdory on the Rublyovskoe highway, where a house with an area of no less than 1,000 m2 was built in two years. The cottage village Razdory-2, in which Milskaya found a home, is the closest to the state residence Barvikha-3, which is assigned to the head of the Ministry of Emergencies. The estimated value of this house of Milskaya is about 600 million rubles. 

In February 2021, Andrei Kovalchuk, Milskaya’s son of sixteen years from a previous civil marriage who was 16 at the time, became the owner of a plot of land in the Gorki-2 cottage village, an even more prestigious place on Rublyovka. Here Milskaya also neighbors her husband’s fiefdom – this time it’s the lands of the FSO. Houses in the same village are owned by the wife of Mikhail Mikheev (Dmitry Medvedev’s chief of security), the brother of Alexei Dyumin and the sons of former Deputy Director of the FSO Nikolai Kondratyuk (in all three cases, it is likely that FSO officers themselves live in the houses, but they were registered in the names of their relatives in order to bypass the law), as well as the former Secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Bordyuzha. Some 900 meters from the village through the forest begins the territory of Putin’s state residence Novo-Ogaryovo. By the summer of 2021, a house, a garage and a bathhouse were built on the land plot of Milskaya, Kovalchuk and Kurenkov. As of 2023, the Federal Service for State Registration, Cadastre and Cartography (Rosreestr) has concealed the owners of the plot – the corresponding column reads “Russian Federation”, which almost certainly indicates that the family of Putin’s security guard lives in this house. The estimated value of this property of Kurenkov and Milskaya is about 100 million rubles.

The minister’s family also does not publicize their numerous expensive cars, some of which we have already mentioned. 

The garage of the head of numerous Christian organisations now has cars worth 79.7 million rubles

A huge premium-class Lexus LX 570 SUV

Mercedes Benz AMG G63 “G-Wagen”, the dream of Chechen gangsters

Кespectable Mercedes Benz S450 executive sedan

Aristocratic Bentley Continental GT

Porsche Boxster S

Milskaya also used to own a Porsche Cayenne GTS, a classic for Rublyovka residents, but she gave it to her father in 2019.

Elena Milskaya and Vladimir Putin

The real crown jewel in our heroine’s image is not her houses or cars, but the huge government contracts secured for her by her husband’s boss.

Vladimir Putin presents the new head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, Alexander Kurenkov, on May 25, 2022. Source: kremlin.ru

In 2018, president Putin proposed another populist idea in his address to parliament. He decided to create some kind of cultural, educational and museum complexes in a number of cities – Vladivostok, Kaliningrad, Sevastopol and Kemerovo – “to unlock the potential of our regions.” Many works of art remain in the vaults of central museums, so why not exhibit them in the regions, Putin explained. As with his other populist schemes, he also suggested that this one be financed at the expense of citizens, namely from the money of Rosneftegaz, the state “piggy bank” for oil and gas money. By the way, the list of cities that were to receive huge investments in their museums looks interesting: the husband of Putin’s niece Sergey Tsivilyov was sent to govern Kemerovo Oblast right at that time, we have already mentioned the importance of Kaliningrad for Putin (by the way, the region is now headed by Anton Alikhanov, who previously headed the regional parliament under Governor Zinichev), and the Crimean city of Sevastopol, as well as Vladivostok, are subsidized, but significant to the Kremlin for political reasons. The projects in the different regions soon acquired general contractors, i.e. companies that sought to utilize budget money. The general contractor for the complex in Kaliningrad (in addition to the museum, it includes an opera and ballet theater, a higher school of musical and theatrical arts, dormitories, and apartment buildings for employees) was Stroytransgaz, which at the time was controlled by Putin’s friend Gennady Timchenko (and later became part of Gazprom’s mega-contractor Gazstroiprom), which received 27 billion rubles for the president’s venture. It looked like Putin cared a lot about this project. The construction was ordered by the National Cultural Heritage Foundation, whose supervisory board includes ballet dancer Igor Zelensky, Vladimir Putin’s new son-in-law. He is not exactly a son-in-law, though – as usual for this family, Zelensky’s marriage to Katerina Putina (Tikhonova) has not been formalized.

Of course, not everything in Kaliningrad is being built by Stroytransgaz itself: it has found subcontractors on site.

The first of these is the PozitivInfo construction company, and the second is Kaliningrad Balttrans, which rents out machinery. Their co-owner – formerly openly, and now through nominees – is Elena Milskaya (she also owns another construction company in Kaliningrad that is not connected with Stroytransgaz subcontracts). One Oleg Starchenkov was listed as Milskaya’s partner in the companies. This is the driver of now deceased Anatoly Khlopetsky, a former Kaliningrad official and businessman (according to The Proekt’s source within Kaliningrad’s political circles). Khlopetsky was a prominent figure in the world of judo and sambo, the president’s favorite sports.

Sponsorship scheme for Elena Milskaya’s companies

In 2022, the revenue of Milskaya’s three Kaliningrad firms amounted to 4.6 billion rubles. This money was mostly earned thanks to contracts with Stroytransgaz. In particular, last year PozitivInfo received at least 1.8 billion rubles for its work on the presidential construction project.

Putin’s construction projects are not finished in any of the cities. The readiness of the facilities in Kaliningrad is between 30 and 70 percent. Solomon Ginzburg, a member of the Kaliningrad Oblast Public Chamber, calls Putin’s construction project a “Potemkin village.” According to him, it would have been much more important for the region to build an oncology center, the commissioning of which has been delayed for almost four years. “There are more questions than answers regarding the construction of the cultural center. This project is one of the elements of the absurdist theater that is unfolding in our country. It is perceived as a caprice of the authorities and, quite possibly, a money laundering scheme,” Ginzburg said.

The state of construction in Kaliningrad in July 2023. Frame from the video “Stroytransgaz”

In May 2021, as soon as Kurenkov was appointed minister, Milskaya transferred the Kaliningrad companies to her mother, Elena Milskaya Sr. This may have been done to conceal the fact of the minister’s family doing business, but this move seemed, perhaps, even overly cautious – after all, the Kurenkov-Milskaya family not only does not declare its property and income, but even hides their own marriage.

Elena Milskaya and Daniil Martynov (as well as Ramzan Kadyrov and Viktor Zolotov)

Late spring is fire season in Russia. Dacha owners and villagers burn last year’s grass to clear their plots, which often leads to terrible consequences. This year, there were huge fires in Western Siberia and the Urals. For example, on April 27, the village of Sosva in the Sverdlovsk region went up in flames, and in the neighboring Kurgan Oblast several villages were almost completely burned out. 23 people died in those fires. The “wall of fire” between Kurgan and Ekaterinburg was discussed not only on social networks, but even on state TV channels.

Extinguishing a fire in the Kurgan region, April 2023. Source of the Russian Emergencies Ministry

It would be logical for the head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, Alexander Kurenkov, to be personally overseeing the efforts to contain the fire and help the people. But in reality, things were not quite like that. Instead, on April 28, the minister, his wife and her son from a previous civil marriage flew to Baku for May Day. Judging by official reports, there were no fires or any official events in Azerbaijan at that time that required the participation of the head of the Ministry of Emergencies. Most likely, it was a vacation. The minister reached Kurgan Oblast only on May 8 to “define a strategy for fire suppression” (quoted from TASS). By that time, fires had already broken out in the neighboring Tyumen Oblast. 

Kurenkov’s flight information

A month later, in early July, a new disaster struck. Water from the destroyed Kakhovka Reservoir rushed into the occupied part of the Kherson Oblast of Ukraine, flooding dozens of settlements and ruining many lives. The Minister did not go there at all.

These stories cast doubt on the theory that Putin appoints his praetorians to important posts because they, unlike bureaucrats, are men of action. However, the problem is even more serious than mere inaction. Using the Ministry of Emergencies as a cover, the family of Putin’s aide-de-camp receives substantial budget money under the guise of helping people.

Just a month after Kurenkov’s appointment to the Ministry of Emergencies, the Minister, on behalf of his department, signed an agreement on cooperation with the National Monitoring Center for Missing and Injured Children, one of his secret wife’s NGOs. It looked quite funny – husband and wife essentially signing a government contract with each other as if there was nothing wrong with it. Shortly thereafter, the center received direct budget funding – in the next three years, the center is guaranteed to receive RUB 600 million (as follows from the 2022 budget law).

Agreement between Kurenkov and Milskaya

What is the NGO o Milskaya and Kurenkov doing with this considerable amount of money? If you follow the reports of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, it looks like work is in full swing there. There are some comic moments to it as well, though. The press service of the Ministry of Emergency Situations and state media, as much as they can, promote the organization of the minister’s wife, pretending that there is no connection between these two people. In September 2022, the Minister, accompanied by a member of the FSO, with whom they had just recently guarded the president together, arrived in Rostov Oblast. There he came to the temporary accommodation centers for refugees from the occupied regions of Ukraine in the Rozhok village and in the city of Taganrog. The TV report constantly showed people wearing T-shirts of the National Monitoring Center for Missing and Injured Children carrying boxes with humanitarian aid. Kurenkov “cited as an example the work of the National Monitoring Center for Missing and Injured Children, which provides targeted support to refugees,” TASS reported. A month later, Kurenkov came to Belgorod Oblast, where he once again visited a camp for Ukrainian refugees. And once again, the footage showed people in the same T-shirts, who this time were carrying boxes of baby food. 

A frame from a reportage about Alexander Kurenkov’s trip to Taganrog. Source: First Rostov TV Channel

“For Milskaya, the National Monitoring Center for Missing and Injured Children is a charity cover for her economic and political activities,” explains Proekt’s source from among volunteer organizations that previously cooperated with Milskaya’s NGO. According to her, the Ministry of Emergencies blocks the activities of public organizations, including search teams, which are not within the sphere of influence of the National Monitoring Center (for example, they are denied assistance from the regional branches of the Ministry of Emergencies).

However, Milskaya’s center still does something. Although, perhaps, it would have been better if it didn’t. 

— Ramzan Akhmatovich, dear elder brother! We do not doubt your support, but we hope that we will invite you when we have already arranged the appropriate music and dances somewhere near Maidan or Khreshchatyk! Power to Akhmat, chief! Greetings to everyone! We won’t let you down! 

These are the words of Daniil Martynov, deputy chief of the Rosgvardia in the Chechen Republic, sent by him as an audio message to the President of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, on February 18, 2022, from Belarus, where units of Chechen guardsmen were waiting to invade Ukraine. Martynov coordinated Kadyrov’s participation in the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The messages were intercepted by Ukrainian intelligence and later published by the BBC. 

Daniil Martynov and Ramzan Kadyrov. Source: chechnya.gov.ru

Martynov did not capture Kyiv, but he became infamous in Ukraine – after the “Kadyrovites” had cleared the captured town of Borodyanka, one of the local residents told the following about the commander:

— I was brought forward. A military man stepped in front of me and introduced himself. He said that he was Daniil Martynov, a colonel of the Russian army. He said that if we behave well, we will live, they will not kill us… He said: “We will now record a short video, you will thank us and be free, you will be under the protection of Russian President Vladimir Putin.” I asked him what we were supposed to thank them for. He leaned over to my face, looked into my eyes and said: “For the fact that you are still alive.” It was scary. He didn’t yell at me, no. He said that he could blow us all up in two minutes, but if we recorded the video, everything would be fine… A soldier turned on the camera, and the colonel began speaking: “I am Daniil Martynov, colonel of the Russian army. We have come to liberate you from Nazi regime. Now you will be free to attend May 9 rallies and wear the St. George ribbon”. This quote belongs to Marina Ganitskaya, director of the psychoneurological boarding school in Borodyanka. May 2022, interview with Meduza.

Martynov, a former member of the FSB’s Alpha Group, worked for many years under Kadyrov and his right-hand man, State Duma deputy Adam Delimkhanov. Martynov trained and advertised Kadyrov’s guardsmen, and created the so-called Russian Special Forces University in Gudermes. Since 2017, Martynov has been deputy commander of the Rosgvardia in Chechnya. Milskaya often visited him during her trips to the republic, it was to his military unit that she gave the huge icon of the heavenly guardians of familial fidelity. 

Milskaya and Martynov have a career and probably business relationship. It was at the Special Forces University in Gudermes that Milskaya organized training for volunteers of her children’s aid center. Milskaya spoke about the joint project at the State Council meeting with Putin in 2019. The content of the contract between the two entities is unknown, but it is important to understand that the Special Forces University is not a public, but rather a private institution whose ultimate beneficiary is listed as a certain Alexei Chudan through a chain of legal entities. It is most likely that Chudan, who also served in the Alpha Group, is merely Martynov’s nominee. He accompanies his boss on trips, and works as a simple instructor at the university.

After the unsuccessful offensive of the “Kadyrovites” on Kyiv, Martynov still received a new appointment. Since the summer of 2022, he is an advisor to the head of the Ministry of Emergencies.

Kurenkov and Martynov. Source: Ministry of Emergency Situations website

This opened new perspectives for Milskaya, Martynov and Kurenkov – they moved from the idea of teaching volunteers to search for children to the idea of teaching children to kill in war. In December 2022 (at the “We Are Together” forum), Milskaya and Martynov announced the creation of 10 regional centers (the plan was later expanded to include 12 sites). for “military-sports education and patriotic training for young people”. Another NGO was registered for this project – the Center for the Development of Military Sports Training and Patriotic Education of Youth, with 12 branches spanning from Donetsk to Salekhard. Admiral Sergei Avakyants, former Commander of the Pacific Fleet, is rumored to become its director, RIA Novosti reported.

The training is designed primarily for schoolchildren aged 14-18, as well as for volunteers from among mobilized Russians. The plan is to teach teenagers and adults the basics of firearms, engineering, physical and psychological training, drone control, and tactical medicine in 120 training hours.

The children’s center promoted by Milskaya will receive a huge amount of money from federal and regional budgets. At first it was about 400 million rubles (RBC reported citing its sources), but already in February 2023, the Prime Minister signed an order to allocate 2.7 billion rubles from the government’s reserve fund to the NGO.

Ekaterina Mizulina, Ramzan Kadyrov, Elena Milskaya, Daniil Martynov during a visit to Chechnya. Source: website of the head of Chechnya

By the way, the Chechen branch of the new NGO is headed by a certain Pavel Kozlov. If you study his biography, you’ll discover that Kozlov had previously served in the rank of lieutenant colonel in the FSO (or, to be more precise, in the Presidential Security Service), in 2008, he was caught on camera by reporters during Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s visit to Moscow, – the same place from which Alexander Kurenkov, Yevgeny Zinichev, Alexei Dyumin, and their common patron, the current head of the Rosgvardia and formerly Putin’s chief security guard, Viktor Zolotov, had risen up the career ladder before him. The latter has always been considered the patron of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Not a heavenly patron, of course, but a Kremlin patron.

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The Romashka refugee camp in Rostov Oblast, which Minister Kurenkov visited at the height of the war with Ukraine, is known for the fact that children from orphanages in Donetsk, which was occupied back in 2014, were taken there. The Minister was accompanied on his trip by the staff of the Milskaya’s National Center for Aid to Children. In one of the photo reports that the Minister’s wife posted on her VK page last August, we identified children from Donetsk Pre-School Orphanage No. 1. Among the other children there was a girl named Diana. She and her two sisters and brother have now been taken 1,500 kilometers away, to the town of Uchaly in Bashkortostan.

Post by Elena Milskaya in VK. In one of the pictures, a girl named Diana is highlighted (for ethical reasons, the child’s face is hidden)

The profiles of all four are posted on websites where children are offered for adoption. All this is prohibited by the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

Diana’s profile on the site “Change one life”

Milskaya’s involvement in operations to forcibly transfer Ukrainian children, however, is even more explicit. In October 2022, before the Russian army withdrew from Kherson, Crimean and Krasnodar volunteers from Milskaya’s center, together with the Ministry of Emergencies, participated in the transfer of children from Kherson Oblast to Krasnodar Krai. This was reported by Radio Crimea, Anapa 39 TV channel, as well as Elena Milskaya herself in her social networks. Vladimir Sahaydak, director of the Center for Social and Psychological Rehabilitation in the village of Stepanivka (Kherson Oblast), told journalists that the deportation and transfer was forced: “I was told that if there was any resistance, soldiers would come, pack us together with our children and take us away. I don’t think we could do anything against rifles. So there was no other choice. We realized that this would happen sooner or later. They told me that the children were taken to Genichesk – they lied. They were taken to Crimea and to the city of Anapa in Krasnodar Krai”. Milskaya, her organizations and the Ministry of Emergencies did not respond to Proekt’s inquiries.

The article was prepared with contributions from journalist Regina Gimalova

Editing by Roman Badanin
Fact-cheking by Vitaliy Soldatskikh

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