Russian Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev has died while attempting to save a person’s life during training exercises in the Arctic city of Norilsk.

Yevgeny Zinichev, 55, who headed the high-profile emergencies ministry since 2018, was in the remote city of Norilsk to oversee large-scale drills in the region.

The ministry said in a statement he died while trying to save Alexander Melnik who had travelled to Norilsk to make a documentary about the Arctic and the Northern Sea Route.

It said Melnik had slipped on a wet rock and fallen.

“Yevgeny tried to grab Alexander and jumped after him, but unfortunately, they both died after falling from a high cliff into a mountainous river,” it said.

Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Russia’s RT television channel, commented separately on Twitter.

“He and the cameraman were on the edge of a cliff. The cameraman slipped and fell into the water,” she said.

“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 visited the construction site of a new fire station in Norilsk, as well as a search and rescue team in the region, the ministry said in a statement earlier on Wednesday.

Deputy emergencies minister Andrei Gurovich told Rossiya 24 TV that his boss had acted spontaneously “not like a minister, but like a rescuer. This is how he lived all his life”. Zinichev’s body was being flown back to Moscow hours after the accident, which is said to have happened early on Wednesday morning.

Biography of Yevgeny Zinichev

Zinichev was born in St Petersburg and served in the state security services from 1987 to 2015, according to a biography published by state-run media. He was also involved in Putin’s security.

According to the RBC news site, he was Putin’s bodyguard and personal aide. Zinichev can be seen standing at Putin’s shoulder in a number of photographs taken at public events over the years.

Zinichev went on to become the deputy head of the Federal Security Service and the acting regional governor of Kaliningrad for a short time. Putin has expressed his condolences, according to the Kremlin.

A Kremlin statement said Mr Putin had shared many years working with Zinichev and spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was a great loss.

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