From Munich To Sevastopol: Who Is The Ballet Master Linked To Putin's Purported Daughter?
One of the consequences of Russia's February 24 invasion of Ukraine has been a noticeable lifting of the veil of secrecy over the personal life of President Vladimir Putin. Western countries have imposed personal sanctions on Putin's former wife, Lyudmila Ocheretnaya, and former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabayeva, who has long been reported to be romantically involved with Putin and to have given birth to several of his children. In addition, the women who are widely believed to be Putin's two daughters from his marriage to Lyudmila -- Maria Vorontseva and Yekaterina Tikhonova (a former acrobatic dancer who often uses the first name Katerina) -- have also been hit with sanctions. In April, Current Time, the Russian-language channel run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, and Meduza published an investigation into the man believed to be Vorontseva's former husband, a 42-year-old Dutch citizen and construction engineer named Jorrit Faasen. On May 19, the German news site Der Spiegel and Russia's iStories reported that Russian ballet dancer and director Igor Zelensky, 52, is Tikhonova's partner. A follow-on report by Current Time, together with Meduza and Dosye, has added details about the interrelations between Tikhonova, Zelensky, Shamalov, and Zelensky's legal wife, former ballerina and current ballet instructor Yana Serebryakova. In early April, it was announced that Zelensky was leaving his post as the director of the Bavarian State Ballet in Munich, which he had held since September 2016, "for private family reasons. There was no mention of the ongoing war in Ukraine, but Zelensky was quoted as saying: "At present. Serebryakova continues to work as a ballet coach at the theater, the theater's press service confirmed. However, on May 16, prominent Russian pranksters Vladimir Krasnov and Aleksei Stolyarov, known as Vovan and Lexus and who have been suspected of having ties to the Kremlin, posed as a Ukrainian official in a telephone conversation with Bavarian State Opera General Director Serge Dorny and duped him into providing more information about Zelensky's departure from Munich. "We spoke with him several times," Dorny said when asked whether Zelensky had been ousted for refusing to denounce the Kremlin's attack on Ukraine. Two people who are acquainted with Zelensky told Current Time that he plans to return to Russia in the near future at the insistence of his current partner. Zelensky's tenure in Munich began with controversy when he declined to renew the contract of popular Spanish ballerina Lucia Lacarra. "He hired new artists with brilliant expression," she said. Sonnenburg was confident that Zelensky's departure from Munich was a direct result of the Ukraine invasion and the "hostile relations toward Russians" that it aroused.
Current Time's investigation has established that Zelensky and Tikhonova became close when Zelensky was ballet director at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater in Moscow between 2011 and 2016. An employee of the theater and another source with ties to its ballet corps told Current Time that Tikhonova began attending performances at the theater shortly after Zelensky began working there. "They were seen together after performances," one source said. Tikhonova arrived at the performances alone and took her seat after the lights went down, sources said. The relationship between Tikhonova and Zelensky was an open secret in the ballet world across Moscow. "He told everyone he would discuss it with Zelensky because he was the lover of Putin's daughter," the source said. During the same period, Zelensky headed the ballet company at the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater, but no prominent Moscow guests were known to have attended performances there. "Everyone knew that he was an important person, but he didn't have a car with a flashing light. Current Time's search of the Russian property registry found two modest apartments owned by Zelensky -- a 169-square-meter apartment in Novosibirsk and a 34-square-meter apartment in the center of St. Tikhonova's friendship with Zelensky continued even after she married businessman Shamalov in February 2013. Information about these relationships has been gleaned from a trove of e-mails that were hacked from Shamalov's Ladoga Management firm. According to the e-mails, which were provided to Current Time, Shamalov's longtime financial manager, Viktor Snakin, made at least seven deposits in 2021 into Shamalov's accounts with money that apparently originated from Zelensky. Snakin did not respond to requests to comment for this story. The e-mail leaks also show that Shamalov spoke several times in 2017 with Zelensky's wife, Serebryakova. The last known conversation between Shamalov and Serebryakova took place on the night of April 17, 2017.
Seven and a half months later, Tikhonova gave birth to her daughter with Zelensky, according to a source with access to vital-records databases. Serebryakova and Zelensky did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story. On March 18, 2018, the Russian Consulate in Munich published a photograph of Zelensky casting his ballot in Russia's presidential election, which had been postponed by one week so that Putin's landslide reconfirmation could coincide with celebrations of the fourth anniversary of Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region. Just a couple of days before Zelensky cast his ballot in 2018, the Tverskoi district registration office in Moscow issued a paternity document for Tikhonova's daughter. Around the same time, Putin made a trip to the Crimean port city of Sevastopol during which he promised locals that the government would build a new cultural center with a theater and an academy for musicians and dancers. On May 7, the day of his fourth inauguration as president, Putin signed a decree establishing the construction of such cultural centers as a national development priority for the period 2018-24. Natalya Volynskaya, who headed the foundation's board until December 2021, said she did not know who nominated Zelensky to serve on the board, adding that he was responsible for the Sevastopol project. The theater, which was designed by the avant-garde Austrian architectural firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, is expected to open in 2023. Under Zelensky's oversight, people associated with him have been given posts in Sevastopol. The Sevastopol theater's website mentions only Uvarov and ignores Polunin, although his appointment as its director was officially announced. This has led to speculation that a place has been prepared for Zelensky in the wake of his departure from Munich. "They promised Sevastopol to Zelensky," a source in the Bolshoi Theater said. "He is counting on Sevastopol, that is true," said the source at the Guild of Ballet Critics. Vladimir Yurovsky, musical director of the Bavarian Opera and Ballet Theater, remembered discussing Sevastopol with Zelensky in Munich: "In January 2020, Igor tried to talk me into taking my orchestra -- at the time I headed the Svetlanov State Orchestra in Moscow -- and joining the new Sevastopol theater.
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