As Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops into Ukraine, the former KGB officer claimed he was pursuing “the demilitarisation and denazification” of Russia’s former Soviet neighbour. His false claim that Nazis have a grip over Ukraine was immediately torn apart by politicians and analysts, not least because Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish and three of his family died in the Holocaust. As well as Putin’s delusions about Ukraine, the Russian leader’s worldview is believed to have been informed by his past and tragic family history. The Kremlin strongman’s family suffered horrific trauma at the hands of Hitler during World War 2.
Several of Putin’s family are believed to have died in 1941 as Hitler invaded the Soviet Union that summer.
The Nazi invasion, dubbed Operation Barbarossa, was ultimately unsuccessful, and is considered a key turning point in the conflict.
Soviet war hero Marshal Georgy Zhukov – famous for pushing the Nazis back from Stalingrad and Leningrad – launched the first major counteroffensive against the Germans near the town of Klin and the city of Kalinin, now known as Tver.
It was in the Tver region, which sits northwest of Moscow, that at least four of Putin’s family died, including his maternal grandmother.
Putin’s family tragedy at the hands of the Nazis is referenced Philip Short’s acclaimed 2021 biography of the Russian President.
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The former BBC correspondent says that “other relatives” of Putin were also killed in the fighting near Tver but does not specify how many.
Putin opened up about the deaths in a rare admission about his past in 2005 as he spoke on the 60th anniversary of V-Day.
The Russian President claimed that “almost half of his mother’s and father’s relatives” died during World War 2.
A decade later, Putin provided further insight into his family’s experiences during the conflict.
To mark the 70th anniversary of V-Day, the Russian leader penned a personal essay for Russian Pioneer magazine.
“‘They are also simple people and also were killed in the war’.”
He added: “This is astonishing! We were brought up on Soviet films and books… And we used to hate… However, she did not feel this way.
“I still remember clearly her words ‘How can we blame them? They are just simple working-class men just like we are. They were simply forced to go to the frontline’.
“These are the words, which I remember since my childhood.
“Everything that my parents told me about the war was true.
“They did not make up a single word. They did not mix up a single day.”
Putin claimed that his brother Viktor died during the near 900-day siege of Leningrad by the Nazis.
He also claimed in his 2000 memoir that his mother and father narrowly escaped death in World War 2.
The version of his mother and father’s struggle he tells in the book differs from what Hillary Clinton claims he once told her.
The former US Secretary of State claimed in her own memoir, ‘Hard Choices’, published in 2014, that Putin had explained how his father found his mother almost dead.
According to the anecdote, Putin senior recognised his wife’s nearly dead body being loaded onto a flatbed truck and argued with the men to give him her body.
Mrs Clinton wrote: “After an argument the men gave in, and Putin’s father took his wife in his arms and, after examining her, realised she was still alive.
“He carried her up to their apartment and nursed her back to health. Eight years later, in 1952, their son Vladimir was born.”