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Lyudmila, we hardly knew ya — no really

She’s been one of the world’s most elusive first ladies — let’s just say no one ever called her the “Russian Michelle Obama” — and after today, she’ll be a public figure no longer. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife, Lyudmila Putina, announced that they are divorcing after almost 30 years of ...

AFP/Getty Images/Wikipedia
AFP/Getty Images/Wikipedia

She’s been one of the world’s most elusive first ladies — let’s just say no one ever called her the “Russian Michelle Obama” — and after today, she’ll be a public figure no longer.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife, Lyudmila Putina, announced that they are divorcing after almost 30 years of marriage during an interview with Russia 24. Putina accompanied Putin to the ballet to see Esmeralda at the Grand Kremlin Palace. Afterwards, the couple first praised the performance, only discussing their relationship after a reporter noted that the Putins rarely appear in public together.

“It was our joint decision,” Putin said, according to an AP translation. “We practically never saw each other. To each his own life.”

“We will eternally be very close people,” Putina added, “I’m thankful to Vladimir Vladimirovich that he supports me.” She added, “I don’t like publicity and flying is difficult for me.” (Granted, Putina did once work as a flight attendant, but it was for Russia’s Aeroflot, which may explain the fear of flying.)

We don’t know much about Putina: A notoriously private person, she surfaces so rarely in public with her husband that it was news when she showed up at the Kremlin for Putin’s inauguration last year (there was once speculation that the reason she appeared so infrequently was that she’d retreated to a monastery). She appears to have taken a public stance on just one issue: the reform of the Russian language (she’s firmly against).

Rumors have swirled for years about the couple divorcing, accompanied by speculation about the various other women Putin may be having affairs with, including a former gymnast more than three decades his junior. Even a simple photo shoot in 2010 — seemingly designed to convey an image of a happy first family — stoked divorce rumors because the pair appeared so uncomfortable together.

The official website for Russia’s president includes a description of how Putin and Lyudmila Shkrebneva met “through a mutual friend”:

“I was already working in the First Main Directorate in St Petersburg, when a friend of mine called and invited me to the Arkady Raikin theatre. He said he already had the tickets, and mentioned there would be two young ladies joining us. So we went to the performance and the young ladies did join us. The next day, we went to the theatre again, but it was now my turn to buy the tickets. And the same thing happened on the third day. I then began dating one of the girls. I became friends with Lyudmila, my future wife.”

In the official biography, Putina recalls, “There was something about Vladimir that attracted me. Three or four months later, I already knew this was the man I needed.” The couple married on July 28, 1983 and have two daughters together.

Despite Putina’s reputation for privacy, the first lady did share details about her personal life from time to time. In a 2002 biography of Putin, for instance, Putina dished on the couple’s bizarre relationship. She explained how she gave birth to their first child alone, hailing a taxi in order to get to the hospital, because he was away on a business trip. When Putin returned, he declared that the baby girl would be named Masha after his mother, despite his wife’s preference for Natascha.

“I was in tears,” Putina recalled. “But then I realized there was no choice in the matter and my daughter was going to be Masha.”

Putina described her husband’s habitual lateness — “after an hour, I would nearly cry out of humiliation” — and claimed he would use KGB tactics on her to ensure she was trustworthy.

 

Putina also allegedly confided to a West German spy who befriended her while her husband worked for the KGB in Dresden, telling the agent that her husband was violent toward her and had extramarital affairs.

And every now and then, Putina made fashion statements as well (see left). “One of Moscow’s top fashion designers, Vladislav Zaitsev, is famous for dressing Putina in an oversize hat, reportedly twice as big as the British queen’s, when she and Putin visited Buckingham Palace,” Anna Nemtsova wrote back in January. “‘I love her very much,’ Zaitsev said on Dozhd TV last October. ‘She is wonderfully natural without any snobbishness or ambitions.'”

Sounds like a catch. But hey, Russia’s divorce rate is notoriously high. The Putins, it seems, are just one more Russian couple that didn’t make it. 

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