A senior Russian official who reportedly criticized the Kremlin’s offensive in Ukraine as a “fascist invasion” and lamented the ”degree of brutalization of our state” has died of undisclosed causes after a flight from Cuba.
Pyotr Kucherenko, 46, the deputy minister of science and higher education, fell ill during the flight to Russia with his delegation on Saturday, according to his office.
The plane made an emergency landing in the southern city of Mineralnye Vody, where doctors tried to save his life, the Times of London reported.
The politician is survived by his wife, pop singer Diana Gurtskaya, and their teenage son.
An unnamed source close to the widow told state media that his family believed the death was linked to his heart condition, but that they would await the results of an autopsy, according to the news outlet.
Roman Super, an independent journalist who fled Russia shortly after it invaded Ukraine in February 2022, said on his Telegram channel that he had spoken with Kucherenko “just days” before fleeing.
He said the pol feared for his safety and urged him to also leave the country.
“‘Save yourself and your family. Leave as soon as possible. You cannot imagine the degree of brutalization of our state. In a year you won’t recognize Russia at all. By leaving you are doing the right thing,’” Super quoted Kucherenko as saying, CNN reported.
Super said he asked Kucherenko if he also wanted to flee, to which, he said, the minister answered: “It is no longer possible to do so. They take away our passports. And there is no such world where they will now be happy with the deputy Russian minister after this fascist invasion.”
Kucherenko also reportedly told the journalist that he was taking “antidepressants and tranquilizers” to cope but that it wasn’t “really helping.”
“It doesn’t help much. I hardly sleep. I feel terrible. We’ve all been taken hostage. Nobody can say anything. Immediately crushed like aphids. Leave soon, Roma. And save everyone,” he allegedly added.
It is unclear if the self-medicating contributed to his death.
Multiple reports have corroborated Kucherenko’s claim that senior Russian officials’ passports had been confiscated to prevent them fleeing the country after it launched the invasion.
Kucherenko joins the list of at least 13 high-profile Russians who have lost their lives under mysterious circumstances in the last 15 months.
In February, Marina Yankina, 58, the head of finance and procurement for Russia’s western military district, died after an apparent fall from a St Petersburg high-rise.
A preliminary investigation determined she committed suicide.
Also that month, Ministry of the Interior Maj. Gen. Vladimir Makarov, 72, died of an apparent suicide in a Moscow suburb.
Unconfirmed reports alleged that he had fallen into a “deep depression” after being sacked by strongman Vladimir Putin in January.
In November, Col. Vadim Boiko, 44, deputy head of the Makarov Pacific Higher Naval School in Vladivostok, was found dead from multiple gunshot wounds in what also has been described as a suicide.
Boiko, who played a role in mobilization efforts, “executed” himself with five gunshots to the chest in his commander’s office after allegedly being set up to take the fall for some of the problems plaguing the invasion, according to his widow.
In December, sausage tycoon Pavel Antov, who criticized the invasion of Ukraine, plunged to his death from a luxury hotel in India — three days after his friend lost his life on the same trip.
Alexander Buzakov, the head of a major submarine shipyard, died suddenly that month, with no cause of death given by authorities.
In September, Anatoly Gerashchenko, the former rector to the Moscow Aviation Institute, died in an unspecified accident.
Lukoil Chairman Ravil Maganov died earlier that month after falling out the window of a Moscow hospital, according to TASS.