A stewardess called Luda - Russia's First Lady

Ludmila Shkrebneva did never think her destiny would give her such a difficult role - to be the country's first lady.

She does not look like a high society lioness: in contrast to the western first ladies, she likes jumpers and not elegant costumes and jewelry. She had dreamt of quiet peaceful family life, wanted to be just a loving woman...

Ludmila Putina's roots are from Bransk region. Here in Starodubskii province, in village Shniaki her father Alexander Avraamovitch Shkrebnev was born.

He was the eldest son in the family, and hence started helping parents with household and at the fields very early. Having finished the high school, Ludmila's father worked in a collective farm for a while, and then gone serving for the army. He ended up in Kaliningrad, married and on the 6th of January 1957 on Christmas Eve his wife brought them a daughter, Luda.

Ludmila Shkrebneva studied in a Kalinigrad high school. From the same school in 1968 graduated "good pupil" Oleg Gazmanov, a famous Russian pop singer (then he went to a navy college), and Lada Dance (then Volkova, another Russian pop star). Ludmila's younger sister Olga sat at the same desk with Lada.

Ludmila was an active girl, good student and devoted Komsomol member. She was fine at declaiming poems. Always received awards for first places at the poetry readers’ competitions on 9 May and 7 November holidays (the great Victory and the Revolution days in the USSR). In the 1975 when she was in grade 10 (the last grade in Russian high school), her class gathered together to celebrate New Year. Ludmila invited everyone to her place, and while the parents were gone somewhere, students had great fun.

Ludmila's blue dream was to become an actress. In a drama club of regional Pioneers Palace she played all female roles in school program shows, including "Reviser", "Cherry Garden" and other Tchekov plays, Russian folk tales.

At the school's out night a class manager asked Ludmila about her future plans. She replied: "Will try to enroll to acting school". Leningrad was the closest city, so she headed there. She successfully passed first round, but failed one of the entering exams.

It was hard to return home, but Ludmila was not the one to hide. The year was wasted, and she went working to help parents. That year she was everything: postman, revolver-making man assistant, sanitary in a city hospital, the drama club head, and accompanist. Together with her first teacher they directed a few plays on stage, and of course she played many roles in theater. But she did not give up thoughts about higher education. Together with the friends, Ludmila prepared to enroll into Kaliningrad Technical University. They gathered together in Ludmila's room to study mathematics and physics. She did enroll in the university, but left studying in the second year to work as a stewardess at the Kaliningrad United Aviation Squad planes.

Ludmila came there in the early 80ies, and worked not for too long. There still employed her younger sister. This aviation squad did in fact marry Ludmila to the future Russian president, by sending her in a short-term vacation to a rest house in Leningrad. A great help to the birth of Putins family was also provided by famous Russian comic Arkady Raikin, at whose show Ludmila and Vladimir saw each other first. Putin at that time studied in theLaw Faculty of the Leningrad University.

She came to Leningrad with a friend, and went to see Arkadiy Raikin, a famous Russian comic show. There, at the Lensovet Theater’s steps she met her future husband. She liked Vladimir at the first sight: athletic body shape, fine face lines (even though the face itself is not memorable - just as it needed in KGB)

It seems like Vladimir Putin's attraction made Ludmila think over her dreams about Moscow and acting carrier. By the time of her final profession choice, the future husband's German perspectives were finalised, so Ludmila decided to study German language. But in Leningrad University's Philology faculty, where Ludmila studied in preparatory foundation courses, was a shortage of "German" place, so Ludmila's major became Spanish language and literature. However, as it was expected, she did escape neither German language nor Germany itself.

They married in three years after the meeting, on the 28th of July 1983. Vladimir was then already at service in the KGB Head office, in the external secret services. The young couple moved to live with Vladimir's parents. Lived without riches, as both the Putins and the Shkrebnevs were ordinary families with proletarian biographies. There in the parents house Vladimir Putin lived with his spouse until he was transferred to Moscow.

During the Leningrad period of the Putins' life there was three posts to Germany, where Ludmila studied the German language. After return to Leningrad, she even taught German for a while.

Ludmila Putina had driver's license and loved driving cars. In the beginning of the 1990ies she had a serious accident. Doctors diagnosed a closed break of the spinal cord's chest area, and later also a break of the skull's base. It took two years for her to rehabilitate. She practically gave up driving after that.

The Putins have two daughters, both were called in their grandmothers' honour: Katya, the elder, and Maria. Since moving to Moscow Ludmila has not been working but bringing up the children.

As Vladimir Putin explained to his circles, his wife has never run for glory. She was very happy to walk peacefully, unrecognised in Petersburg and Moscow street, while being the Prime Minister's wife. For some time there were rumours in Russia that things are not going well in the president's family. They said that "their love is over long ago, and only Putin's fear of carreer fail made Ludmila and Vladimir demonstrate a friendly family relationships." Also there were talks that "The Kremlin team Putin received from Yeltsin, decided that Ludmila is not good enough for the first lady, and they found a few candidates for her place". They even spread rumours about some disease that made it hard for Ludmila to match her husband's new role. The rumour also was that it was a revenge of one of the oligarchs close to Kremlin, whose relationships with her did not work well.

On the other hand, rumours are normal thing in such matters. Russian first ladies have been traditionally unlucky in this respect, and the same humiliating romours were spread about them traditionally by head of the state's closest circles. This happened to Raisa Gorbatcheva, to Naina Yeltsina (who was sort of "lucky", as the major target of such attacks was her daughter Tatyana.) Now it is Ludmila Putina's time.

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Author`s name Pavel Morozov