Russian Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev is pictured aboard a helicopter as he surveys damage from wildfires in some areas of the Chelyabinsk Region. - AFP

MOSCOW: Russia's emergencies minister has died trying to save a filmmaker who slipped from a cliff during training exercises in the Arctic region, officials said yesterday. Yevgeny Zinichev, who previously served in President Vladimir Putin's security detail, "tragically died trying to save a person's life" near the city of Norilsk, the ministry said in a statement that was carried by Russian news agencies.

The ministry identified the filmmaker as 63-year-old Alexander Melnik who produced several films set in the Actic region and who also died in the incident. Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of the state-funded news outlet RT, said the 55-year-old minister had fallen to his death trying to save the man later identified as Melnik. "He and the cameraman were standing at the edge of a cliff. The cameraman slipped and fell... Before anyone even figured out what happened, Zinichev jumped into the water after the fallen person and crashed against a protruding rock."

"Without thinking for a second he acted not like a minister, but like a rescuer," Zinichev's deputy Andrei Gurovich said in televised remarks. "This is how he lived all his life," Gurovich added. Putin expressed his "deep condolences" to the minister's relatives in a statement. "The president and the emergencies minister worked together for many years," it read. Zinichev was a member of the KGB security service in the last years of the USSR and his career took off after he served in Putin's security detail between 2006 and 2015.

Lauded as a 'hero'

He held a number of high-profile jobs, briefly serving as acting governor of Russia's exclave region of Kaliningrad and then as deputy head of the Federal Security Service (FSB). He was appointed head of the emergencies ministry in May, 2018. He was also a member of Russia's Security Council. As head of the emergencies ministry, he held one of the highest-profile cabinet jobs, dealing with natural and man-made disasters and other rapid-response situations across the vast country. The two-day drills he was participating in across several Arctic cities including Norilsk, kicked off on Tuesday and involved over 6,000 people.

Condolences poured in from top officials, with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin praising Zinichev as a "true Russian officer" and Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov saying the minister "died like a hero." "I knew him personally. We worked together closely and fruitfully. So unfortunate," the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, said on Telegram. Melnik was an award-winning film director and had travelled to Norilsk to work on a new film about the development of the Arctic and the Northern Sea Route. The development of the Arctic is a strategic priority for Moscow and it has huge projects to exploit the vast region's natural resources. - AFP