Vera Fedorovna Brileva could have become Russia’s First Lady. But it never occurred to her that Volodya Putin would climb to the top some day. Volodya’s dacha was just a stone’s throw from her house in a small town of Tosno near Leningrad.
Sobesednik was the first newspaper Vera Brileva relayed her recollections about her love for the future Russian president.
Vera still lives in Tosno. Years ago she met Volodya Putin in her house on Vokzalnaya street. She moved from that house to an apartment in the center of town. Vera’s husband is also called Vladimir. He was a forester before he retired. They have two children, a son and a daughter. Sasha is almost 18, he is a student at a technical college. Olga is 23, she works as a cartographer in St. Petersburg. Vera is a pensioner too. She held a number of jobs, working as a seamstress, janitor, sales attendant.
Vera says she met the future Russian president in 1969 after the Putins bought a dacha in Tosno. She was 14, he was 16. Vera became a frequent visitor of the Putins’ dacha.
Vera liked Volodya and his parents at first sight. According to her, Volodya was pretty popular with girls despite his rather medium height. He had some kind of charm about him, says Vera.
Volodya would regularly bring a few friends to his dacha. It was a regular company of ten boys. But one day a girl called Lyuda came to the dacha. The boys asked that girl to wash dishes after a dinner. The girl refused by saying: “My husband will do the dishwashing for me.” Vera did not feel any jealousy because she knew that Volodya was a shirker when it came to chores. And he preferred blondes.
Vera recalls a New Year’s Eve party at the Putins’ apartment. Everybody was having a great time. Then somebody suggested it was time they had played a romantic game called Spinning the Bottle. Volodya gave the bottle a spin. Finally, the bottle froze pointing at Vera. Then Volodya kissed Vera on the lips. “It was a brief kiss, though. I felt so hot all of a sudden,” says Vera.
Vera says that Putin liked studying very much. He would not join her and other friends for a night at the cinema. He would say he had no time for entertainment. He had to grind German, Russian and literature, and history to pass entry exams at a college. By and large, Volodya Putin always wore a somber expression on his face at school. Everybody would burst out laughing while Volodya just sat still and emotionless. And he would also be amazed at some trifling matter. “I would say to him: ‘That’s the way it should be done.’ And he would go: ‘Really? You must be kidding me!’”
According to Vera, Volodya’s desk was standing in the corner of the room in the Putins’ communal apartment in Leningrad. Aside from the desk, there was a sofa and a buffet unit frequently used by Volodya’s dad for hiding a bottle with some booze in it. Meanwhile, Volodya himself liked dry wine and champagne. But milk was his drink of choice, says Vera.
She cites an episode when asked why they split up. Once she dropped by his place, Volodya sat at a table writing something. “Volodya, do you remember the time when…” Vera was in the middle of a phrase when Volodya cut her short by spelling out: “I remember only things I need to remember.”
Vera was a proud girl. Her feelings died out right away. “Well, what can I do if people treat me this way?” says she. She read in a magazine article how Lyuda (Putin’s wife) was waiting for him for two hours at a metro station. Vera was a different type. She would disappear if her date failed to show up on time. Besides, Volodya’s friend Sasha fell in love with her. So Volodya just walked away. And Sasha would pick her up and see her home. “Still, I liked Volodya more than Sasha,” says Vera.
She says she never met Lyudmila Putin. Once her daughter and she called on Putin’s father. Two girls came out of the room. It was Masha and Katya, Volodya’s daughters, and they looked very mush like their father. But Lyuda never appeared. Volodya was out in Germany at the time. “Anyway, I admire her, and I simply can’t stand any criticism leveled at her. You know, she managed to become Volodya’s wife. It was not a piece of cake since he is not a kind of guy who gets hitched easily,” says Vera.
Vera says lots of people advise her these days to send Putin a letter to remind him that she is still around. Vera usually says this when she hears such a piece of advice: “I’m a full-blooded Russian. I wouldn’t write him a letter and ask for help even if I’d starve living under the bridge.”
She says she did not want to see her old flame in the past. Nowadays she would be probably glad to see Vladimir Putin. “But what are we going to talk about should we have an encounter? Well, we definitely have a couple of memories to share. I still remember his hands. He had short strong fingers,” says she.
Translated by Guerman Grachev