A poor boy in the Soviet Union
A tragic family story
An only child by force
The trauma of WW II
Putin and his family suffered the consequences of war
A tough life in Leningrad in the 50s
The famous story of the rat that attacked Putin
Living in a
His grandfather was Stalin's cook
The greatness of the Soviet Empire
A good student
A boy always ready to fight
A gray career in the KGB
The end of communism
A Russian Nationalist
Power hungry
A hard childhood that hardened his character
Strike first
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How Vladimir Putin's childhood shaped him as a leader
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A poor boy in the Soviet Union

Although social inequalities did not officially exist in the former USSR (the alleged socialist paradise), the reality is that there was a disadvantaged population, and Vladimir Putin grew up in a poor area. He was born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) on October 7, 1952.

Image: From Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5389243

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A tragic family story

Vladimir Putin's mother (pictured) worked in a factory and his father was a soldier in the Soviet Navy (he was seriously wounded in combat in World War II) and later a foreman at a factory.

Photo: By Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4969996

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An only child by force

Putin had two older siblings but they died (both from illness: one of them from diphtheria during the war). His maternal grandmother and two of his uncles died in World War II.

Image: From Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5389243

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The trauma of WW II

In an interview with the BBC, the journalist Steven Lee Myers (Moscow correspondent for The New York Times for seven years and author of a biography entitled 'The New Tsar') highlighted the impact the consequences of war had on Putin's childhood.

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Putin and his family suffered the consequences of war

Even though Vladimir Putin was born after the Second World War, Myers says that Putin and his family suffered the consequences of the war. Myers has said that the experience and mythology around the war is something that Putin grew up with and is a big part of his character.

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A tough life in Leningrad in the 50s

Putin grew up in a humble neighborhood of Leningrad. In his autobiography entitled 'First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President Vladimir Putin,' Russia's leader talks about how catching rats was one of his main sources of entertainment as a child.

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The famous story of the rat that attacked Putin

The story of the rat that attacked Putin is famous and has been written about many times. According to the Daily Mirror (taken from the aforementioned autobiographical book), “Once I saw a huge rat and I chased it down the hall until I cornered it. Suddenly he turned around and threw himself at me. I was surprised and scared. Now the rat was chasing me."

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Living in a "communal flat"

Leningrad was the scene of Putin's childhood, "communal flats" abounded, where several families lived together, and Putin grew up in one of them. Vera Dmitrievna Gurevich, who was the teacher of the current Russian president, described those houses to the Daily Mirror: “There was no hot water, no bathtub. The bathroom was horrible. And it was so cold, horrible.”

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His grandfather was Stalin's cook

Another revealing detail about Putin's family origins is the profession of his paternal grandfather: he was Stalin's cook, according to a biographical profile signed by Roger Cohen in The New York Times.

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The greatness of the Soviet Empire

So Putin grew up, albeit poor, on family stories about the greatness of the Soviet Empire and how, at great sacrifice, the USSR won the war against the Germans. That imperial greatness is what, as an adult, he has always insisted on recovering for his country.

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A good student

The truth is that the Soviet Union gave Putin the opportunity to study and he used it well. He studied German in high school and is fluent in the language. After school he enrolled in law school but his destiny was not to be a man of the law. In fact, in 1975 he joined the feared KGB, the Soviet secret service.

Image: From Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4970161

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A boy always ready to fight

Another determinant of Putin's personality forged in childhood was his willingness to fight, his determination never to turn his back on confrontation if the occasion called for it. For this reason, from a very young age he practiced martial arts. He is a black belt in judo.

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A gray career in the KGB

If Putin dreamed in his childhood of becoming a hero of the Soviet Union, his career in the KGB must have frustrated him. He was not assigned to East Berlin, the paradise of the great Soviet spies, but to the then boring Dresden, where he devoted himself more to paperwork than to anything else.

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The end of communism

In Dresden, Putin witnessed the collapse of communism throughout Europe. He renounced Soviet socialism to adapt to the new times and returned to his native Leningrad, which was already in transit to become Saint Petersburg again, as in the time of the Tsars.

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A Russian Nationalist

Some wonder if Putin has true communist beliefs, and it seems doubtful. His ideology has more to do with pure Russian nationalism. In fact, according to Wikipedia itself, at age 12, he was one of the few children in his class who was not a member of the Young Pioneers, the communist youth organization of the USSR.

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Power hungry

Putin has always been attracted to power, and that was the reason he left the KGB, just as he was starting his own family and chose to get into politics. Putin got his start in politics in St. Petersburg and cozied up to Boris Yelstin, a strong Russian man helping Russia's transition from socialism to a new regime.

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A hard childhood that hardened his character

All the biographies about Putin state that he had a tough childhood, abundant in street fights, and was quite neglected in the family. Undoubtedly, this tough upbringing hardened and shaped young Vladimir Putin.

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Strike first

Masha Gessen, author of 'The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise Of Vladimir Putin', argues that Putin was a child "left to his own devices". And that his experience led him to think that, in life, you always have to hit first. Indeed that has guided him when it comes to governing and fighting. But now, he is an adult, and his decisions go beyond a rat perishing or another child coming home with a bruised face.

 

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