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Last week, within 48 hours of each other, two Russian oligarchs were found dead alongside their families in what investigators are labelling murder-suicides. Since the start of 2022, four other Russia-connected oligarchs have mysteriously died by suicide.
In 2017, USA Today released a report that found that 38 high-profile Russians died or went missing in a three-year time span. It’s not uncommon for opponents and critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin to be assassinated, disappear or be thrown in prison.
Not every death of a high-profile Russian is a cause for concern about foul play, but below we’ve compiled a list of the startling number of Russian oligarchs who have met a mysterious end in 2022 — so far.
Multimillionaire Sergey Protosenya was found hanged outside a Spanish villa he was renting with his family for Easter on April 20. The bodies of his wife and 18-year-old daughter were found fatally stabbed in their beds.
Local Spanish authorities are investigating the three deaths, which appear to be a case of murder-suicide, but investigators are not ruling out the possibility that the family was killed.
No suicide note was found and Protosenya has no track record of domestic violence, according to Spanish news outlet El Punt Avui.
Protosenya’s wife and child were stabbed to death, though no blood was found on his clothes or person. An axe and knife were found near his body, however.
Protosenya, 55, is a former executive at Novatek, the largest independent natural gas producer in Russia. In response to the deaths of Protosenya and his family, Novatek released a statement that characterized the former executive as “an outstanding person and a wonderful family man, a strong professional who made a considerable contribution to the formation and development of the Company.”
Just one day prior to the deaths of Protosenya and his family, Russian oligarch Vladislav Avayev was found dead in his Moscow apartment along with the bodies of his wife and 13-year-old daughter.
State-controlled media outlet TASS reported on the deaths and a source in Russian law enforcement told them that preliminary evidence points to Avayev killing his wife and daughter, then dying by suicide.
Former vice-president of Russia's Gazprombank, his wife and daughter found shot dead in Moscow.
Preliminary investigation believes that 50-year-old Vladislav Avayev killed his wife and 13-year-old daughter, and later committed suicide. pic.twitter.com/EwzWqE0r7h
— Free Ukraine (@Mihoflowersy) April 18, 2022
Avayev, a former vice-president of Gazprombank and a Kremlin official before that, was found dead holding a pistol, which was allegedly used to kill his wife and daughter.
Gazprombank is Russia’s third-largest bank and is associated with Gazprom, the largest publicly listed natural gas company in the world.
Another Gazprombank vice-president, Igor Volobuev, has questioned Ayavev’s case being labelled a murder-suicide, saying, “I think that this is a staging. Why? It is hard to say. Maybe he knew something and represented some kind of danger.”
The Ukraine-born Volobuev announced on Tuesday that he has left Russia to fight for Ukraine, telling Insider: “I could no longer observe from the outside what Russia is doing with my homeland. My visit is like repentance, I want to wash off my Russian past. I want to stay in Ukraine until the victory.”
Early last March, Russian billionaire Vasily Melnikov and his family were all found dead in their luxury apartment in Nizhny Novgorod.
According to Russian newspaper Kommersant, and as reported by Newsweek, Melnikov, alongside his wife and two young sons, died from stab wounds. The knives used in the killings were found at the crime scene.
Businessman Vasily Melnikov, owner of the Medstom company, was murdered together with his family in #NizhnyNovgorod.
The businessman, his wife and two minor children were stabbed to death in their own home. An investigation is underway. A contract killing is not ruled out. pic.twitter.com/Rw8IlqGRnp
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) March 23, 2022
Investigators again concluded that the deaths were a result of a murder-suicide in which Melnikov killed his wife and 10-year-old and four-year-old sons before killing himself. Neighbours and relatives are struggling to believe that Melnikov could have killed his family.
News 84 Media reported that Melnikov’s company Medstom, which imports medical equipment into Russia, was on the verge of collapse after western sanctions were imposed in response to the Ukraine war.
He and his family had reportedly just returned from a holiday in the Maldives when their bodies were discovered.
On Feb. 28, Ukrainian-born oligarch Mikhail Watford was found dead in the garage of his home in Surrey, U.K. Watford had been hanged but his wife and children, who were home at the time, were not harmed.
Mikhail Watford: Ukrainian oligarch's death investigated by Surrey Police – BBC News https://t.co/VPWmeLkZ7W
— Arabella (@Spireship) March 3, 2022
Surrey police are investigating the death, but said that they don’t believe foul play was involved “at this time.”
According to the BBC, the Russian businessman made his millions as an oil and gas tycoon following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Watford changed his last name from Tolstosheya after moving to the U.K. in the early 2000s.
Three days before Watford’s death and a day after Russia invaded Ukraine, a deputy general director for Gazprom’s treasury department was found hanged in the garage of a cottage in Lenisky.
Investigators found a note next to Alexander Tyulyakov’s body, leading to the conclusion by local law enforcement that Tyulyakov died by suicide, according to Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
They cited an unnamed source in law enforcement who told them that Gazprom’s own security unit arrived at the scene of his suicide at the same time as police and is also investigating the death.
Tyulyakov, 61, had worked at Gazprom for around 10 years and had previously overseen corporate security and human resources.
The neighbourhood where he was found was also the site of another suicide of a Gazprom executive.
On Jan. 30, about a month before Russia invaded Ukraine, another Gazprom top executive died in the Lenisky district, which is known to be a retreat for Russian executives.
Epidemia suicida dei top manager russi legati a principali società di gas #Gazprom e #NOVATEK.
1) 30.01. Leonid Shulman, capo del dipartimento di trasporto di Gazprom Invest è stato trovato morto in suo cottage in villaggio di Leninsky (era in congedo) lasciando biglietto d'addio pic.twitter.com/nhRR7RPEHi
— Belarusian in Rome (@BielorussaRM) April 21, 2022
Leonid Shulman, 60, was found dead in the bathroom of his cottage next to an apparent suicide note, according to Novaya Gazeta.
In the note, Shulman complained about an unbearable pain in his leg, which he had injured during the New Year’s holiday. Shulman reportedly wore an Ilizarov apparatus for the injury, which is used to reshape limb bones.
According to Fortune, Shulman was in the midst of being investigated for fraud at Gazprom.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
For a directory of support services in your area, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.
Learn more about how to help someone in crisis on the government of Canada’s website.
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