Voronenkov’s journey from Russian MP to Kremlin critic
Denys Voronenkov led the typical lifestyle of Russia’s pro-Kremlin elite until October, when he ran afoul of Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee and fled to Ukraine along with his wife, seeking refuge from persecution.
He was a lawmaker for Russia’s pro-Kremlin Communist Party, had five apartments in Moscow and a fleet of five luxury cars. His wife, the opera singer Maria Maksakova, was a lawmaker for United Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s party.
After arriving in Ukraine and receiving Ukrainian citizenship, Voronenkov claimed he was “trying to survive” Putin and started criticizing the Russian Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, and the Kremlin.
His biography shows he indeed had high-profile connections.
“Why do you think the FSB is such a powerful organization, which nobody can escape from?” he asked in an interview with Gordon.UA. “People who work there also make mistakes. If you know the system from the inside, you can easily do what I did,” he said -- meaning escape.
Voronenkov was born in Nizhni Novgorod (then Gorky), a city in European Russia, into a Soviet military family. In his childhood his family moved between many cities in Russia and Ukraine. He also claimed to be half-Ukrainian, and said he had spent a lot of time in childhood in the southern Ukrainian cities of Kherson, Mariupol, Mykolaiv and Yevpatoriya.
He followed his father’s military career, studying in military universities in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) and Moscow, and starting his career as a military prosecutor in the mid-1990s.
After working in law enforcement, Voronenkov switched to politics.
He was elected to Russia’s State Duma on the Communist Party ticket in 2011. He followed his party’s agenda, which corresponded to the Kremlin line.
Voronenkov was one of the 443 Duma lawmakers who voted in March 2014 in support of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. Five months later, he posted several pictures from Crimea on his Twitter. “I was struck by its beauty. I completely support its accession to Crimea!” he wrote on Aug. 17, 2014.
But after Voronenkov came to Ukraine, he denied this support and even denied the tweet about Crimea, claiming his Twitter account had been hacked.
In March 2015, Voronenkov married fellow lawmaker Maksakova. Russian parliament speaker Sergey Naryshkin sang at their wedding.
But in early April, Russia’s Federal Investigation Committee asked the country’s prosecutor general to start the process of stripping Voronenkov of his parliamentary immunity in a criminal case in which Voronenkov was accused of seizing a building in the center of Moscow.
Voronenkov claimed the case was fabricated and he had to flee Russia.
In February, Voronenkov said he received Ukrainian citizenship thanks to his Ukrainian roots. Maksakova kept her Russian and German nationality but gained a residence permit in Ukraine.
Voronenkov claimed he was going to serve Ukraine as his new motherland, and said he was helping the Ukrainian investigation in the treason case against ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych.
Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny called Voronenkov “corrupt and crooked” and exposed Voronenkov’s luxury lifestyle in Russia.
“Voronenkov argued with someone, he was kicked out of the Duma, and rushed with his wife to Kyiv. Then right on the plane, they switched from the Georgy ribbon (the symbol of Russian-backed separatists) to blue-and-yellow (the colors of Ukraine’s national flag),” Navalny wrote on his blog in late January.
Voronenkov replied to Navalny’s comments that he earned his fortune from business before going into politics.
He compared modern Russia with Nazi Germany and said he would be helpful to Ukrainian investigators, since knew the inner workings of the Russian state. He also claimed he had gone public, hoping it would help him to save his life.
“You want to ask whether I have guarantees of my safety? No, nobody has them,” he said in what was to be his final interview, with news website Gordon.ua.
Denys Voronenkov, who sought political refuge in Ukraine, was assassinated on March 23. (Courtesy)