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How Vladimir Putin went from a 'romantic teenager' to a leader threatening world peace

Old images of Russian President tell a tale of Putin's other side, one that has been ignored in recent years as he edges closer to war
UPDATED FEB 23, 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a press conference on June 16, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a press conference on June 16, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When you think of Vladimir Putin, what's the first image that comes to your mind? For many, it's the image of Putin riding a horse topless or even images with world leaders. He may be one of the world's most secretive men, but we've seen plenty of Putin, especially in recent years as he racks up tension in Europe. However, there's also another side to him, one that's not made it out in public very often. 

We are of course talking about the time before Putin became Russia's leader. Before the Presidency and Prime Ministerialship, there was a time when Putin was a teenager like many others. He spent plenty of time outdoors because he loved nature. He also served time in the KGB, Russia's military intelligence unit. He also fell in love, marrying a woman four years his junior and even became a father. And of course, he also spent considerable time learning martial arts like judo and sambo. 


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While many photos from Putin's youth may be locked away or destroyed altogether, a few have since made it out. On February 22, 2022, The Daily Mail published a large number of these old photos, telling the tale of Putin's childhood and youth. 

Vladimir Putin during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at the Beijing National Stadium on February 04, 2022, in Beijing, China. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

Time before fame

Born in 1952 in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Putin was the youngest of three children. However, both his elder siblings died before he was born. At school, he was reportedly known as a troublemaker, before channeling his energies into martial arts. As a teenager, he also joined a local street gang, later admitting that it caused time management issues. Since 12, Putin began learning samba (a Russian martial art) and judo, both of which he has since become proficient in.

In past interviews, Putin has admitted he knew in high school he wanted to work in military intelligence. And so, he decided to go to university and obtain a law degree. Between 1970 and 1975, Putin attended Saint Petersburg State University where he was known to be quite stylish and even romantic. He then graduated and immediately joined the KGB, and in 1983 married a flight attendant named Lyudmila.

While the two remained together till 2013, when they got divorced, little is known about Putin's family life. He did become a father to two girls, but they quickly took a backseat as Putin's political ambitions started taking shape. Images shared by The Mail do indicate though that Putin was a doting father, as he can be seen playing with his girls. Others also show him with his parents, and Lyudmila indicating there certainly was far more to Putin that we know today. 

Vladimir Putin (R) and his wife, Lioudmila, visit Chateau Cheval Blanc on February 12, 2003, in Saint Emilion in France. (Gilles Bouquillon/Getty Images)

Rise to power

However, those images and anecdotes have since become a thing of the past. In 1994, Putin became the Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg, which he managed alongside his career in the FSB (the domestic successor to the KGB). IN 1998, he was appointed Director of the FSB, and only a year later became Russia's Prime Minister. Since the 2000s, he served either as PM or President of the nation, allowing him to rule the country with an iron fist.

Today, the Russian President is singlehandedly on the cusp of leading his nation to war against Ukraine. This isn't a sudden move, what Putin sees as his vision for Russia today was decades in the making. In one of his most famous essays, Putin calls Russia and Ukraine "parts of what is essentially the same historical and spiritual space." He also says Ukrainian independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union "robbed" Russia. 

It's a version of history Putin has often used to justify his acts in Ukraine, which so far the world has chosen to ignore. In February 2014, it annexed Crimea and just a month later launched an offensive in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, that has since been ongoing. The "war" against Ukraine has been ongoing for nearly a decade now, and is perhaps what Putin's legacy will be.