The international community has been laser-focused on Russian President Vladimir Putin amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the 69-year-old leader has fought hard to prevent the media and the world from knowing much about his personal life.
Putin’s carefully curated macho image — he’s often photographed riding horses, lifting weights, and posing shirtless — has colored much of the public’s understanding of him. He has also made a concerted effort to shield his children from the spotlight, prompting many to question whether he even has children at all.
Putin has never publicly acknowledged his children, though media outlets have for years speculated and reported about the two daughters Putin had with his ex-wife, and even that a girlfriend may have had another daughter in 2015.
One of them, Katerina Tikhonova, appears to be building a public profile, and was seen last year speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia — the country’s equivalent of Davos. But as with her earlier media appearances, nobody explicitly linked her with Putin.
Here is what we know about the lives of Putin’s secret kids.
Putin had two daughters in his first marriage to former flight attendant Lyudmila Shkrebneva, to whom he was married for three decades until their divorce in 2013.
Their daughter’s names are Maria and Katerina. Maria was born in Leningrad in 1985, and Katerina was born in Germany in 1986 when the family lived there during her father’s time in the KGB.
Both girls are named after their grandmothers. Maria’s nickname is Masha and Katerina’s nickname is Katya.
Masha and Katya are common Russian shortenings for Maria and Katerina.
When the family moved to Moscow in 1996, the girls attended a German-language school. The children were reportedly removed from school when Putin became acting president, and teachers educated them at home.
“Not all fathers are as loving with their children as he is,” Lyudmila said in a quote on Putin’s government website. “And he has always spoiled them, while I was the one who had to discipline them.”
Maria studied biology in college and went to medical school in Moscow, while Katerina majored in Asian Studies in college. Both girls attended university under false identities.
Maria, now 36, is a medical researcher and lives in Moscow with her Dutch husband, Jorrit Faassen.
Maria and Faassen reportedly have a child — Putin told filmmaker Oliver Stone in 2017 that he was a grandfather. When Stone asked if he played with his grandchild, Putin replied, “Very seldom, unfortunately.”
Meanwhile, Katerina reportedly lives a high-flying life, living in lavish apartments and acquiring a fortune.
Katerina, now 35, is an accomplished acrobatic dancer and has a senior position at her alma mater, Moscow State University, heading a $1.7 billion startup incubator.
Katerina married Russian billionaire Kirill Shamalov in 2013. But the couple divorced in 2018, and the divorce case revealed they were worth $2 billion.
There are no official current photos of the girls. For Katerina, we found the slightly varying first names “Katerina”, “Katya”, and “Yekaterina,” and the last names “Putina,” “Tikhonova,” and “Shamalov.”
Finally, there are rumors that Putin has a third daughter with girlfriend and former Russian rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabaeva.
But neither the child nor the relationship with Kabaeva have been confirmed.
Putin has tried to shelter his children from the media, attempting to keep them out of politics so they can live normal lives.
Despite this, Katerina made her debut on Russian state TV as a biotechnology expert in December 2018.
Her appearance did not include comment on her being related to Putin. The link was briefly made public in the course of a dance competition, but later retracted.
In June 2021, Katerina addressed a conference that is Russia’s equivalent of Davos — but nobody called her Putin’s daughter, apparently out of fear of reprisal from the Kremlin.
In late 2020, Putin announced Russia had completed its COVID-19 vaccine, although it had yet to complete clinical assessments. Putin said he gave the shot to one of his two daughters, but wouldn’t specify which one.
Putin said his daughter’s temperature decreased after getting two shots. “She has taken part in the experiment,” he said, adding, “She’s feeling well and has a high number of antibodies.”
It was a rare acknowledgment for Putin, but one still shrouded in mystery — all a carefully calculated charade to enhance his image.