Like the President of Russia himself, Vladimir Putin’s early years are somewhat shadowy. Most sources agree that he was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) on October 7, 1952. In 1957, young Putin would have been five years of age (done toddling and ready to run – for a ball, in a footrace, for an elected office). According to Gale Biography in Context, Putin’s parents were basic working class people. His father, Vladimir Spiridonovich, was a decorated war veteran and metal factory foreman. His mother, Maria, did not work outside the home, which was uncommon at that time. The Putin family shared a communal apartment with two other families. Maria had her son secretly baptized as an Orthodox Christian. Religious practice was not permitted in Stalin or Khrushchev’s Soviet Union.
Putin (or one of his minions) maintains his own personal website. Here Putin explains that, “I come from an ordinary family, and this is how I lived for a long time, nearly my whole life.” His mother was “a very kind, benevolent person”, who cooked “cabbage soup, cutlets, pancakes, but on Sundays and holidays my mom would bake very delicious stuffed buns (pirozkhi) with cabbage, meat and rice, and curd tarts (vatrushki).”
Dad, Putin says, “worked as a security guard, and later as a foreman at the carriage works.” His family’s communal apartment (kommunalka) on Baskov Lane was on the fifth floor (no elevator).
The pirozkhis, vatrushkis, and treks up five flights of stairs eventually led the undersize Putin to teenage acclaim as an expert in a martial arts discipline called “sambo”, a combination of judo and wrestling. He was capable of feats of mental gymnastics, as well. His prestigious high school, School 281, accepted only the best students and emphasized chemistry and technology studies. Putin acknowledges turning himself around in the sixth grade. Previously an indifferent student, he began applying himself to his studies and joined the Young Pioneers, a pro-communism, pro-atheism youth organization. “It became clear that street smarts were not enough,” Putin recalls. “I realized that I also needed to study well.” The events in today’s headlines make it clear that Putin’s subsequent studies added to, never supplanted, those street smarts.
In 1957, at age five, Vladimir Putin was a small but growing force getting ready to unleash itself on the world.