2 Russians Dead, Other 2 Detained: What Were ‘Rich’ Tourists Doing in Odisha?

Preliminary enquiry rules out foul play; crime branch continues to investigate Russian lawmaker’s death in Odisha.

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Hindi Female

Fair is foul and foul is fair. Shakespeare’s witches would have cackled at the deaths of two Russians—a wealthy elected politician and one of his travel companions—in a nondescript small town of Odisha. Pavel Antov, 65, and Vladmir Bydanov, 61, died within 48 hours of each other under mysterious circumstances in Hotel Sai International in Odisha's Rayagada on Sunday, 25 December. The other two Russians in the travel party of four—Natalia Panasenko and her husband Mikhail Turov—along with their interpreter have been requested by the investigating agencies to not leave Odisha. 

Sources in the investigation team share that they are in touch with the families of the deceased and trying to establish the nature of association between the two dead men, who shared the hotel room in Rayagada. 


A lot is being speculated around the deaths and the investigators have not yet ruled out any foul play. Congress MP Manish Tewari has raised questions about the very presence of the wealthy Russian travel party in a rundown hotel located in a non-touristy Odisha town.

Adding momentum to the rumour mill is Antov’s alleged criticism of Putin’s war on Ukraine. Antov founded the Russian meat conglomerate Vladimir Standard and, in 2019, he topped the Forbes list of Russia’s richest civil servants with a reported fortune over USD 140 million.


Why Choose Rayagada? 

Let us, however, look at the facts at hand. Sources have told The Quint that the Russians wanted to “explore the untouched areas of Odisha. The tribal belt.” It is, then, not unusual for them to make Rayagada their base for exploring the nearby bounty of tribal lands and lifestyle. The Jhula Bridge (suspension bridge) on river Nagavali, the second of its kind in the state, is barely 10 minutes from the town. This bridge has allowed about 20,000-odd strong rural tribal population from nine panchayats access to Rayagada town.

Another attraction could have been Chatikona, 48 Kms from Rayagada, an important centre for the Dongaria Kondha tribe. It is the same tribe that grabbed international headlines by successfully resisting Vedanta Resources’ mining endeavours in Niyamgiri mountain area. The company wanted to mine bauxite from what the Dongria Kondh consider not just the residence of their gods, but also the sacred seat of their law. 

The weekly haat at Chatikona is important for the Dongria Kondh for business purposes.


The four Russians—two dead now—had reportedly checked into Hotel Sai International on 21 December when they got back from Daringbadi, a hill station in Kandhamal district. Clearly, they do not seem to be travellers with a regular ‘beach holiday in India’ in mind. 

It is to be noted that Hotel Sai International is one of the best hotels/guest houses in Rayagada, even though it may not be something to write home about. Odisha, with its bounty of natural, archaeological, and religious attractions, is yet to become a tourist hotspot and even big cities like Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, and Puri do not have more than a handful of five-star/luxury stay options.

As of now, the post mortem report suggests that Antov died of injuries caused by the fall. CID Crime Branch Team has examined the driver of the Innova car, Natobar Mohanty, who was accompanying the Russian travellers during their Odisha tour.

Perhaps, it is the innocuousness of this all that seems unbelievable and has raised questions. The biggest of them being about the hasty cremation of the bodies at the behest of Russian embassy.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Russia   odisha   Putin 

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