German newspaper Die Zeit is highlighting the mysterious early years of Vladimir Putin, thanks to a Chechen man who resurfaced in Western Europe after years of hiding. According to testimonies the man recorded from Vera Putina, the woman who claims to be the president’s biological mother, Putin was born out of wedlock and sent to live with distant relatives he would eventually claim as his real parents as a child. The Chechen, “Rustam Daudov,” says Putin didn’t know Russian, so his new birth certificate made him two years younger so he could repeat a grade. Federal agents allegedly removed all traces of him from his real home village in Georgia, but one photo allegedly remains of young Putin, though there’s no proof that it’s him.
Rumors about his true origins have plagued Putin for years. Notably, journalists have failed to find anyone who knew Putin as a young boy in St. Petersburg; most accounts of his childhood start after the age of 8. Officially released photos that imply the child in them is Putin are often uncaptioned; one showing a young child on his mother’s lap may in fact show Putin’s older brother.