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Child Development

A Prelude to Adult Violence: A Brutal Childhood

Putin's Childhood History: Processing the trauma.

Source: Nina Cerfolio / AI-Generated
Wolves in sheep's clothing
Source: Nina Cerfolio / AI-Generated

To better elucidate the complexities of Vladimir Putin, it may help to examine his childhood. Perhaps his childhood can bring clarity, including his parents' narrow survival of the Siege of Leningrad. Learning about him can help us understand him. There is a lesson in metabolizing and not repressing, forgetting, and then repeating childhood trauma.1

Two of his brothers died before his birth—the first in infancy, and the second from starvation during the Siege of Leningrad in WWII. Replacement children, like Putin, involve a mother’s internalized image of her deceased child, in this instance Victor, Putin’s older brother. This image is then deposited and transgenerationally transported and is the developing self-representation of her next-born child.8,9

The replacement child has no experience with the dead sibling, and the mother keeps the dead child alive by treating the replacement child as the repository of the image of the dead child. For the most part unconsciously, the mother bequeaths certain ego tasks to the second child and also deposits her traumatized self and traumatized object images into the replacement child’s self-representation. 10

From 1941 to 1944, during WWII, Hitler’s Nazi forces pummeled the city known as St. Petersburg. Seven years after the war ended, Putin was born in 1952 in Leningrad.

Rather than assault Leningrad city directly, the Germans starved, shelled, and froze its Russian civilians. When the siege was lifted, only 700,000 citizens of the city’s prewar population of 3.5 million remained. Ukrainian cities are reminiscent of Leningrad.

During Putin’s childhood, life in post-war Leningrad was difficult. His parents shared a room in a run-down apartment with two other families, they had no hot water or bathtub and little heat.2 His father worked in a factory, and his mother found whatever odd jobs she could. His parents had to leave him with another family as the parents had to work to survive. Adding to his already challenging start in life, he was often bullied.

Putin was a horrible student and a street hoodlum.3 But at least two experiences kept him from living on the street: A sixth-grade teacher took an interest and brought out his intellect, and he learned judo to defend himself. We have all seen the photographs of a tougher Putin horseback riding shirtless in the Siberian mountains and staged ice hockey games well into his 60s.4

Putin lived through unimaginably harsh childhood deprivations including a lack of food, inadequate housing, neglect, parental depression, and war-time trauma. Bereft of any of the basic ingredients necessary for a child to flourish, he was instead flooded with experiences of loss, fear, betrayals, and inhumanity, all too nightmarish to metabolize. Putin’s mindset has been based on the work of Ivan Ilyin, an ultra-nationalist with Utopian ideas of Russia’s autocratic heritage..5,6

Interestingly, Polish journalist Krystyna Kurczab-Redlich’s (2016) book provides a different version of Putin’s background.7 Kurczab-Redlich claims that she visited Putin’s biological mother who was alive and in her 90s, in the Republic of Georgia. According to this author, who maintains that the story is well-known in Poland, Putin was the product of a love affair that his mother had with a married man, and she initially left the baby with her parents near the Ural Mountains. When his mother remarried, she reclaimed him and the family moved to Georgia. But because his stepfather was a violent person, his mother eventually sent Putin back to her maternal grandparents. In turn, the grandparents gave Putin to relatives in St. Petersburg who had lost two sons.

In this version of Putin’s background, he went from a displaced, changeling child to a fighter.

Undigested severe childhood trauma may create adult bullies. Is it a surprise when Putin crushes political opponents through imprisonment and poisoning? Poison is a perfect crime informing that the Kremlin was responsible. Yet it remains difficult to prove as poisonings are ambiguous, covert, and concealed.


1. Cerfolio, NE. (2023). Psychoanalytic and spiritual perspectives on terrorism: Desire for destruction. Routledge.

2. Stevens, J. (2022). How Vladimir Putin’s childhood is affecting us all. Paces Connection.

3. Weiss, A. S. (2022). Accidental czar: The life and lies of Vladimir Putin (B. Brown, Illus.). First Second.

4. Rawnsley, A. (2011). Pow! Zam! Nyet! ‘Superputin’ battles terrorists, protesters in online comic. Wired.

5. Lifton, R. J. (2022, March 14). Is Putin beyond influence? How to stop a man on a mission. Psychology Today.…

6. Snyder, T. (2018). The road to unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. Tim Duggan Books.

7. Kurczab-Redlich, K. (2016). Wowa, Wolodia, Wladimir: Tajemnice Rosji Putina [Vova, Volodya, Vladimir: Secrets of Putin’s Russia]. W.A.B.

8. Kogan, I. (with Chasseguet-Smirgel, J.). (1995). The cry of mute children: A psychoanalytic perspective of the second generation of the Holocaust. Free Association Books.

9. Laub, D., & Auerhahn, N. C. (1993). Knowing and not knowing massive psychic trauma: Forms of traumatic memory. The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 74(2), 287–302.

10. Volkan, V., & Javakhishvili, J. D. (2022). Invasion of Ukraine: Observations on leader-followers relationships. The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 82, 189–209.

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