Russian Deaths in Indian Jungle Followed Days of Binge-Drinking

Russian Deaths in Indian Jungle Followed Days of Binge-Drinking

BHUBANESWAR, India—Pavel Antov holed himself up in his hotel room, refusing food and drink for two days, after the death of a longtime friend who had accompanied him on a trip deep into the jungles of east India.

The last time the staff at the Hotel Sai International recall seeing the 65-year-old Russian—a prominent regional lawmaker who owned a sausage-making company—he was alone on Dec. 24, swinging his fists in the air and heading for the hotel roof.  

Moments later his body slammed onto a low-slung building at the foot of the three-story hotel, according to staff and police.

Mr. Antov’s death has drawn India into a thicket of international speculation over the demise of wealthy Russians, some with ties to the Kremlin. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at least 19 senior Russian executives have been found dead in their homes and other locations. Two of them were discovered along with the bodies of their wives and children. 

In September,

Ravil Maganov,

the chairman of Lukoil PJSC, Russia’s second-largest oil-and-gas company and one of the few Russian corporations to openly call for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine, died after falling from a sixth-floor hospital window in Moscow, according to state news agency TASS. He had been hospitalized for a heart attack and was taking antidepressants, the news agency said.

Mr. Antov, a member of the ruling United Russia party, had been under media scrutiny at home for a quickly retracted WhatsApp post deemed critical of Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine. His death came two days after his traveling companion, Vladimir Bydanov, 61, died of a heart attack, police said. The men had been sharing a room in India.

The early stages of an investigation by Odisha state police into the deaths of Messrs. Antov and Bydanov indicate there was no foul play, according to the lead investigator. Interviews with police and people around Messrs. Antov and Bydanov in the days before they died suggest the two men had been drinking heavily throughout a trip that quickly spiraled out of control. Police said a regular autopsy showed Mr. Bydanov died of a heart attack on Dec. 22, Mr. Antov’s birthday. A regular autopsy showed Mr. Antov died two days later from internal injuries suffered from the fall, police said. 

Vladimir Bydanov, Pavel Antov and a Russian couple at Delhi’s international airport.


Pragya Chandra

Natabar Mohanty, a driver who ferried the men through hundreds of miles of jungle, recalls pulling aside their tour guide at the outset and saying: “If they don’t stop drinking they’re going to kill themselves.”

A spokesperson for the Legislative Assembly of Vladimir—a city east of Moscow where Mr. Antov served as chairman of the agriculture and environment committee—said its lawmakers were awaiting the findings of the probe. 

“He was a good, kindhearted and intelligent man caught in a cruel world,” said Mikhail Rudnik, a friend of Mr. Antov. He said the Antov family had asked him not to share their contacts with anyone. 

Mr. Bydanov’s son didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Police in India are nonetheless mounting an elaborate probe into the deaths, the lead investigator said. Police are creating a dummy the same weight and dimensions as the stocky Mr. Antov, which they plan to drop from the same hotel rooftop. The exercise, investigators say, aims to demonstrate whether the Russian jumped, was pushed or was already dead when he came crashing down.

Police are also having a team of experts perform a psychological autopsy, evaluating Mr. Antov’s state of mind based on police interviews with family members and people around him at the time of his death.

The lead investigator said he was keenly aware his probe is unfolding against the backdrop of deep ties between Russia and India, which has been cautious not to level any overt criticism at President

Vladimir Putin

over the war in Ukraine. India has been loading up on discounted Russian oil as the U.S. and its Western allies moved to bar the shipping, financing or insuring of seaborne Russian crude unless it is sold for $60 a barrel or less. New Delhi is also a longtime buyer of Russian arms. 

Manish Tewari,

a Supreme Court lawyer and parliamentarian with the opposition Congress party, questioned why Messrs. Antov and Bydanov were cremated just days after their deaths instead of being buried. “Hercule Poirot says burnt bodies tell no tales,” Mr. Tewari said in a Twitter post, referring to the fictional detective in British writer Agatha Christie’s novels.

The hotel where Pavel Antov and Vladimir Bydanov stayed in Odisha state.


padmanabha rao/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Denis Alipov, the Russian ambassador to India, replied over Twitter that Moscow appreciated the effort to investigate the deaths, adding: “Meanwhile it would be useful for some Hercule Poirot lovers to learn that cremation in Russia is as customary as burial.”

Mr. Antov was born near Moscow and had been living and working in Vladimir since 1985, according to his official biography on the assembly website. 

In 2000, he founded Vladimir Standard, which makes meat and sausage products. At the time of his death, Mr. Antov was the company’s vice president and known for being a philanthropist, supporting orphanages and children’s creative teams and holding cultural events in the region. Vladimir Standard didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The state of Odisha, which lines the coast of the Bay of Bengal, isn’t a typical destination for alcohol-fueled revelry. The men had booked a 19-day trip through tribal lands that included visits to local bazaars and encounters with tribespeople.

On the flight from Moscow to New Delhi the men were given a warning for bothering other passengers with their drinking and rowdiness, according to the lead investigator. Accompanying the men was a married Russian couple whom the investigator said Mr. Antov had met on a trip to the Caribbean several years ago.

Mr. Mohanty, the driver, said Messrs. Antov and Bydanov smelled of alcohol when he picked the group up at the airport in the bustling town of Bhubaneswar at the start of their tour. 

The next day the men stocked up on bottles of Old Monk, an Indian rum, which they drank as Mr. Mohanty’s white SUV made a seven-hour journey that included a stop at a local orphanage where the group made a donation. 

That night Messrs. Antov and Bydanov stayed up late drinking over a bonfire, Mr. Mohanty said. The next morning hotel staff had to carry Mr. Antov to the SUV after finding him intoxicated on the floor of his room, Mr. Mohanty said.

The married couple were losing their patience with the men, according to Mr. Mohanty. They argued with Mr. Bydanov during the hourslong drive to the town of Rayagada, demanding that the drinking stop, he said. The men refused. The next morning the couple hired their own car and left, Mr. Mohanty said. The couple didn’t respond to messages and phone calls seeking comment.

The same morning Mr. Antov came out of the Rayagada room he shared with Mr. Bydanov to ask the reception desk for urgent help. Mr. Mohanty and others went to the room and found the Russian sitting lifeless at the foot of a sofa surrounded by bottles, some of them broken, the driver said. 

Mr. Antov remained in the hotel lobby in what appeared to be a state of shock while others tended to Mr. Bydanov, according to Mr. Mohanty and hotel staff. Then he shut himself in his room for two days without food or water, they said. 

On Christmas Eve, Mr. Antov and the Russian couple attended the cremation of Mr. Bydanov. The ashes were to be sent back to Russia at the behest of his family. Mr. Antov looked shellshocked throughout the proceeding, Mr. Mohanty recalled, adding that no one cried.

Returning to the hotel, Mr. Antov tossed his cellphone and his jacket back in the SUV and went up to his room, Mr. Mohanty said. Hours later, a housekeeper came running into the lobby, saying Mr. Antov had given him a brooding look on his way to the roof, hotel staff said. 

Mr. Mohanty and others rushed to the roof only to find it deserted. Looking over the edge, Mr. Mohanty said, the group directed a flashlight through the night air until it found the Russian’s body. It was still quivering.

Write to Stacy Meichtry at and Krishna Pokharel at

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