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Girlfriend of slain Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov is in hiding

Kremlin foe's girlfriend, who fled Russia, says she had been under virtual house arrest after his slaying

Anna Duritskaya apparently was so afraid that she skipped the Moscow funeral of her slain lover to flee under diplomatic escort to her native Ukraine.

The mystery that lingers: Who might do her harm?

The 23-year-old girlfriend and sole known witness to last week's slaying of Russian opposition leader Boris Y. Nemtsov is in hiding after flying to Kiev following three days of interrogation and just hours before the outspoken Kremlin critic was laid to rest Tuesday in a funeral that drew thousands.

The actress and model has erased her social media profiles. She doesn't answer her cellphone. Shortly after she arrived in Kiev, Ukraine's capital, to calm her anguished mother, the two slipped out of their apartment, which has been besieged by media since the Friday night assassination.

Nemtsov's killing by as-yet-unidentified assailants has stunned an already rattled political opposition in Russia and stirred accusations that his contract-style slaying in the shadow of the Kremlin was politically orchestrated, perhaps by loyalists of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Duritskaya told the independent Dozhd television channel that she was held under virtual house arrest after Nemtsov was gunned down on a bridge across the Moscow River as the two walked to his apartment from a dinner at the fashionable Bosco restaurant.

She also alluded to fear that investigators were attempting to cast the charismatic politician's killing as a "crime of passion," committed by some unnamed romantic rival.

State-run media's portrayal of Duritskaya as a terrified young woman exposed to the dangerous consequences of a liaison with an enemy of Russia is a narrative that fits easily into government investigators' stated theories of who might have wanted Nemtsov dead.

The scenarios advanced by Russia's Investigative Committee, in an unusually public manner for a slaying inquiry, include an array of motives, none involving any hand from the Kremlin.

In official statements and leaked reports to state-run media, investigators have said they are looking for evidence of foreign intrigue aimed at destabilizing Russia, or an act of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism on behalf of Russia's Chechens and other Caucasus Muslims.

Suspicion also falls, the reports say, on Ukrainian nationalists or a Russian opposition political force seeking to create a martyr for what the Kremlin considers hopeless causes.

In the Dozhd interview, the fresh-faced Duritskaya appears without makeup, her long brown hair hanging limp, in contrast with the wind-blown tresses that feature large in her modeling portfolio. She is distraught as she recounts telling investigators over and over that she neither saw the killer nor got more than a glimpse of the light-colored vehicle that whisked him away.

"I do not know who did it. I do not want to answer any more questions about what happened on the bridge. I do not want to talk about it," Duritskaya told Dozhd. She spoke via Skype, enabling the channel to escape official censorship through its use of Internet-based reporting.

"I gave all the testimony that I could, so I do not know why I am still on Russian territory," she said in the interview broadcast hours before interrogators told her she was free to go.

Agents told Duritskaya that she was being guarded for her protection, intimating that whoever ordered the hit on her lover might be out to eliminate a witness to the crime. Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Investigative Committee, said Tuesday that Duritskaya was urged to enter a witness protection program but refused.

Russia's official Tass news agency on Wednesday portrayed Duritskaya as panicked and in "a difficult mental condition." She wanted to go to her mother, whom Tass said was "just beginning to come out of hysterics."

Duritskaya came from modest means. She was born in 1991, the year that Ukraine broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union, in the town of Bila Tserkva, about an hour from Kiev. Her mother is a medical worker, her father in construction. She worked at a Kiev bank before studying accounting and management at Kiev National Economic University and embarking on a career in modeling and acting.

Portfolio pictures show a pouty-lipped Duritskaya in short skirts revealing long, slender legs. Few of the poses that appeared on her casting agency's website — before her profile was removed this week — were from commercial shoots, suggesting her career was mostly aspirational.

She began dating Nemtsov about 21/2 years ago, her mother, Inna Duritskaya, told Ukrainian television before retreating from the public eye. The mother said she initially opposed the relationship — Nemtsov was older by 32 years — but grew fond of him once they became better acquainted.

Inna Duritskaya expressed concern that her daughter was being set up for some unfounded accusation.

Where mother and daughter went and from whom they are hiding are unclear, the latest mysteries in a killing that has cast another shadow over an increasingly lawless Russia and instilled fear in those associated with anyone who challenges Putin.

The Kremlin leader sent condolences to Nemtsov's mother a day after the killing, but made no public comment until Wednesday. At an Interior Ministry meeting, he called Nemtsov's killing a "disgrace and tragedy" and vowed that such high-profile crimes will come to an end.

The shooting was a mere football field distance from the Kremlin, an area usually monitored by closed-circuit cameras. But the business newspaper Kommersant reported Tuesday that most cameras at the scene had been taken out of service for maintenance Friday.

One security camera clip aired by TV Center showed a snowplow moving slowly along the bridge sidewalk that appeared to provide cover for the gunman as he waited for the couple to cross. Some news accounts say Duritskaya first ran to the plow operator for help. He reportedly said he didn't see anything, adding to suspicion aroused by the fact that he was out on a night that hadn't seen snowfall.

How Duritskaya will fit into the Kremlin's posture of proclaimed outrage after her boyfriend's killing remains to be seen. But the cautionary tale being written by Russia's co-opted media is obvious: Romantic allegiance is as dangerous as political support to designated public enemies.

Twitter: @cjwilliamslat

Special correspondent Victoria Butenko in Kiev contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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