Dmitriy Medvedev's former classmate tells all

Zhanna Eylinen (formerly Popova) was born and raised in Leningrad where she went to school with Dmitriy Medvedev. Today Eylinen resides in Estonia.
"Dima had integrity from childhood"

KP: Zhanna, we noticed that you and another girl were closest to Dmitriy Medvedev on this school photo. Did you two have a special or maybe even romantic relationship when you were growing up?

Zhanna: Oh no, that's just a coincidence. The photo is actually a montage. There were more girls than boys in our class. So when they made the class album they usually put two girls next to each boy. Irina Ostratova and I wound up next to Dima Medvedev. Let me stress it's only a coincidence.

KP: Could you tell us what school you graduated from? We'd also like to know what Dima Medvedev was like in his school years. How well did he study and what were his hobbies?

Zhanna: I only studied with Dima two years ­ in 9th and 10th grade at School 305 in the Frunzensk district in Leningrad. It was the only school that taught French in the district. So I can only speak about the years when we were together in one class. Dima Medvedev was a very independent young man. He was disciplined and orderly. He took his studies seriously and was a wonderful student. He was also an athlete. You could tell that he knew what he wanted from life. I mean, all of us knew Dima was going to study at the law faculty at the university. His family also had a strong influence on him. His mother was Russian language and literature teacher and his father taught at the university. As far as I know Dima wanted to be a teacher or lawyer ever since he was a kid.

KP: What kind of friend was he?

Zhanna: First I'd like to say that we just had a wonderful class. We talked a lot after our lessons, met up and went on hikes and excursions. Our class director Irina Ivanovna paid for everyone. Dima was always a kindhearted person. He always helped you out when you needed him to. Generally speaking, he was just easy to talk to...

KP: A lot of girls probably had their eye on him...

Zhanna: Yes, that's true. A lot of girls wanted to date him. But Dima dated a girl named Sveta in another class. They had been friends since first grade. Svetlana later became his wife. We all saw them walking together and going home after school hand-in-hand.
KP: We're getting a painfully positive picture here. You have to agree that at any school kids will be kids. In addition to studies you also have a lot of free time, personal relationships, beer outings and even fights...

Zhanna: Well, I studied with Dima during out last years at school. And we were all already fairly adult people. We never ever drank beer together. I don't know. Maybe the boys drank when they were together, but never with us. We all knew that we needed to continue on with our studies, so no one did anything stupid out of idleness. And there were never any fights. And in terms of Dima, he was always so good-looking in his leather jacket with his folder under his arm. He was calm, cultured and reserved.

KP: What about love stories?

Zhanna: I already said that he dated Sveta. And that's why Dima Medvedev wasn't involved in any romantic dramas in our class. He spent his free time playing sports. Dima was also serious about music. He loved listening to rock and roll and jazz. He actually still collects original disks and is proud of his musical library.

KP: When some people leave school they hardly remember their classmates later in life. Especially those who go on to lead rich, busy lives. What is Dmitriy Medvedev like in this regard?

Zhanna: Very worthy. Dima never forgot about his school even when he held high positions. Not long ago I was at the school and saw how much everything has changed. I know that the school now has a great gym and modern computer lab thanks to his assistance. And there's also a great stadium now right by the school. When our class met last year, Dima said it's an immense pleasure to be with us.

Genuine friendship

KP: So your classmates still find the chance to meet like before?

Zhanna: Of course. But we don't all meet that often. We last met in 2007 when we celebrated our 25th reunion. And before that we met for our 20th reunion. Dima Medvedev was actually the impetus for our meeting last year. His wife Svetlana organized the evening. A lot of people ­ 24 of 30 invitees. What's really interesting is that almost all our class stayed to live and work in Saint Petersburg. Only one of our girls went to the U.S. and I went to Estonia. Surprisingly, nearly everyone became successful ­ Medvedev aside. He was spectacular and always knew what he wanted. But who would of thought that even our poorest students would have tremendous success later in life.

KP: Could you give us some examples about what your classmates accomplished?

Zhanna: One of our boys is the director of a large company in Saint Petersburg. Another owns a bread factory. Oleg Ivanov has his own photo gallery. He was always interested in photography. From a very young age he just loved photos. One of our girls has a restaurant. And everyone still helps each other out. If someone needs something, we always have people to turn to... Take Adelina, for example, who has the restaurant. She really wanted to get involved in the restaurant business, but she didn't have the money or business connections. So our Saint Petersburg boys, some of whom have become businessmen, helped her out. Most of our classmates became successful later in life. I think I was quite successful, too.

KP: Does anyone maintain contact with Medvedev or work on his team?

Zhanna: Yes. Evgeniy Arkhipov, for instance, who was Dima's friend at school. Today they even work together. It's really great to see Dima hasn't put on airs. When we met last year, I was so surprised by how relaxed he handled himself even though he was vice prime minister at the time.

KP: Did anyone ask Medvedev for anything besides autographs? For work or help in business?

Zhanna: No, but he offered assistance himself. He learned that one of our classmates wasn't working and he invited him to Moscow. We all understand that there's no room for greed in a genuine friendship. "Let's meet more often!" was his phrase. Of course, it's unrealistic now given his current position, but it's still nice to know that he need us, too.

KP: Is it easy to live in the shadow of Dmitriy Medvedev's fame? Which qualities do you think will aid Medvedev as Russia's president?

Zhanna: In my opinion, what's most important is that Dima was and remains a good person. If you add his smarts, wonderful education, athletic know-how and his inner intelligence to the equation, it's easy to conclude that a very respectable person is manning Russia's helm who doesn't feel superior, but rather remembers and cares bout his old friends.

KP: Have you noticed that more people want to bathe in his limelight since he became president?

Zhanna: There's no secret here. Of course I've noticed this trend. Honestly, though, sometimes it's quite funny. For example, Medvedev himself once said laughingly that he opened the Web site and found about 200 doubles. Our classmates were also surprised at how many people across the Internet pretend to be from our class ­ about 5 times more people than we actually had.

KP: Do you ever feel increased attention because you studied together with the president?

Zhanna: Taking into account that I work on the local TV station "TV Narva," people recognize me and say hello on the street pretty often anyway. But I don't feel like a star in any way ­ it's just my job.

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