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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Story of Who Got Married on Santorini

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IOA, Greece -- Men in years past went to the barbershop for the latest news and gossip, so I suppose I should not be too embarrassed to say that I first heard the buzz of this picturesque town on the island of Santorini while getting a pedicure there last week.

Learning that I was from Moscow, the Greek-Australian woman doing the pedicure said, "Oh, President Putin's daughter got married here a couple of weeks ago."

Then I remembered the stories in the tabloids Zhizn and Moskovsky Komsomolets in early June that said a Greek television station was reporting that one of Putin's two daughters was getting married on Santorini. The report was never confirmed, but since I was on Santorini and here was a seemingly sensible woman telling me that the wedding had actually taken place, I decided to ask around.

As I did, the story only became stranger. I found hotel owners who told me it was true that Putin's daughter had gotten married on Santorini, on June 11 in the Orthodox cathedral in Fira, the capital. I talked to a restaurant manager who said Putin's daughter had come this spring to look at the restaurant's roof garden as a possible site for the reception but found it too small. A waiter told me where the reception had been held in the end. I asked how he knew. "Everybody was talking about it" was the answer.

Santorini, a crescent-shaped island, is a fairy-tale place of whitewashed houses and small churches with blue cupolas. In Fira and Ioa, houses and hotels are dug into the sides of high cliffs overlooking the deep blue waters of a caldera, a crater formed by a great volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. Donkeys are still used to bring visitors up from the ports.

The island is a popular place for weddings and honeymoons, with the privacy and seclusion of its cliffside hotels making it a favorite of celebrities and others wanting to avoid the paparazzi.

Fewer than 10,000 people live on the entire island, and only about 1,000 in Ioa, and most of them are tied into the hotel and restaurant business or other aspects of the tourist industry, so it is understandable that they would pay particular attention to who was holding a wedding where. But one of Putin's daughters getting married and in secret? It did not make sense. The oldest one, Maria, is 19 or 20, having been born in 1985, and Katerina is a year younger.

The Kremlin was not commenting, so I called the press counsellor of the Greek Embassy in Moscow, George Hatziioannou, hoping for some logical explanation. He found it, oddly, in a story that had been published that morning in a Greek tabloid called Espresso. It was a huge mixup, the paper said in its June 29 edition. A Russian businessman had gotten married on Santorini in grand style on June 11, but he had not married the president's daughter.

"It would be impossible for Putin's daughter to get married without Greek security forces being mobilized," Hatziioannou said.

The mystery seemed solved, but I was still curious about how the whole thing had gotten started and why, so I went out and bought a copy of the paper.

Espresso credited a Russian-language paper printed in Greece called Russkaya Mysl with straightening out the confusion, and showed a picture of its front page, which had a photograph of a bride and groom under the headline, "Who Got Married on Santorini Instead of Putin's Daughter?"

To read the Espresso story, I needed help. I took it to the owner of our little hotel, who read the story out loud in Greek as the woman who works for her, who is from Beslan, translated into Russian. The presence in Oia of a Beslan native, Sima, is a whole other story, but suffice it to say that she first came to Greece more than 10 years ago and works to support her son in university in Voronezh. Her first cousin, his wife and their two children were killed in last September's massacre at the Beslan school.

The gist of the Espresso story was this: Two planes took off from Moscow at the same time. One was Putin's and the other was chartered by Moscow businessman Georgy Trefilov, who was flying about 80 guests to Santorini for his wedding. The reception was lavish, with wine flowing in rivers and a fireworks display, the paper said.

The Greek paper blamed the confusion on Russian journalists, though a more likely explanation was that Greek journalists had been shamelessly fighting summer boredom or that someone had been unscrupulously using them to promote tourism and attract more wealthy Russians to Santorini. Once the story got started, though, it seemed to take on a life of its own. Some of the people I spoke with said they had learned about Putin's daughter's wedding from Antenna television, one of the main and more respectable national channels.

A telephone call to the Moscow office of Trefilov, the president of Marta Holding, which among other things owns a network of supermarkets, confirmed that he had indeed gotten married in Santorini on June 11. He married Yulia Toncheva, a vice president of the holding, said his spokesman, Yevgeny Sukharnikov.

Still, though, there was something that did not quite add up. So I went to the restaurant where Putin's daughter supposedly had wanted to hold her reception, a posh restaurant in Oia called 1800. Reached earlier in the week by telephone, reservations manager Eleni Economou said that Putin's daughter had come to the restaurant in April to see the roof garden but found it unsuitable.

"We only seat 70 and she wanted 100," Economou said. "Also, she wanted fireworks, which we don't allow."

Others in the hotel and restaurant business in Oia said the bigger problem was security. The president's security advisers wanted the narrow cobblestoned pedestrian street that passes 1800 and threads through the heart of Oia closed off during the reception, and other business owners objected, they said.

With the Espresso story in hand, I went to find Economou to learn more about the Russian woman who had come to the restaurant. The woman did not give her name, but Economou said she assumed she was Putin's daughter because someone had called her the night before to say that she was coming.

Glancing at the Espresso story, Economou said the dark-haired bride in the photograph was not the woman she met. The woman she had thought was Putin's daughter had blond hair, she said. She was very pretty and looked to be about 20 or 22. In fact, she could have been the girl in the other photograph printed in Espresso that day -- a much-published snapshot of Putin and his daughters on vacation on the sea -- though it was difficult to tell because both girls had their backs to the camera.

It was not clear whether the bride in the Espresso photograph was Trefilov's bride, but judging by Toncheva's photograph on the company web site, she has brown hair.

Economou clearly still believed that Putin's daughter got married on Santorini. Journalists started calling, asking to get on the guest list, she said, so they moved the reception to the opposite side of the island, to Vlychada, and tried to keep the wedding a secret. "They said they weren't getting married here but they did," Economou said.

The only thing for sure is that the next time I go on vacation, I will think twice before getting a pedicure.

Lynn Berry is the editor of The Moscow Times.