A week ago, Marina Udgodskaya used to clean the office of the leading village official. On Wednesday, he was packing up for the cleaner to take his place.
Ms Udgodskaya, who cleans at the administration building in the village of Povalikhino, about 380 kilometres east of Moscow, was running as a spoiler candidate against incumbent Nikolai Loktev, a Kremlin party candidate, at last week’s elections for the district encompassing about two dozen sparsely populated villages in the Kostroma region.
With 84 out of 130 votes cast in the district of just 400 people, the 35-year-old cleaner won the race and literally sent Mr Loktev packing.
“I needed an opponent, and she was the only one who agreed to run,” Mr Loktev told the Telegraph by phone when asked why his cleaner was in the competition in the first place.
The outgoing village chief, who was packing up his office when reached by the Telegraph on Wednesday afternoon, described her as “an energetic young woman” who will “manage.”
“People simply wanted something new,” Mr Loktev said, explaining his defeat.
Ella Pamfilova, the Russian election chief, in an interview on the Govorit Moskva radio station insisted that Ms Udgodskaya won in a fair race and that “there was no fraud.”
The cleaner, who is due to start her new job on Thursday, avoids journalists but in her only interview with Russian journalists she admitted to being shell-shocked by her win and initially wanting to relinquish her new role.
“First, I wanted to give it all up but then all residents supported me,” the young woman with her hair in a ponytail told Komsomolskaya Pravda in a video interview filmed on a dirt path in Povalikhino.
Ms Udgodskaya is raising two children while her husband is away most of the year working on construction sites around Moscow.
Asked about her immediate plans for the office, the mother of two said:
“First, we need to deal with the pond for children to swim in.”
She also said she wants to upgrade playgrounds and improve street lighting.
Ms Udgodskaya insisted that her lack of qualification is not an impediment and said she is proud of the work she did before:
“It’s a normal job. There was no other work. I had to make money somehow.”
Mr Loktev has promised to help the cleaner with the new job.
Ms Udgodskaya’s win reflects a growing frustration among voters across Russia with candidates from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party who are increasingly perceived as corrupt and inefficient.
Just a few weeks earlier, several regional legislatures got a major overhaul as candidates endorsed by opposition leader Alexei Navalny won a sizable number of seats.
Kremlin-connected political analyst Sergei Markov has described the cleaner’s surprise win as a kind of payback from residents of Russia’s heartland for the federal government largely abandoning those areas which have suffered from a chronic brain drain and under-funding for decades.
“Those regions have grown depopulated, impoverished and neglected to the point that there are no people, no roads and no work left,” Mr Markov said in a Facebook post.
“And no one even wants to run them. You can’t have a black hole in the middle of the country.”