A Russian swimmer was eaten by a tiger shark in the Red Sea in an attack that his father, who was watching on helplessly, described as looking like a “meat grinder”.
Video footage online showed the entirety of Thursday’s attack, in which 23-year-old Vladimir Popov repeatedly called out for his “papa” as he attempted to swim away from the shark.
At one point, he seemed to wrestle with the animal but was flipped upside down, his legs flailing in the air. Moments later, the shark dragged him under and he did not resurface.
“What kind of help can you give? This meat grinder happened in 20 seconds, he was just dragged under the water,” Yury Popov, the young man’s father, told news outlet 112. “We went to the beach to relax. My son was attacked by a shark, it all happened in seconds.”
A small boat reached the spot of water where Vladimir was attacked just a few seconds after he went under, but by then it was too late. Videos from the scene later showed a shark being beaten on shore by fishermen.
In a sign of the growing divisions created by the Ukraine-Russia war, users on Ukrainian Twitter and Telegram used the shark attack to taunt Russians. In one of the many Ukrainian cartoons shared online, a shark stands by a drowning Russian man giving a thumbs up.
Oleksiy Arestovych, a former adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, criticised his countrymen making fun of the killing. “Judging by the number of jokes... about a Russian killed by a shark, dehumanisation is already here. And if you have it, then you’ve lost,” he said.
Vladimir Popov was reportedly a permanent resident of Egypt and was living in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, where he was spending time with his father and his girlfriend.
The attack itself took place on the resort’s Dream Beach, and tourists in the area have been told to remain vigilant and follow staff instructions.
The victim’s girlfriend is said to have been in the water at the time of the attack as well but managed to escape.
Egyptian officials say they have captured the tiger shark which attacked the swimmer and are conducting laboratory tests on the animal.
The animal had displayed “abnormal behaviour” and water activities would be suspended in the area until Sunday as a precaution, they added.
Viktor Voropayev, the Russian Consul-General, said the Egyptian authorities had confirmed the death of the Russian citizen, who was born in 1999.
“The victim was not a tourist, but a permanent resident of Egypt,” he told Russian reporters.
The Red Sea is a popular tourist destination, particularly among Russians. While sharks are common in the Red Sea it is rare for them to attack people. However, it is the third time in a year that a shark has fatally attacked a swimmer near Hurghada, following the deaths of one Austrian and one Romanian tourist in July 2022.
In 2018, a Czech tourist was also killed by a shark in the Red Sea, following an attack that killed a German in 2015. And in 2010, five attacks in five days that were unusually close to the shore of Sharm el-Sheikh killed a German and injured four others.
When Egyptian authorities investigated the 2010 deaths, they said that the illegal dumping of animal carcasses and other raw meat in the sea may have attracted predators which then turned their attention to human prey.
Rising temperatures in the region may also have caused the sharks to swim in shallower waters, increasing the risk of contact with humans.