On Sept. 7, a 61-year-old physicist and a team of men working for her snipped the locks on a gate leading to Europe’s only cryonics storage center. Valerija Udalova, who specializes in thermodynamics, wore a trench coat as she pointed the workers to a corrugated metal warehouse on the outskirts of the city.
Using a welding torch, they cut through a wall of the building owned by KrioRus—a firm that deep-freezes the brains and bodies of wealthy people in the hope that scientists in the future will bring them back to life.
One by one, they drained liquid nitrogen from the massive fiberglass vats, sending plumes of white vapor into the air, according to video footage and Udalova’s own account. Then they loaded dozens of corpses onto a truck with a crane and tried to drive away with them.
Police quickly stopped Udalova—only for her to strike again successfully two months later, according to the firm’s co-founder, 42-year-old Danila Medvedev.
But Udalova is no common crook. She’s a co-founder of KrioRus and Medvedev’s ex-wife, who was allegedly ousted as general director of the firm last year, Medvedev said.
The alleged body snatching has sparked a bizarre feud between the former Russian power couple—two shrewd and brilliant entrepreneurs, who both claim they’re legally entitled to the company’s 50 brains and 26 bodies, according to interviews with both co-founders, along with a former co-worker and court documents.
The story has unfolded like a sci-fi novel, a crime caper and telenovela rolled into one—with Medvedev swiping back a load of brains amid murky laws, and the former lovebirds going to great lengths to seize control of the company.
“She was holding these patients hostage,” Medvedev said, adding that clients have suffered. “We were really surprised and upset—and then some crazy things happened.”
“Medvedev believed so much in cryogenics, he had his own grandmother’s brain frozen.”
Medvedev says his ex raided the warehouse to boost the “body count” of a new cryogenics company, which she launched after being booted as director of KrioRus. It was a cunning move in the niche industry, where the more brains and corpses you have, the better your reputation and credibility, he said.
“They were used as a weapon in gaining control,” he said. “It’s clear what she’s doing is really a textbook case of personality disorder.”
But Udalova insists she’s still the director of KrioRus and simply wanted to move the bodies to a better storage facility. She says taking them was “absolutely legal” even though her ex briefly managed to convince cops otherwise.
“He doesn’t respect anybody; he doesn’t respect the law,” she said. “He thinks he is the emperor of the galaxy.”
But the two weren’t always at each others’ throats. When they met at a transhumanist meeting in Moscow in 2005, both were passionate about the concept of eternal life.
They bonded over the movement, which advocates immortality through technological enhancement such as anti-aging devices and artificial intelligence.
Medvedev, then 24, was attracted to Udalova’s mind and her go-getter personality. Udalova, then 44, was fit and charismatic with a degree from the renowned Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. She was a dog person, who played in a rock band and looked younger than her age.
Medvedev, who had a background as an investment banker, was bookish and bright with reddish chin scruff. He was confident in the business world but a bit naive with women, which may have been part of his charm.
Despite their age gap, they could talk for hours about science, the future and ridding the world of death. “She had a good imagination and she was smart. She was always willing to go on any discussion trajectory,” Medvedev said of their early days together. “She was very open-minded.”
As they began dating, he saw in her more than a romantic partner. “She would get down to business, [saying] ‘Let’s do this event or start this project.’ She was always up to it, and that was what I wanted and needed.”
They founded KrioRus in May 2006 and eventually moved in together. Initially the firm froze only a few people and pets in vacuum-sealed cylindrical containers known as dewars. The so-called “patients” were stored upside down at -320 degrees Fahrenheit with liquid nitrogen, which halts molecular and atomic activity, effectively stopping time.
The company—which now charges $36,000 for “full-body” preservation, and $15,000 for just a brain—doesn’t guarantee clients can be brought back to life. It provides preservation for a future date, presumably when advanced medical technology makes it possible.
As the theory goes, a deep-frozen brain will retain a person’s personality, memories and feelings. That data could then be transferred into a new healthy body, or uploaded into a computer once the technology exists.
On the job, the couple was a good team at first. Medvedev believed so much in cryogenics, he had his own grandmother’s brain frozen, he told me. Udalova’s late dog, Alice, became the company’s first canine client. “We had to run it as a sort of garage operation, like activism science slash business,” said Medvedev.
“KrioRus soon grew to 25 full-body patients and 50 ‘neuropatients’—severed heads stored in stockpot-sized containers—and roughly 20 cats, dogs and birds.”
The pair had different strengths professionally. Medvedev, who’s fluent in English, was a public relations whiz and handled some project management. Udalova had a deep understanding of the science and maintenance of the bodies, and was in charge of sales.
In 2009, Udalova became general director of the company, which by then had started to attract rich and prominent clients. Meanwhile, the couple emerged as leaders in Russia’s transhumanist movement.
But as the firm gained notoriety, Medvedev says Udalova’s poor people skills became his burden. “There were a lot of things really wrong about how Valerija approached people and how she communicated with others,” he said. “I was always making excuses for her and thinking it’s my job to protect her—and to explain to everybody else that she’s a nice person.”
For her part, Udalova says she grew frustrated with her then-partner’s lack of leadership skills. “He is a very bad manager and a bad director. He didn’t want to manage projects, he wanted to do public relations. He wanted glory, he wanted power,” she said. “He is a very good propagandist but not a leader.”
KrioRus soon grew to 25 full-body patients and 50 “neuropatients”—severed heads stored in stockpot-sized containers—and roughly 20 cats, dogs and birds. Clients were largely Russian, including the former director of a well-known museum along with doctors and lawyers, with bills generally footed by their loved ones.
In 2016, Bloomberg Businessweek published a feature about KrioRus, noting it had “grown far more rapidly than either of its American competitors,” and garnering the firm international attention.
But at home Udalova had a controlling streak, according to Medvedev. “She was always trying to limit my communications with others regardless of whether it was romantic or friendly or professional,” he said.
Medvedev had never been in a long-term relationship before her, and he sometimes second-guessed himself about whether her demands were unreasonable. “I didn’t really have much experience to compare to her,” he said. “I wasn’t prepared that somebody might be manipulative.”
Tension over power dynamics soon bubbled up. “She would get angry at situations when I would question her authority,” he said.
The couple stopped being able to talk openly and once, after a blowout, Udalova disappeared for days without contact, he said. The on-again, off-again nature of their romance weighed on Medvedev. In 2017, they separated but continued to work together. (The couple was never legally married, though they referred to each other as husband and wife.)
Udalova said their age difference led to the separation, and hinted other women may have played a role. “I am 20 years older and there are so many temptations around,” she said. “Danila is very narcissistic. After many years of being in love, I began to notice his flaws. This hastened our parting.”
She added, “He loves only himself. Maybe girls, too, but that’s another story.”
“She seized the brains of 50 patients—including Medvedev’s own grandma’s brain—and took them to a secret location.”
For months, the pair remained civil at work and mostly managed to avoid day-to-day interaction. Both told me their breakup was not related to the feud over frozen remains.
But in 2019, Medvedev started making moves to get her booted as director.
He claims she was unproductive and indecisive about raising money, and that the company needed a change.“I discussed this with other owners of the company and we decided we should change the director—but it turned out she had different ideas,” he said.
Others weren’t happy with her performance, either. At a shareholders meeting in 2019, she presented a grim financial report, according to Dmitry Kvasnikov, who formerly worked at KrioRus as a business development manager.
“She squandered all the money in the company,” he said. “It’s not that she stole it, she just mismanaged it. She was not competent enough to allocate the money properly.”
Around that time, most of the company’s shareholders voted her out as director but she refused to accept it, Kvasnikov said. “Sixty percent wanted to remove her. But before they could sign the papers she took them so they couldn’t.”
He added, “I don’t think she is inherently bad; she is just misguided. She doesn’t want to work with anyone who doesn’t agree with her.”
Udalova contends she handled the firm’s finances well, considering the challenges of the unusual field. “I managed the company’s money properly. Cryonics is difficult to develop. I think no one but me could develop cryonics in such difficult conditions,” she said. “Yes, indeed, Danila made an attempt to fire me, but it was illegal.”
As support for her leadership appeared to wane, Udalova made a bold move. She seized the brains of 50 patients—including Medvedev’s own grandma’s brain—and took them to a secret location in late 2019, according to Medvedev and Udalova.
She also transferred some of KrioRus’ assets to a new company, “muddying the waters” legally, Medvedev said. “To police and to the courts, it becomes a little more complicated than if you just take something and run with it,” he said. “It becomes a gray area.”
Udalova contends she moved the brains for the better of the company’s clients.
“It is better for cryopatients not to be in the dirty hands of a mediocre manager who thinks only about his own gain,” she said.
But the firm’s full-body patients—which were heavier and harder-to-transport—remained untouched.
When Udalova’s term as director expired in September 2021, she was not voted back as director, according to Medvedev. (Company documents show her term as director expired in June 2021.)
Udalova, however, insists she still holds the position, citing tax documents that appear to list her as the current director.
Either way, they both agree on what happened next. On Sept. 7, Udalova and her workers cut through the wall of the storage center in Moscow, drained the dewars to lighten them, then tried to drive off with the 25 frozen full-body corpses.
As the alleged heist unfolded, the son of the land owner alerted Medvedev, who called police. Medvedev, who claims he personally owns the cryogenic equipment, presented cops with paperwork.
Police determined Udalova had no grounds to take the bodies and the trucks were quickly “detained” by cops, according to the Russian media outlet vc.ru.
A video soon surfaced showing authorities apparently escorting Udalova off the property. “Russian police stop transhumanist who tried to steal frozen human corpses,” the science news site biohackinfo.com proclaimed in a headline.
“Inside the building —a bare-bones structure surrounded by trees—he found the severed heads of patients Udalova had taken in 2019.”
When I asked Udalova why she went to such extreme measures to take the bodies, she laughed. She said the warehouse was only about 210 square feet and that the corpses needed to be moved to an upgraded facility. Medvedev had previously “locked all doors, and didn’t give us keys,” she said, forcing her to cut through the wall of the warehouse.
“Excuse me but Danila is not the owner of the building. He is not the owner of the dewars or the cryonics patients,” she said. “KrioRus is the owner and, as a director, I decided that this place is too small.”
“It was necessary [and] absolutely legal,” she said.
Not long after her run-in with cops, police told Medvedev they couldn’t press charges. Russian law forbids the “ownership” of human bodies—a rule enacted to combat illegal organ transplants—making it difficult to arrest her for theft, Medvedev said.“The police didn’t want to get into this because it’s not clear how it’s regulated,” Medvedev said. “You cannot say she ‘stole’ bodies because you cannot actually ‘own’ them.”
The fight shifted instead to a battle over the high-priced cryogenics equipment used by the company, which Medvedev claimed to own. But in a memo to police and prosecutors, Udalova wrote that the dewars “never belonged to … Medvedev, or any other legal entity or individual,” according to the document. (Law enforcement in Moscow didn’t return a request for comment)
The bodies were eventually returned to the warehouse but the brains Udalova took in 2019 remained at large, and police suggested Medvedev take her to civil court, he said.
Then, somehow, things got weirder.
On Sept. 16, two hulking men allegedly threatened Medvedev outside his apartment, he said. “[Udalova] and her boyfriend sent Chechen bandits to my apartment, trying to scare me into giving up control,” Medvedev said. “The situation spun out of control.”
The menacing men, who he said were captured in footage, allegedly “warned” him to back down from the fight over the company, he said.
Udalova insists the stunt was staged and that she wasn’t involved. “I think they are actors because they are so stereotypically Chechen, like in the movies … They had long black beards with evil eyes,” she said.
She added, “I didn’t do it. Maybe one of my fans did it, but I don’t know anything about it.”
If the harassment was supposed to frighten Medvedev, it only emboldened him.
With no help from cops, he took matters into his own hands.
In late September, he and a team of novice investigators tracked down a piece of land owned by Udalova in Tver, roughly 2.5 hours by car from Moscow. Inside the building —a bare-bones structure surrounded by trees—he found the severed heads of patients Udalova had taken in 2019, he said.
“It was a half-complete building with 50 percent of the walls still missing, no doors, no windows, no gates … standing there basically in the middle of a forest,” he said.
There was nothing to stop him from enacting cowboy justice, and simply snatching them back, he said. “We took the dewars with the neuropatients and moved them to Moscow,” he said.
Udalova fired back two months later. This time, she seized the 25 full-body patients she’d failed to take on Sept. 7. She moved them to a cryogenics facility in Sergiev Posad, roughly 45 miles from Moscow in late November, according to Medvedev and Udalova. It was all of the company’s bodies, minus one stored separately in a dry ice container.
In the process, Medvedev claims she damaged the dewars and possibly the corpses. The temperatures of the human remains likely dropped when they were taken off the liquid nitrogen, potentially causing them to deteriorate, he said.
Udalova contends they weren’t hurt. “I graduated from a very famous Russian physics institute and my specialization was thermodynamics, so I understand very well what we can [do] with bodies,” she said. “We did a lot of work to stabilize them.”
Hans Bozler, a cryogenics expert who teaches ultralow temperature physics at the University of Southern California, compared removing the bodies to taking meat off ice. “A deterioration would be highly accelerated within minutes,” said Bozler. “It’s the same as taking out a steak out of the freezer, letting it thaw and refreezing it.”
But their dispute is likely moot, he said. Freezing a brain in liquid nitrogen would wipe out the organ’s synapses, zapping away almost any chance of reviving it, he said.
“You’re taking something that’s already been destroyed and worrying about it being more destroyed,” said Bozler, who is a Professor Emeritus of Physics. “It’s hard to take [the claim] seriously because it exists in a world of nonsense.”
Medevev and Udalova are taking it seriously, and have taken the battle to civil court. Medevev claims she iced him out of the firm’s meetings and withheld financial information, according to court papers. In November, the Moscow Arbitration Court ruled in his favor; she has filed an appeal.
Ultimately, he plans to prove Udalova committed fraud by forging the signatures of shareholders to remain director, and to get her charged criminally, he said.
“We feel that for what she did Valerija deserves to go to jail,” he said. “Without getting into an open confrontation with violence and guns and explosions, I want this situation to be resolved over the next 3 to 5 months.” (Udalova denies she forged signatures.)
That might involve getting creative. He also plans to set up a new storage facility, then snatch back the full-body patients Udalova still has in her possession, he said.
The uncharted fields of tech and science are ripe for scandals like the one playing out at his company, he said. “KrioRus is just the tip of the iceberg,” Medevev said. “People can be greedy, they can attack each other, try to sabotage projects and steal—a lot of that happens in fields like artificial intelligence, nanotechnologies and aging research.”
“It’s the same as taking out a steak out of the freezer, letting it thaw and refreezing it.”
He said power-hungry “visionaries” like Udalova often go unchecked because few people are knowledgeable enough to serve as watchdogs or whistleblowers against them. “There is something in cryonics which attracts psychopaths,” he said. “They can have very easy access to power over the relatives of patients.”
“It’s not healthy but [psychopaths] do also come with qualities that allow them to succeed,” he said.
Udalova, for her part, believes she’s fighting to save the field of cryonics from a nefarious force. She has no plans to back down. “Really, I don’t know where this conflict will be in one year,” she said.“[But] I am absolutely right.”
She worries about the impact the dispute will have on transhumanism’s reputation. She fears it will make the industry look wild and its leaders unhinged.To avoid similar disputes in the future, she said non-profits should spearhead the developing field instead of private firms.
“[Medvedev] is really bad for cryonics because a lot of people can see this conflict,” she said. “He has slandered KrioRus.”
Asked how she wants the feud with her ex to end, she thought for a moment.
“We need to transport Danila to Mars,” she said, with a straight face. “I ask, please, Elon Musk: Take Danila to Mars.”