Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soviet Rights Activist Velikanova Dead at 70

Tatyana Velikanova, a Soviet human rights activist who was a leading editor of the most important samizdat journal of human rights abuses and spent nearly nine years in prison camp and exile, died of cancer on Sept. 19. She was 70 and lived in Moscow.

Velikanova, a mathematician by profession, became a dissident in 1968, when she went to Red Square with her husband, Konstantin Babitsky, who was one of only seven people to demonstrate openly against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia that crushed the Prague Spring reforms.

Babitsky was arrested and banished for several years to the Far North. The next year, Velikanova helped found the Initiative Group for the Defense of Human Rights in the U.S.S.R., and became the backbone of the Chronicle of Current Events, a samizdat news bulletin, after the arrest of its founder, Natalia Gorbanevskaya. The chronicle was the main uncensored source of information about the dissident movement around the Soviet Union during the rule of Leonid Brezhnev.

At a time when photocopying machines were rare and kept literally under lock and key in Soviet offices, the compilers of the chronicle gathered information and then produced multiple copies by typing through layers of carbon paper.

The chronicle was written in a dry, telegraphic style, and defended all repressed groups, from Pentecostal believers to Jewish refuseniks, Russian Orthodox priests, Georgian nationalists, deported Crimean Tatars, and intellectuals and religious believers in the Baltics.

Velikanova herself was an observant Orthodox Christian.

She was arrested in 1979 on charges of "anti-Soviet propaganda," and a report in the Chronicle around that time detailed official questioning of her sister about her ties to the West, as well as the interrogator's relaying his prisoner's request for a Bible and photographs of her grandchildren. Velikanova received a nine-year sentence, serving four years in prison camp and then being exiled to a desolate part of Kazakhstan.

In a statement written during his own banishment from Moscow to the city of Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod), Andrei Sakharov lauded Velikanova for her dedication to the cause of the oppressed, regardless of whether she agreed with their views. "Her only consideration was whether someone had suffered injustice," he wrote.

During the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev, Velikanova was allowed to return to Moscow before her nine-year term was fully served. In her final years, she lived out of the public eye, teaching math and Russian language and literature at a Moscow school until just months before her death.