Lidiya Chukovskaya, Champion of Dissidents And Chronicler of Stalinist Abuses, Dies at 88
Lidiya Chukovskaya, the Russian writer who risked her life to record the horrors of Stalinism and speak out against the persecutions of dissidents in the Soviet Union, died on Wednesday at her home in Moscow. She was 88.
As a champion of human rights, Miss Chukovskaya criticized the trial of Andrei D. Sinyavsky and Yuli M. Daniel, who were jailed in the 1960's for their satiric commentaries on the Soviet system. She also defended the dissident nuclear physicist Andrei D. Sakharov in 1973 and lent her country house to Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize-winning author, before he was arrested and deported from the Soviet Union in 1974.
Ideas should be fought with ideas," she said, "not with camps and prisons."
In a statement yesterday, reported by The Associated Press, Mr. Solzhenitsyn said: "Our literature has lost an exquisite connoisseur of Russian poetry and a precious witness of the Soviet half-century. She preserved for us concealed treasures, which would have perished but for her."
Mr. Solzhenitsyn called Miss Chukovskaya an "incorruptible" and "passionate" defender of writers and literature.
Miss Chukovskaya was 66, nearly blind and afflicted with a weak heart when her defense of Mr. Sakharov resulted in her expulsion from the Moscow Writers Union by a unanimous vote in 1974.
Accused of having "slipped into an anti-Soviet swamp," she was in effect blacklisted, since expulsion from the organization deprived writers of the means and the legal right to publish their work.
Summoned to a meeting with the union's secretary, Yuri F. Strekhinin, and another writer, A. M. Mednikov, she was questioned about her criticism of the treatment of dissidents.
"How do you know these things?" she said she was asked.
"From my life," Miss Chukovskaya said she answered. "From mothers, wives, sisters. In order not to see, you have to shut your eyes and cover your ears. It's all around."
"They put one of my friends who was completely healthy in an insane asylum," she later recounted having told them. "I knew he was healthy."
She said Mr. Mednikov asked her, "Why does all this happen around you and nothing like that happens around me?"
Miss Chukovskaya replied: "I don't know - maybe you are living on an island. You make a special effort not to see."
Her differences with the authorities did not end with the breakup of the Soviet Union. When the Russian President, Boris N. Yeltsin, awarded Miss Chukovskaya a literary prize last year, she refused the money because she disagreed with Moscow's military campaign to keep Chechnya a part of Russia, said her longtime friend and English translator, Sylvia Rubashova, who lives in London.
"She was very uncompromising," Mrs. Rubashova said.
The work that brought Miss Chukovskaya the prize was "The Akhmatova Journals," a recollection of her friendship with the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), who lost two husbands to Soviet repression.
Miss Chukovskaya was the daughter of a prominent writer and the widow of an author who died in the Stalinist purges of the 1930's. She was renowned for her love of poetry and for a prodigious memory that enabled her to save countless poems from destruction by learning them by heart.
Among her other books were "Sofiya Petrovna," written in the winter of 1939-40 but not published until 1967, when it was smuggled to the West and issued under the title "The Deserted House."
The semi-autobiographical novel, set down while the memory of Stalin's Great Purge was still fresh, conveyed the atmosphere of fear and terror that engulfed the Soviet Union as the crackdown gathered force.
John J. Stephan, a friend who is a professor of history at the University of Hawaii, said the manuscript of "Sofiya Petrovna" was passed along and hidden at a time when its possession would have been tantamount to a death sentence.
She was also the author of "Going Under" (1976), a description of the corruption of writers by Soviet power.
Miss Chukovskaya's "To the Memory of Childhood," also published in 1988, was a tribute to her father, Kornei Chukovsky, a Russian critic, translator and popular author of children's verse and fairy tales. Covering the years 1910 to 1917, it recalled her upbringing at the family home in Kuokkala on the Gulf of Finland.
Miss Chukovskaya was born on March 23, 1907 in Leningrad and spent her summers in Kuokkala. She served as her father's amanuensis, and in "To the Memory of Childhood" she described him as a humorous, fun-loving man who was passionate about language and fanatical about poetry.
She married M. P. Bronshtein, an eminent physicist who died in prison in 1938. For some years she worked as an editor for a children's book publisher in Moscow.
Miss Chukovskaya is survived by her daughter, Yelena, of Moscow.