Vladimir Chuguev

BBC Russian Service journalist who was Solzhenitsyn's producer

Vladimir Chuguev, journalist and publisher: born Bobruisk, Soviet Union, 2 July 1936; married 1977 Jeanne Vronskaya (marriage dissolved 1994); died St Lô, France 6 January 2005.

Vladimir Chuguev, journalist and publisher: born Bobruisk, Soviet Union, 2 July 1936; married 1977 Jeanne Vronskaya (marriage dissolved 1994); died St Lô, France 6 January 2005.

Working for the Russian Service of the BBC in London, Vladimir Chuguev was the radio producer of the books of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. At the end of the 1960s, as a young journalist, he was also the private secretary to Alexander Kerensky, the last prime minister of Russia's Provisional Government before the Bolshevik takeover in October 1917.

Chuguev was the main force in the think tank at the BBC's Russian Service in the 1960s and 1970s. Writing and speaking in four languages, an expert in Russian history, literature, poetry and Orthodox religion (at one time he was head of all Russian religious programmes), he interviewed many Russian celebrities such as the queen of Russian poetry, Anna Akhmatova, when she was awarded an Oxford doctorate in the spring of 1965.

Others were the cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, the Kremlin insider, socialist and dissident Roy Medvedev, Ivan Bilibin, the English private secretary to the Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, head of the Romanov House in exile, Arkady Stolypin, the son of the prime minister Peter Stolypin murdered by Russian terrorists in 1911, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the 1970 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

"Volodya," Solzenhitsyn told him (Volodya is the diminutive of Vladimir), "I regularly listened to your programmes in the forest and I liked them very much." Solzhenitsyn had come to London in connection with the 1974 publication of The Gulag Archipelago; Chuguev was appointed his interpreter. In about 1964, when Solzhenitsyn was known in the West only to specialists in Russian literature, Chuguev had became his producer on the radio. Two years before, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich had created a sensation in the Soviet Union.

After Solzhenitsyn was deported and brought to Germany in 1974, Chuguev produced The Cancer Ward, The First Circle and eventually The Gulag Archipelago. Solzhenitsyn, who was a difficult character, put in writing many stipulations as to how this should be done. He didn't understand that this was not a private radio station but the British Broadcasting Corporation and that producers and broadcasters had limited time. Chuguev went to America to see him at his home in Vermont. This was the beginning of the Christian Millennium in 1988, an important event in all Christian European countries, and the Russian Service was hoping to get an interview with Solzhenitsyn, but he bluntly refused. "It is not my problem," he said. "I shall answer only questions concerning my books." And that was that.

Vladimir Chuguev was born in 1936 in Bobruisk, a tiny medieval Polish town acquired by Catherine the Great in 1793, turned into a military fortress which successfully fought off Napoleon's army in the 1812 war. He was the second of three sons of Tikhon Chuguev, Professor in the Child Psychology Faculty at Moscow University - which was declared by Stalin's pseudo historians as "Western and bourgeois" and banned.

In 1938, when Chuguev père returned to Moscow after his holiday, he found all the tutorial staff had been arrested. The family went into hiding and settled near Orel. It was occupied during the autumn of 1941 when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union during the Second World War. In 1942, the whole family, including Vladimir, aged six, was rounded up by the Gestapo and transported in a cattle truck to a Nazi forced-labour camp, near Chemnitz.

In April 1945 they were liberated by the Americans. Suffering from TB, hunger and psychological shock, Vladimir was taken to an American military hospital, where he recovered. The Chuguev parents refused to return to the Soviet Union and crossed Germany, then, in ruins, on foot and after 60 days reached Switzerland. They were arrested by the Swiss border police, put into a children's psychiatric hospital (as Switzerland had no prison at the time) and next morning deported to a camp near Singen in the French Zone, Germany. The aim was to hand them over to Smersh.

Stalin's death squads were freely snatching Russians who refused to return to the Soviet Union (after General Charles de Gaulle, on 29 June 1945, had signed his own Yalta Agreement in Moscow). But eventually their Swiss excursion saved the Chuguevs' life. While a French commander of the camp was wining and dining with Smersh officers, eating caviar and drinking vodka, the Chuguevs broke a window and escaped, eventually, to a Polish PoW camp where they lived until 1950. (It was then, when they were hiding from Smersh, that their surname was deliberately misspelt - Czugunow.)

In the spring of 1978 Vladimir Chuguev became a kind of celebrity when a terrific scandal broke in Switzerland in connection with the government's policy in 1944-47 to hand over to Smersh for certain death those Russians who had refused to return to Stalin's Soviet Union. He was interviewed by the London correspondent, Anne Cendre, of La Tribune de Genève and his story, " L'odysée d'un petit réfugié russe refoulé par la Suisse", occupied a full page.

Chuguev grew up in a small town, Bernkastel, in Germany near the French border, where he graduated from a private school. There, he was awarded the Goethe Prize for his German language and literature, the only foreign boy at his school. After attending a business school in Munich he was a Nato soldier with the Polish Guards in the US Army in West Germany, in 1954-55. He went to London on a contract from the BBC Russian Service and simultaneously became the private secretary of Alexander Kerensky. Kerensky lived his last years in London, from 1966 to 1970.

In 1966-75 Chuguev owned and ran a small publishing firm, called Iskander after Alexander Hertzen's pen name while living in exile in London in the mid-19th century. He was the London correspondent of US Radio Liberty from 1975 to 1981. In 1981 he returned to the BBC Russian Service as a senior journalist and later became a producer in the BBC World Service. Many of his programmes were translated into major East European languages and broadcast to corresponding countries.

He made a private visit to his native country for the first time in June 1991, three months before the first anti- Gorbachev putsch. The main Moscow television channel made two documentaries about his life. In 1994 his elder brother, Lev, lost at a German forced labour camp 50 years previously, contacted him from Kiev, Ukraine, having heard his programme on BBC Radio.

We met on my first day in England from Paris at an office of the Russian Service in Bush House, London, in July 1969, and became inseparable. Six months after my divorce we married in the spring of 1977 at Chelsea Register Office near our flat in Knightsbridge. We later collaborated on A Biographical Dictionary of the Soviet Union 1917-1988 (1989), revised as The Biographical Dictionary of the Former Soviet Union (1992). Although we divorced in 1994 (I was the guilty party) we were greatly attached to each other and his last years since the summer of 1995 he lived mainly at my country house in Normandy.

Vladimir Chuguev was an extremely intelligent, very knowledgeable and likeable man. People who even once met him remembered and loved him. In the words of one Russian producer, "He exuded humanism."

Jeanne Vronskaya

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