OBITUARY : Alexandra Titarenko

Alexandra Titarenko was the mother-in-law of the former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, and the driving force behind her daughter Raisa. Gorbachev himself often listened to her wise advice.

Alexandra Petrovna, known as "Sasha" or "Shurochka" (both diminutives of Alexandra), was born at Veseloyarsk, "Jolly Resort", in western Siberia, in 1913, one of the six children of Petr Stepanovich Porada, a poor peasant, originally from Ukraine. During Stalin's collectivisation campaign, Porada was declared a kulak, their house and land were confiscated, and in 1937 he was arrested. Being uneducated, he had no idea who Trotsky was, yet he was accused of being a Trotskyist; he perished in the Gulag.

At the age of 19, Sasha met and married Maxim Titarenko, who had come from Ukraine to the Altai Krai, as western Siberia was renamed, in search of employment. He found a job in the railroad construction industry and rose to become an engineer. Raisa, their first child, was born in 1932, in Rubtsovsk. Sasha had her secretly christened at a local Russian Orthodox priest's flat. A son and another daughter followed.

During the Second World War the family lived in various places in the Urals and after it moved to Sterlitamak, centre of the Soviet Union's chemical industry, south of Ufa, the capital of the Bashkir Autonomous Republic.

Alexandra Petrovna was determined to give her children the best education she could. It was she who in 1949 encouraged Raisa to enrol at Moscow University. She approved her daughter's choice when, in 1953, Raisa married Mikhail ("Misha") Gorbachev, a brilliant law student. When the couple left for Stavropol in southern Russia she kept in close touch with her daughter, who spent two years out of work.

The Gorbachevs' only child, their daughter Irina - Sasha's first grandchild - was born in 1957 in the tiny room they rented. Irina spent her summer holidays with her grandparents at Sterlitamak, and it was on her grandmother's advice that in 1974 she became a medical student at Stavropol. In the 1980s Irina gave her two great-granddaughters, Ksenia and Nastenka.

When in 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev became First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, it was reported that Alexandra Petrovna could not bring herself to contact her daughter, the new First Lady: to use the Kremlin's internal line would be to disturb the head of state. It took her time to get used to her own new position; but she remained Raisa's confidante, especially when her daughter was in difficulties.

When in 1991 Alexandra Petrovna saw on television that her daughter and son-in-law were virtually under arrest on the island of Foros in the Crimea, she wanted to go there; only her frailty prevented her. As soon as telephone lines were restored, she spoke to Raisa and her husband. She advised them both to hold on and not to give in to their enemies. She was a firm support when, shortly afterwards, Raisa was partly paralysed following a minor stroke.

Raisa's brother Yevgeni graduated from military school, but became an alcoholic. It was his mother who persuaded him to enter a clinic for treatment, after which he became a writer, graduating from the Literary Institute. Her younger daughter, Liudmila, graduated from the Medical Institute at Ufa, and gave her a grandson.

In 1986, when her husband Maxim died at a Moscow hospital after a series of operations, she refused her son-in-law's invitation to move to Moscow and live with the Gorbachevs at their official country residence off Rublevskoe Highway. She thought it would be wrong to take advantage of her son-in- law's position. Instead she moved to Ufa, where she spent her last nine years in an ordinary one-bedroom flat.

Mikhail Gorbachev paid tribute to the active role Alexandra Petrovna played in his work as a statesman and politician and described her as an extremely decent, reliable and appreciative woman.

Jeanne Vronskaya

Alexandra Petrovna Porada: born Veseloyarsk, Siberia 14 March 1913; married 1931 Maxim Andreevich Titarenko (died 1986; one son, two daughters); died Ufa, Bashkiria 14 July 1995.

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