OBITUARY: Mariya Gorbacheva

Mariya Gorbacheva, the mother of the first (and last) Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, was a decisive and outspoken peasant who bequeathed to her son many of the features that characterise his political style.

Gorbacheva is remembered by fellow villagers as strong, self-confident and self-righteous and was never shy about venturing her opinions at party meetings. Even her husband would cringe in embarrassment when she got up to make yet another fuss, haranguing party speakers and bombarding them with questions and criticisms. She was particularly given to berating drunkards, especially on one occasion in winter when a farmhand allowed half the collective farm's poultry to die of cold through drunken indifference.

Mariya Panteleyevna Gopkalo was born into a family of peasants of Ukrainian origin around 1911. After the collectivisation of agriculture her father Pantelei became chairman of the collective farm in the village of Privolnoye in the Stavropol region. Mariya also joined, becoming a team leader. She married Sergei Gorbachev, a quiet man who was head of the machine tractor station, and their son Mikhail was born in 1931.

Sergei went off to fight in the Second World War in 1941, leaving Mariya and the 10-year-old Mikhail in Privolnoye which in August 1942 was occupied by the Germans without a fight. The Germans were ousted in January 1943 and were soon driven from Soviet territory. Sergei was wounded three times during the war but returned home in 1946. The following year Mikhail gained a brother, Alexander, who became Mariya's favourite in a way Mikhail had never been.

As the young Mikhail Gorbachev worked his way up the Communist Youth League and later the Communist Party ranks, his mother remained in their home village. Sergei died in February 1976 but Mariya carried on in the same house, by now retired, tending her chickens and pigs in the back yard. Mikhail would visit at least once a year. Even in March 1985, on the eve of his election as General Secretary of the Community Party, he made the 900-mile round trip from Moscow. After his election, a special telephone line to the Kremlin was installed in her home so she could keep in touch with her son.

Like many villagers, Mariya Gorbacheva had little education and could write only with difficulty. But she - with her forceful character - seems to have had a far greater impact on Mikhail Gorbachev than had his father. Despite the Stalinist persecution of religion in the 1930s, she retained a strong loyalty to the Russian Orthodox Church. The family hid their icons behind other pictures during the most difficult years. It was Mariya and her mother who insisted that the young Mikhail should be baptised. While Mariya's strong faith may have influenced Mikhail Gorbachev's decision to cease persecution of religious groups, her local anti-alcohol outbursts may also have laid the foundations for his unpopular anti-alcohol campaign. "Emotionally, my mother influenced me more," Mikhail Gorbachev once recalled. "Intellectually, my father."

Felix Corley

Mariya Panteleyevna Gopkalo: born 1911; married Sergei Gorbachev (died 1976; two sons); died Moscow 14 April 1995.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone