Spies: Philby's widow tells of an Englishman's life in exile

As spies queue up to write memoirs, the life of a Cold War master- spy remains intriguing. Now the widow of Kim Philby, Independent reader and double agent, has written a memoir of life with the `Third Man'. Helen Womack interviewed Rufina Ivanovna Pukhova about her version of events.

The Cold War may be over, but the legacy for Rufina Ivanovna Pukhova, widow of the British traitor Kim Philby, is a cottage industry of KGB pensioners churning out dubious stories about her late husband as they seek to make money by writing memoirs. So tired has she become of this that she has written her own account of life with him, entitled "Island on the Sixth Floor" - a reference to the flat she shared with the former MI5 spymaster after he defected to Moscow in 1963.

"So many lies have been told about Kim," Rufina Ivanovna said at a press conference yesterday. "But nobody knows better than I do how he lived here, what he felt. After all, I was married to him."

"Island on the Sixth Floor" is the highlight of a new book on Philby called I Did It My Way (the spy was a fan of Frank Sinatra) published in a limited Russian edition. The volume also includes "My Hidden War" by Philby himself, which Russian readers are seeing uncensored for the first time. And there are essays by Mikhail Bogdanov, who attended Philby's seminars on English life for KGB trainees, and by Mikhail Lyubimov, a Soviet spy who, after he was expelled from London in the mid-Sixties, befriended Philby in his Moscow exile.

"He was a great tragic figure of this century," Colonel Lyubimov said. "He was an idealist. An anti-fascist in the 1930s, you could say he was like George Orwell."

"He did not feel he had betrayed Britain," Rufina Ivanovna added. "He was fighting fascism and we were all on the same side in those days, weren't we?"

Rufina Ivanovna has been particularly upset by stories about her husband's alleged depressions after he saw the reality of life in the USSR, which he had served through ideological conviction, rather than for money. One retired KGB agent has gone so far as to suggest that Philby was disillusioned enough to take his own life.

Leonid Kolosov, who spent his career under journalistic cover in Rome, admits he only met Philby twice but says he has no reason to doubt what he was told by a KGB colleague, now dead, and the Kremlin doctor, that the defector shot himself in May 1988. The official version was that he died of heart failure.

Lieutenant-Colonel Kolosov says Philby was very depressed when he met him at a KGB reception in Moscow a few months before his death, and quotes him as saying that had he known Russia would turn out to be such a bardak (a vulgar word, literally meaning a whorehouse, used to described a mess), he would not have wasted his life in its service. The retired agent also reads meaning into a comment Philby made to him and the journalist Vadim Kassis in an interview in January 1988. Asked if he had often used his gun like James Bond, Philby is reported to have replied: "A true secret agent only shoots once in his life - when he has no other way out."

"The suicide story is rubbish, to put it mildly," Rufina Ivanovna told me, at her home. Philby, she said, had gone into the KGB's closed hospital in Moscow for treatment to his heart.

"On the morning of the 10th of May, I began to worry. I rang his room but nobody answered. I rang and rang. Eventually a nurse picked up the phone and said he had fallen in his bath. I went to see him. He was very weak but brightened when he saw me. I wondered whether I should stay with him through the night, but then thought if I did that it might worry him, so I left. I got home at 11 in the evening. I couldn't sleep. I was very nervous. I took sleeping pills. At two in the morning, I put out the light. The next day I rang the hospital and they told me he had died at exactly 2am. I was not actually with him when he died. That was terrible."

Rufina Ivanovna, an elegant and very kind woman, keeps the Island on the Sixth Floor more or less as it was when they lived there together, although need forced her to sell some items to Sotheby's in 1994 (her pension is less than $100 (pounds 62) a month).

The KGB allotted the Philbys, who feared being pursued by journalists, the perfect flat; hidden in the lanes behind the central Tverskaya Street. Only invited guests are told which archways and doorways will bring them to the apartment.

Inside, Philby's study is as he left it, with his history books and detective novels for sleepless nights. In the living room, his old Riga radio with beautiful ivory buttons is still tuned to the BBC.

"There were two main myths about Kim," said his widow. "One had it that after he came to Moscow he lived in luxury, like cheese floating in butter as we say in Russian. The other is that he descended into degradation and poverty. As you see, the reality is less sensational."

Philby's widow admits that when she first met him he drank heavily. But in 1972, he pulled himself out of his alcoholic depression. The KGB, which had kept him under-employed, began giving him work as an consultant.

It was true, though, that many aspects of Soviet life did disappoint him. "He was particularly irritated by Brezhnev ... Gorbachev raised his hopes at first, but he got tired of his demagoguery. Of course, he would have been appalled by the poverty now, he had a great sense of social justice."

He was nostalgic for England, which he knew was lost to him, although his children would visit from the West. "But he was also realistic," she said. "You know, he often used to say: `The West has its defects too'."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Games Developer - HTML5

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Product Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to on-going expansion, this leading provid...

Recruitment Genius: Shift Leaders - Front of House Staff - Full Time and Part Time

£6 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a family ...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'