First lady Russia finally learnt to love dies at 67

RUSSIANS WOULD be the first to admit their strange national propensity for envying others their success, yet pitying them in misfortune. That was how they treated Raisa Gorbachev, who died of leukaemia in a German hospital yesterday.

When she was the first Soviet President's glittering first lady, they detested her. When she fell ill, Russians gave her their hearts. The news that she had succumbed to an infection before she could receive a transplant of bone marrow from her sister was the first item on the television news in Moscow yesterday. "Raisa Maximovna suffered very much in the past few weeks but her death was peaceful," NTV's correspondent in Germany assured viewers. She was 67.

Mikhail Gorbachev, who helped to end the Cold War with his policies of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), would bring his wife home to be buried in Novodevichy cemetery, Mos-cow, he said. President Boris Yeltsin had sent his condolences and promised a charter plane to fly the body to Russia.

Throughout Raisa Gorbachev's last weeks, not only did her husband keep a vigil at the Muenster clinic that tried to save her but also the whole of Russia followed her saga, as if she were a soap opera star. Thousands of ordinary Russians sent letters, recipes for herbal medicines and even offers of money to the couple they once reviled.

"That's just the way we are," said Olga Podolskaya, a secretary. "We used to find Raisa extremely irritating. But at the end, we felt sorry for her and even more sorry for him, the loyal and loving husband, constantly at her bedside."

Raisa Gorbachev herself knew how the Russian public felt about her. In an interview for the television show Hero With His Tie Off, recorded when she was well, she recounted how hard it had been to be the first first lady in a society that hid its political wives.

Russians almost never saw Viktoria, wife of the late Communist leader, Leonid Brezhnev, and as for one of his successors, Yuri Andropov, they were not sure whether he had a wife at all. Raisa broke a taboo by appearing in public with her husband. For him, admitting that he had a partner and that she played an important role in his life was a personal act of glasnost, an extension of his policy of openness. Like all pioneers, the Gorbachevs paid for being ahead of their time. Raisa was a clever, educated woman, a species that many Russians still have trouble in accepting.

She was born Raisa Maximovna Titorenko in the Siberian region of Altai in 1932. Her father, Maxim Titorenko, had gone out to Siberia to help build the railways. The young Raisa was bright enough to go all the way from this provincial backwater to Moscow State University (MGU), where she studied philosophy.

There she met Mikhail, a promising law student, whom she married in 1953. In her last years, she devoted herself to fund-raising for cancer research - even before she knew she had leukaemia herself.

Obituary, Review, page 6

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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 General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'