Mikhail Gorbachev: I know that helping children is what Raisa believed in - that's why I'm giving £50,000 to GOSH

On his 85th birthday, Mikhail Gorbachev explains the enduring influence of his beloved wife Raisa

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The Independent Online

For nearly five decades, one person was by my side – my wife, Raisa. We were never bored and always happy and in love, though we rarely talked about it, preferring to cherish our mutual respect and affection. Today her death, and the suffering that preceded it, still haunts me: how is it that I was unable to save her?

It was in 1951, six years after the end of the Second World War and two years after she enrolled as a philosophy student at Moscow State University, that I met Raisa Titorenko. She was and is the most kind, beautiful and wise person I have ever met, the more so for her remarkable intelligence, which was the pride of her father, a railway worker, and mother, who was born a Siberian peasant and remained illiterate until her twenties.

These kind and humble people raised a wonderful daughter. From the moment we met, she became my greatest source of strength and inspiration. Her diagnosis with leukaemia was the most unbearable shock I have ever known. I was aware that what had happened to us and to our country weighed heavily on Raisa. Right up to the last moment I believed she could be saved, and I couldn’t reconcile myself to what had happened. She fought for her life courageously, and patiently endured whatever the doctors did to her. I couldn’t bear to look at all this.

Raisa’s death in September 1999 cast a shadow over my life from which I shall never be free. I think of her every day, every hour. Time doesn’t heal this sorrow, and I miss her as much today as the minute I finally said goodbye to her. 

When faced with grief, it is a natural human response to consider how, if at all, the spirit of the dead can live on – somehow. Good should come of a life that has been so good. It was with this feeling in mind that, well over a decade ago now, I decided to set up the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation with my friends Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev. Our aim was simple: to raise money for a cause that Raisa, an activist and campaigner until her last breath, always believed in: helping sick children. 

The suffering or death of children is an unbearable horror that no just world can tolerate. We have worked very hard for many years to rid the world of this sadness. The foundation has raised more than £10m in London, much of it given to Marie Curie. 

We have also raised millions for the Raisa Gorbachev Memorial Institute for Children’s Haematology and Transplantation in St Petersburg. The staff and medical team there perform daily miracles of the kind that one can also witness at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, and the Louis Dundas Centre for Children’s Palliative Care that is affiliated to it. That is why I have decided to donate a remaining £100,000 to these causes, split 50/50 between GOSH and the centre named after Raisa in St Petersburg.

I know, having read of the amazing response of your readers to this newspaper’s Give to GOSH campaign, that, like my late wife, you want to help reduce the suffering of children. This £100,000 may seem a small amount – but to the parents of those suffering children which it will help, it is nothing of the sort. 

I commend this newspaper on its great campaign and hope we can continue to work together to save children affected by cancer. I know it is what Raisa would have wanted us to do.

To Give to GOSH go to: http://ind.pn/1Mydxqt 

To find out more about our appeal and why we're supporting GOSH go to: http://ind.pn/1MycZkr