Russians from all walks of life turned out on a damp and slushy Tuesday morning in Moscow to pay their last respects to Lyudmila Mikhailovna Alexeyeva, a tireless defender of human rights and a contemporary of the Soviet dissidents Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Alexeyeva, who died Saturday at age 91 in a Moscow hospital, was one of the few public figures who could unify Russians across the political spectrum. Politicians from Russian President Vladimir Putin to his fiercest critic, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, expressed their condolences on the death of the longtime human rights campaigner, who spent 16 years in exile in the United States during the Soviet era.
“Thanks to the dignity of such people, our country still has dignity,” said Nikita Orlov, 49, a corporate manager waiting to lay flowers at Alexeyeva’s open casket in the Central House of Journalists in downtown Moscow.
“She gave me and my children — and I hope my grandchildren — the possibility to choose to think independently and not be guided by what is carved in stone,” he said. “Thanks to such people, we are alive.”
Alexeyeva co-founded the Moscow Helsinki Group, now Russia’s oldest human rights group, in 1976. A year later, the Soviet Union’s communist regime gave her a choice of emigration or prison. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Alexeyeva returned to Moscow to continue fighting for Russians’ constitutionally guaranteed rights
“In the last few days, a lot has been said about how important Lyudmila Mikhailovna was for Russia, but in fact she was important for the whole world,” said Viktoria Gromova, 35, a human rights activist who traveled from the town of Vladimir, 100 miles east of Moscow, to pay her respects. “Her story isn’t just about Russia, but about the U.S., Europe and Central Asia.”