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Tatyana Velikanova, 70; Dissident Chronicled Soviet Rights Abuses

October 18, 2002|From Associated Press

Tatyana Velikanova, a leading member of the Soviet-era dissident movement who was arrested and jailed for chronicling human rights abuses by the authorities, has died in Moscow of cancer. She was 70.

"She was a symbol of the human rights movement," Sergei Kovalyov, a prominent dissident persecuted by the authorities, said Thursday.

Velikanova, a mathematician, first defied the authorities in August 1968, when she appeared on Red Square with her husband and six other people to protest the Soviet invasion in Czechoslovakia. After her husband, Konstantin Babitsky, was arrested for taking part in the protest, Velikanova became an active participant in the dissident movement.

In 1969, Velikanova helped found the Initiative Group for the Defense of Human Rights and later played a leading role in publishing the Chronicle of Current Events, a samizdat, or self-published bulletin reporting human rights abuses by the authorities and news about the dissident movement. The Chronicle was the cornerstone of the dissident movement for many years.

"She was absolutely reliable, a crystally honest person," said Kovalyov, who worked on the Chronicle alongside Velikanova until his arrest in 1974. "For me, [Andrei] Sakharov and Velikanova were the brightest representatives of the Soviet human rights movement."

Sakharov, who won the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize for his human rights activities, once hailed Velikanova as an "embodiment of the ... purity and strength of the Soviet Union's human rights movement."

After years of harassment by the authorities, Velikanova was arrested in 1979 and sentenced to four years in a prison camp and five years of exile in the steppes of western Kazakhstan. She was pardoned by the government in 1987 as part of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms, but she refused to return to Moscow for half a year.

In the last decade, Velikanova worked as a teacher at a Moscow school away from the public eye. "She was very successful in that," Kovalyov said. He said that Velikanova died Sept. 19 of liver cancer and was buried in Moscow.

Velikanova is survived by three children, two brothers and two sisters.

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