A picture taken on May 25, 2014, shows the domestic and foreign passports of Russian citizen Andrei Mironov, who was reportedly killed yesterday together with Italian journalist, Andrea Rocchelli, near the eastern Ukrainian town of Slavyansk. 30-year-old Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian translator, Andrei Mironov, had come under fire yesterday during a mortar shell attack, Rome’s foreign ministry announced. The exact circumstances surrounding Rocchelli’s death were still unclear, added the ministry, saying the situation was “difficult to verify” even for the Ukrainian authorities. AFP PHOTO / POOL
Kathy Lally and Will Englund were The Washington Post’s Moscow correspondents from September 2010 to May 2014
We met Andrei Mironov in Moscow in the summer of 1991, just before the coup that helped speed the Soviet Union toward destruction.
When he died at age 60 last weekend, caught in a mortar attack in eastern Ukraine, Andrei was widely identified as an interpreter. He was so much more.
Andrei represented the very best of Russia and its people, and the authorities despised him for it. The story of his life embodies the struggle for human rights and democracy that Soviet dissidents set off nearly 50 years ago.
Andrei grew up in the Soviet Union, but he was never a Soviet man. He thought for himself and did as he saw right. One mutual friend, a Muscovite, called him the only truly honest Russian man he had ever met. Andrei was gentle and fearless — with a resolve that gleamed of pure steel. He taught himself English and Italian and often worked as a “fixer” for journalists, helping them navigate terrain and language. Those jobs financed his human rights efforts.
We had arrived in Moscow as correspondents for the Baltimore Sun a few weeks before the coup of Aug. 19, 1991. Our predecessor, Scott Shane, introduced us to Andrei, who had been among the last of the Soviet political prisoners. He was arrested and tried for anti-Soviet behavior in 1985, as the Mikhail Gorbachev era was beginning. Sentenced to seven years, he was released after 11 / 2 years in the gulag when the West pressured Gorbachev to free a group of political prisoners. Neither the KGB nor the most brutal gulag guards could bend or break him. That’s what they hated. A Ukrainian dissident who served time with Andrei in the gulag once told us that the guards singled out Andrei for the nastiest treatment because he was impervious to their routine punishments.
The coup plotters were intent on keeping the Soviet Union together, and Andrei told us matter-of-factly that he was sure the KGB would soon be at his door to arrest him. He did not want to compromise his friends and contacts by allowing his address book to fall into KGB hands. He asked us to take it and hide it for him. Continue reading