Whilst watching the recent documentary about the murder of Russian defector and spy, Alexander ‘Sasha’ Litvinenko, I was struck not just by the inhuman tragedy of his death, but also by the magnificent stoicism of his widow, Marina.
With quiet strength and great eloquence, she told the story of her husband’s fight for freedom – and then his fight for life and justice against his killers. The Channel 4 documentary, Hunting the KGB Killers, told the haunting tale of the death of Litvinenko and the subsequent medical and criminal investigation in devastating detail, using the medical team and police investigators who were on the case.
But it was Marina, speaking with her gentle Russian accent, was the one who really drew me in.
Not only for her strength in standing by her husband throughout his career and his fight to tell the truth about his dealings with Russia, but also her determination to bring his killers to justice. To give them a name as criminals, even if they were never legally charged.
With no fanfare or self-publicity, this elegant woman’s only aim was to bring a rightful and just conclusion to the traumatic loss of her clearly much loved husband. In an age of media greed and celebrity, I found her not only charming but deeply impressive.
Never asking to be in the spotlight, it is the campaign which takes priority, not her own image. She acts in response to a conversation she had with her husband just before he died. He asked her to tell the truth, and that is her intention. She knows she is monitored, she is watched by those in Russian government – yet, her desire for justice and truth remains unchanged. In this, she is following her husband’s path. It is ironic and worrying that his determination to shed light on Russia’s underhand dealings led to his demise. Her bravery cannot be overstated.
Protecting their son, Anatoly, while continuing the fight for Alexander’s assassins to one day face justice for their actions, is Marina’s aim in life. She hopes they might one day be able to return to Russia, but so far this has been impossible for safety reasons.
As Marina said in the documentary, those responsible may never be physically punished for their crime – but at least they were named in the verdict at the Royal Courts of Justice:
“Even if you are not in prison, you are already punished. To wake up and go to sleep, to know people knew you are criminal, you are a murderer.”
And for Marina, some semblance of justice is better than none.