Obituary: Vladimir K. BUKOVSKY, 1942-2019

Belebei (USSR), 30 December 1942 — Cambridge (UK), 27 October 2019.

Vladimir BUKOVSKY, once dubbed “a hero of almost legendary proportion among the Soviet dissident movement” by the New York Times, died of cardiac arrest in Addenbrookes Hospital, in Cambridge, England at 9:30 pm (Greenwich Mean Time) on 27 October 2019. He was 76. His health had been poor in recent years.

A gifted writer, Bukovsky was revered for his ability to document both the daily insults and grand oppression of Soviet prison life, and to convey with detail the soul-crushing effects of torture on both prisoner and jailer.

Bukovsky’s longtime friend and translator, Alyona Kojevnikov, said from her home nearby, “A very dear friend of many, a brilliant interlocutor, a man of amazing courage and integrity. God rest his soul. They broke the mould after he was made.”

Novelist Vladimir Nabokov praised him as a “courageous and precious man” in a 1974 letter to the editor of The Observer. Nabokov wrote, “Bukovsky’s heroic speech to the court in defense of freedom, and his five years of martyrdom in a despicable psychiatric jail will be remembered long after the torturers he defied have rotted away.”

Historian and former CIA analyst Richard Pipes said shortly before his death, “Vladimir Bukovsky was an outstanding dissident both in the Soviet Union and abroad, and a man who courageously identified and criticized the totalitarian policies of Moscow. He ought to be remembered as a true hero.”

Edward Lucas, editor of Standpoint, said

“Vladimir Bukovsky was a moral and political titan in the existential struggle of the Cold War. His courage and clarity inspired a generation and fueled the victory of dignity, freedom, and justice. Moreover, he also saw that the victory was incomplete–sounding the alarm about Russia’s unburied totalitarian and imperialist history.”


A leading Russian human rights writer and activist, Bukovsky spent a total of 12 years imprisoned by the USSR. After his release to the West in 1976, he spent his last four decades writing and campaigning against successive regimes in his homeland.

Bukovsky, teenager
Bukovsky as a teenager

Bukovsky first gained notoriety as a student writer and organizer in Moscow. In 1963, he was arrested for possessing forbidden literature. Rather than put him on trial, Soviet authorities had him declared mentally ill and locked him in a psychiatric hospital — a common tactic used in the USSR to discredit dissenters and confine them without appearing to be holding political prisoners. He was arrested again in 1967 and sent to a labor camp for three years.

After his release, Bukovsky created an international uproar when he had psychiatric hospital records for six well-known dissidents smuggled to the West in 1971. International psychiatrists’ organizations studied the records and charged Soviet doctors and the government with creating false diagnoses as a way to indefinitely detain possibly thousands of political opponents who showed no medically recognized symptoms of mental illness.

After another prison sentence, In 1976, Bukovsky was deported from the USSR and exchanged by the Soviet government for Luis Corvalán, the imprisoned general secretary of the Communist Party of Chile.

 [ See several Communist Party documents in this archive, relating to Bukovsky’s activities as a dissident ]

After his release, he settled in Cambridge, England. He authored a best-selling memoir, To Build a Castle, appeared on American TV shows, and met with President Carter at the White House. His most recent book, Judgment In Moscow: Soviet Crimes and Western Complicity (Ninth of November Press) published in English on 14 May 2019, analyzes thousands of pages of top secret Soviet archives he stole in 1992.

Over four decades, Bukovsky played key roles in several political organizations, including Resistance International, Human Rights Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which awarded him their Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom.

At a time when many young Russians waxed nostalgic for the iron fist of Josef Stalin, Bukovsky was a living role model to his native country’s new generation of dissenters. Political activist rock band Pussy Riot credited him as a major influence, one “undeterred by fear” of state retaliation.

Media contact:

Bukovsky Center  +1 (510) 547-2589

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