Russians say final farewell to former president Mikhail Gorbachev
Updated 23:16, 03-Sep-2022

Thousands of Russians filed past the open casket of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, on Saturday with many saying they wanted to honour his memory as "a peacemaker" who dismantled totalitarianism and gave them their freedom.

Gorbachev, leader of the Soviet Union from 1985-1991, died on Tuesday aged 91. His body lay in state in the grand Hall of Columns in central Moscow in the tradition of previous Soviet leaders, including Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin.

Flanked by an honour guard of two rifle-wielding members of the elite Kremlin Regiment with the hall's 54 chandeliers emitting only a dim glow, the former president's body lay in an open casket with his face and upper body visible. His daughter Irina and her two daughters sat nearby with close family friends.

Russians of all ages filed through the hall and laid flowers on a plinth at the foot of the casket and stole a brief and final glance as sombre music played and a giant black and white portrait of Gorbachev on the wall looked down.

A portrait of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, hangs on the wall during his memorial service. /Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool

A portrait of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, hangs on the wall during his memorial service. /Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool


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Best known in the West for helping end the Cold War, reducing his country's nuclear stockpile, and for unwittingly presiding over the demise of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev's legacy still divides opinion inside and outside Russia.

But those who took the trouble to line up to say farewell on Saturday recalled the late politician, who died in Moscow after an unspecified illness, with affection and gratitude.

"He was a peacemaker, he was one of God's sons," said Tatiana, 80, who said she had come despite poor health.

"He wanted to give us democracy and freedom and we turned out to not be very ready yet," said Alexander Lebedev, a tycoon and close friend who once bankrolled an opposition-leaning newspaper with Gorbachev.

"That's most unfortunate but we will still be a European country. This part of history will be over one day."

Gorbachev, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for his role in ending the Cold War, will be buried later on Saturday at Moscow's famous Novodevichy cemetery alongside his wife Raisa, who died in 1999.

President Vladimir Putin briefly paid his respects to Gorbachev on Thursday at the hospital where he died, but stayed away from Saturday's memorial event with the Kremlin citing his busy schedule.

Nor was Gorbachev granted a full state funeral unlike his nemesis Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first post-Soviet president and the man who named Putin as his successor, who died in 2007.

Gorbachev was, like Putin, crushed by the demise of the Soviet Union but is blamed by many Russians for setting in motion a reform process that spun out of control and emboldened many of the USSR's 15 republics to break away.

That ushered in a period of new found freedoms in Russia but also prolonged economic suffering and a sometimes bloody and one-sided redistribution of state property which left many Russians feeling angry and humiliated.

Source(s): Reuters

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