Soviet dissident dies in New York

NEW YORK -- Pyotr G. Grigorenko, a highly decorated World War II Soviet general who spent more than six years in psychiatric wards for his political dissent before coming to the United States 10 years ago, has died at age 79.

Grigorenko's son, Andrew, said his father died about 10 p.m. Saturday at Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan of complications from a stroke suffered more than three years ago. He had developed a serious infection over the last three days and also suffered from Parkinson's disease, a degenerative neurological ailment, the son said.


Pyotr Grigorenko, whom Soviet authorities stripped of military rank and later of citizenship, had lived in New York since 1977.

Though his health deteriorated seriously during his years of incarceration in the Soviet Union, and his family, deprived of his pension, fell on hard times, Grigorenko said in an interview in 1975 that he regretted nothing.

'Everything has its price,' he said. 'I agreed to pay that price.'

Andrew Grigorenko said his father never fully recovered from a stroke he suffered in 1983 while lecturing on human rights in Kansas City, Mo.

The stroke left him partially paralyzed, and he 'never gained the ability to write again,' his son said. He had been hospitalized since November 1986.


Grigorenko's autobiography, 'Memoirs -- In the Underground, One Meets Only Rats,' was published in New York in 1982.

Grigorenko was first declared insane in 1964 and sent to a mental ward after expressing his political convictions, which included anti-Stalinist statements. He was declared sane 14 months later and then became the leading figure in a campaign against psychiatric detention of dissidents by the Soviet government.

'My trouble was that I had the bad habit of thinking for myself,' Grigorenko said during the 1975 interview he granted a year after his release from five more years in Soviet mental hospitals.

'He was the first one to speak out for human rights. There was no Sakharov, Bonner and Shcharansky then,' said Grigorenko's wife, Zinaida, referring to Soviet dissidents Andrei Sakharov, his wife, Yelena Bonner, and Anatoly Shcharansky, all well-known in the West.

More than 6 feet tall, slow-moving and courteous, the blue-eyed Grigorenko was born Oct. 16, 1907, the son of a peasant.

A veteran of three wars, he rose to the rank of major general in the engineers in World War II and was wounded twice. He was heaped with decorations, including the Order of Lenin, the Order of the Red Flag and the Order of the Red Star.


After the war, he headed the cybernetics department at the prestigious Frunze Military Academy, the equivalent of West Point or Britain's Sandhurst.

His troubles began Sept. 7, 1961, when he spoke too freely at the 21st Communist Party Congress. It was at the previous Congress, in 1956, that Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev stunned the communist world by denouncing Josef Stalin as a dictator.

Some political observers thought Grigorenko was too naive or optimistic about the strength of Khrushchev's thaw. Abruptly in 1964 - the year Khrushchev was ousted -- Grigorenko was reduced to the rank of private, dismissed from the Communist Party, declared insane and sent to a mental hospital.

After being declared sane 14 months later, Grigorenko increased his dissident activities, leading to another arrest in May 1969.

But instead of going on trial, he was declared 'paranoid with developed symptoms of arteriosclerosis' and began his five-year sojourn in psychiatric institutes, which he called 'prisons.'

Grigorenko said he was never given mind-altering drugs but was attacked by inmates egged on by orderlies. A leg wound from the war deteriorated, the sight in one eye faded, and he had several heart attacks. He was subjected to periods of solitary confinement in what he called 'a dungeon.'


On June 16, 1974, Grigorenko was released in a move apparently associated with a forthcoming visit to the Soviet Union by then-President Richard Nixon.

Grigorenko was too ill to resume dissident activities and lived quietly in his small apartment in central Moscow with his family.

During a six-month visit with his emigre son in New York that began in late 1977, the Soviet Union revoked Grigorenko's citizenship. Grigorenko asked for, and was granted, asylum in the United States. He was bedridden in recent years at his home in New York's borough of Queens.

A viewing was scheduled for Friday at the Peter Jarema Funeral Home in Manhattan, and the funeral was to be held Saturday at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of St. Vladimir in Manhattan, Andrew Grigorenko said.

Latest Headlines


Follow Us