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Death of a Refusnik

September 4, 1979
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The final chapter in what the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ) and the Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry (UCSJ) today called “one of the most tragic stories in the annals of the emigration movement” played itself out last Tuesday when refusnik Dr. Victoria Poltinnikov hung herself in her Novosibirsk apartment. Officials or a local Hospital where she was recovering from severs malnutrition had made no move to prevent her from walking out.

Her physical state had become self-imposed when she and her mother, Dr. Irma Poltinnikov, were driven to paranoia from seven years of exit denials and government harassments, then refused to believe they had finally received visas in January, and locked themselves in their home. Irma Poltinnikov died of starvation there on Aug. 6. Victoria’s father, Dr. Isaac Poltinnikov, had been unable to either persuade his family to leave with him or convince them he had actually arrived in Israel in May to rejoin his second daughter, Eleanora.

Speaking by phone with the SSSJ and UCSJ, Eleanora Lashed out at the Soviet authorities “who knew what the end would be, but patiently waited for the result.” since her sister and mother’s mental states were “classic textbook cases.” Under “strict Soviet law, “she said, Victoria should have been placed under mental observation as a would-be suicide “Instead, they left her, alone without control and allowed her to leave. She walked out and nobody paid attention. They were apparently glad to see her go. “Several days earlier, seeing that the hospital physicians were ready to discharge her, Novosibirsk activist Felix Kochbiyevsky unsuccessfully pleaded with them to keep her further.

Her voice breaking into sobs, Eleanora said: “All my father and I now have left in Russia are graves. We have no family there to erect a monument. But our monument will be our memory of them. We want everybody in the West who worked for them, wrote to them and visited them, even when they were sick; to have good memories of them and remember them as people who gave their lives to our cause.”

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