Celebrating the Lives of Soviet Women: Rada Nikitichna Adzhubei (1929-2016)
11th August 2017
Rada Nikitichna Adzhubei, daughter of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, died in a hospital in Moscow a year ago on 11 August 2016. Right up to her final illness, Rada Nikitichna continued to live in the spacious apartment in Moscow where she had moved in 1956, just a short walk from Red Square and near to the building that houses the archive of social and political history. I had the good fortune to interview Rada Nikitichna in April 2009, just a few days after her 80th birthday, as part of my Life Stories series. She had been interviewed many times before, but mostly about her father’s political career or her husband’s journalism. Before my interview, there had apparently been little interest in the details of her own life.
Rada Nikitichna was born in Kiev, but soon moved to Moscow with her elder half-siblings as their parents’ political careers progressed. Living in the rather secluded world of the infamous Government House, Rada was witness to the disappearance of some of her high-ranking neighbours during the Great Terror. By the late 1930s, the Khrushchev family, now with a new son (the historian Sergei Khrushchev), had returned to Kiev before being evacuated to Kuibyshev (now Samara) at the outbreak of the Second World War. Like many of her generation, the war was a turning point in this young woman’s life. After the war, Rada Nikitichna studied journalism at Moscow State University and it was here that she met and soon married her husband, Aleksei Ivanovich Adzhubei, who was to become editor-in-chief of Izvestiya. The couple had three sons, the eldest of whom died in 2007.
Rather than journalism, Rada Nikitichna’s real loves were nature, biology and animals, and her working life was spent as editor of the journal Nauka i zhizn’ (Science and Life). She was already a young mother by the time of Stalin’s death in 1953 and had been assisted in childbirth by some of the medics who were caught up in the Doctors’ Plot. Those who survived later became her friends. She identified Khrushchev’s Secret Speech as the biggest deed of his life, a very courageous deed, a heroic deed. De-Stalinisation caused shock waves around the world and left her father open to criticism from left and right. Rada Nikitichna was an active participant at the 1957 World Youth Festival in Moscow, which was an important event for opening up the Soviet Union to the outside world.
Given her family background, Rada Nikitichna had access to many privileges denied to the mass of the Soviet population. Besides access to government cars and special shops, she was able to travel abroad a good deal and was able to visit many countries in the West, where she sometimes met with Russian emigres. After the downfall of her father in 1964, Rada Nikitichna retained her job, but her husband was dismissed from his post and their sons later experienced difficulties in their applications to university. The privileged life soon came to an end.
Rada Nikitichna continued to work for several years after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but conditions became increasingly difficult, not least in sourcing paper to ensure that the journal continued to be published and finding money to pay salaries as circulation figures plummeted. She lived alone following her husband’s death in 1993. Her time in retirement was spent sorting out the family archive, dealing with many requests for documents and interviews, and resting at the family dacha with her pets.
For a more detailed account, see Melanie Ilic, Life Stories of Soviet Women: the Interwar Generation, London: Routledge, 2012, ch. 3.