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Former President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (1931-2022), was in kinship care as a small child. 

Gorbachev was born into an impoverished peasant family in Privolnoye, a village in the Stravropol region of southern Russia. Like many Russians at the time, the family struggled due to drought, famine, and the brutality of the Stalin regime 

Adobe huts with an earthen floor, and no beds at all: people slept either on planks fixed above the stove or on the pech (the Russian stove), with sheepskin coats or rags for a cover. In winter, the calf would be brought into the hut…In spring, hens and often geese would be brought inside…The worst part was the back-breaking labour (Gorbachev, 29). 

He was first named Victor, but his mother and grandmother, devout Christians, organised for a secret baptism, and the boy was renamed Mikhail. According to biographer William Taubman, from the time he was three, Gorbachev lived with his maternal grandparents rather than his parents. Gorbachev himself says he preferred living with his grandparents. 

I lived mainly with my grandparents until I started going to school. I enjoyed absolute freedom. My grandparents made me feel like the most important member of the family. Try as they would to keep me with my parents, at least for a while, they never succeeded. I was not the only one who was happy with this arrangement; my parents and my grandparents were happy about it, too (Taubman, 28-29). 

Life was difficult at the time because of famine and so, says Taubman, “it made sense for Gorbachev’s parents…to leave him with his doting and relatively well off grandparents.” 

One night, when Gorbachev was about six, his grandfather was arrested and interrogated for fourteen months. He was accused of being the leader of “an underground right-wing Trotskyist revolutionary organisation”. Gorbachev describes this as his “first real trauma” (Taubman, 29). 

Friends and neighbours shunned the family, including the young Gorbachev. People feared association would make them an ‘enemy of the people’ too. When he returned home, Grandfather Gopkalo regaled family and neighbours with stories of what happened. 

Trying to get him to confess, the investigator blinded him with a glaring lamp, beat him unmercifully, broke his arms by squeezing them in the door. When these ‘standard’ tortures provided futile, they invented a new one: they put a wet sheepskin coat on him and sat him on a hot stove (Taubman, 33). 

During WWII the children in Privolnoye had to grow up quickly. The area was deserted of men and German forces occupied the village for over four months. Gorbachev was unable to go to school for two years because he was needed on the farm.   

Gorbachev joined the Komsomol (Young Communist League) in 1946. Then he began working a combine harvester with his father after school at a state farm. He graduated from school four years later at the age of nineteen, then went on to Moscow State University to study law. His education was funded, “but he still had to share a room with 22 others during his first year.” Gorbachev describes university as pivotal for his future career as an administrator and politician. 

While studying at university, Gorbachev met his wife, Raisa; she was studying philosophy. Raisa was his most trusted ally throughout his political career. The couple had a daughter named Irina.  

After university, Gorbachev quickly rose in the ranks of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He became first secretary of the regional party committee in 1970, and a member of the Central Committee in 1971. In 1978, Gorbachev was appointed as appointed party secretary of agriculture.  

Next, Gorbachev served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for six years beginning in 1985. At the time, the Soviet Union was experiencing economic decay and ideological weariness. Gorbachev aimed to create a market-based economy and increase worker productivity. He also promised to increase the efficiency and responsiveness of state bureaucracy and make governance more democratic.  

Gorbachev became President of the Soviet Union in 1990. He helped end the Cold War by withdrawing Soviet troops from East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia and agreeing to the reunification of East and West Germany.  

Gorbachev received the Nobel Prize for Peace for his achievements in international relations in 1990. But his efforts to democratise the Soviet Union were largely unsuccessful due to diplomatic pressure, domestic unrest, and declarations of independence from satellite states.  

For three days between August 19 to 21, 1991, Gorbachev and his family were held under house arrest during a short-lived uprising by Communist hard-liners. Then, Soviet republics formed a new commonwealth under the leadership of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Finally, Gorbachev resigned as President on 25 December 1991. It was the same day the Soviet Union ceased to exist.  

After his resignation, Gorbachev continued to be active in public life. He gave public lectures, and established the Gorbachev Foundation which seeks to contribute to the promotion of democratic values and moral and humanist principles in the development of society.” 

In his later years, Gorbachev became an outspoken critic of Western policies toward Russia and Russia’s NATO involvement. He supported global denuclearization as well as Russia’s annexing Crimea during the Ukraine crisis in 2014.

Gorbachev died on 30 August 2022 at the age of 91 after a long illness. His legacy is mixed. Within Russia, he is blamed for the collapse of the Soviet Union. But elsewhere in the world, he is remembered for his diplomacy.  

His place in history puts him at a crossroads; liberals denounce his reforms as too conservative to be effective, while the conservatives of his time said his agenda posed an immediate threat to the fundamental values of socialism (Moscow Times).


Gorbachev, Mikhaeil. Memoirs. London: Bantam Books, 1995

McCauley, Martin. Gorbachev. London: Longman, 1998 

Mikhail Gorbachev”. Britannica.

Morrison, Donald. Mikhail S. Gorbachev. An Intimate Biography. Time Magazine, 1998.

Taubman, William. Gorbachev. His Life and Times. New York: WW Norton, 2017. 

“On This Day in 1931 Mikhail Gorbachev Was Born.” The Moscow Times, 3 March 2021. 

Zubok, Vladislav M. “Gorbachev’s Disputed Legacy.” Foreign Policy, 30 Aug 2022.

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