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Sergei Kovalev, Longtime Kremlin Adversary, Dies at 91

Sergei Kovalev, Longtime Kremlin Adversary, Dies at 91

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Sergei Adamovich Kovalev was born on March 2, 1930, in Seredina Buda in northeastern Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. When he was 2, the family moved to the Podlipki district near Moscow.

His father, Adam Adamovich Kovalev, had been a midlevel railroad bureaucrat in Belarus, and his mother, Irena Ivanovna Makarenko, had studied medicine in Kyiv before returning home to nurse a sick mother. He had an elder brother, Yuri Adamovich Kovalev.

His parents sought to implant “the practice of silence and acquiescence” instilled in many Soviet citizens by Stalinist purges, according to Emma Gilligan, an Australian scholar and author of “Defending Human Rights in Russia,” a detailed 2009 biographical study.

Yet even in his teenage years, he argued with his teachers about supposed constitutional guarantees of free speech, Ms. Gilligan said, foreshadowing “the fastidious personality and encyclopedic approach to problems” that would later suffuse his work as an editor of the most important clandestine human rights journal of his time.

He studied physiology at Moscow State University from 1951 to 1959, a period that straddled Stalin’s death in 1953 and the thaw in the Kremlin’s harsh regime under Nikita S. Khrushchev.

In 1956, Mr. Kovalev was the co-author with other students of a letter refuting the theory of genetics endorsed by the authorities, a challenge that brought a foretaste of K.G.B. pressure. During his interrogation, Ms. Gilligan wrote, K.G.B. agents issued veiled threats against Ivan Kovalev — who was then 2 — his son with his first wife, Elena Viktorovna Tokareva.

Mr. Kovalev met his second wife, Ludmilla Iur’evna Boitseva, a senior laboratory assistant, in the 1960s. They had one daughter, Varvara.

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