Home from Home — Italy, Rome

Silvia Castaldi, an Italian friend who hosted Andrei over the years in her home in Rome.


I really do not know where to start from. Perhaps I should begin from the end, from that day, in which me and Andrei crossed the front door of my house in Rome. He was carrying his own luggage, light as usual, while I carried my work bag. It was the 6th of May 2014, and Andrei was leaving after spending a few weeks in Rome, where he waited for Andy Rocchelli’s call before returning to Ukraine. We said goodbye as if we were going to meet the next day. He went to the station to catch a train to Pavia, where he was supposed to meet with Rocchelli, while I went to work like any other day (I work as a teacher).

The last weeks Andrei spent in Rome have been very peculiar. Umberto and I left the town several times during those days towards different destinations, for three to four days each time. For Easter, for the 1st of May… Andrei remained at our place, where he took care of the cats while enjoying Roman spring. Never before had he been doing the “tourist” in Rome; he was often busy, and when he wandered around town he normally visited markets and un-touristic neighbourhoods. This time instead he decided to visit certain places for the first time, among which St Peter. I feel terribly sorry for not taking him with us to Livorno over Easter, at the end of April. It was his last Easter, and he was alone in Rome.

I don’t know whether Andrei ever told you about our family. He knew so many people and had so many affectionate friends.

Umberto and I met him in Bolzano, a town in Northern Italy, during the summer of 2000. He was accompanying Zainap, Libkan and Irena Brezna to receive an award. Our encounter with the two Chechen women and the story they told stimulated us to contact some politicians we knew and to organise a conference on “Chechenia, the hidden war” in Rome, in the month of November 2000. Andrei was also invited to the conference. We got along really well and he stopped at our place for several weeks, using it as a base for his trips around Italy, where he already had several friends. He often went from Rome to Bergamo to spend a few days with the reporter and journalist Giorgio Fornoni, with whom he travelled far and wide, and who has a huge amount of footage with and on Andrei. He also went to visit his friend Giannella in Pisa, and Anna Cataldi in Tuscany. And wherever they called him to speak about Chechenia, Russia and Human Rights, he went.

From then on, Andrei came to visit us every year, except for the period 2009-2012. He stayed with us for several weeks, sometimes even months, like in 2003, after he was attacked and injured. After the hospital in Constance released him, he came to stay at ours for a long period, in order to recover and stay in a safe place. He also was with us in October 2006, when his friend Anna Politkovskaja was killed. I remember his reaction.

During all these year Andrei has told us about his childhood, his militancy with the samizdat, about the gulag and the Chechen wars, about Afghanistan, Putin, Memorial… His teachings were not solely about politics; more importantly they were a message of humanity.

In the evening he told our kids, who at the time were little children, incredible stories about Siberian tigers and huge camels, about political detainees reading serious cultural periodical, all lined up on the gulag’s collective toilets. With an Italian vocabulary that resonated with the books and poetry he read, he created worlds that we would have otherwise never heard of, and with his mildness and courage he taught us about the depth of the human soul. He was for us a fabulous and real at once. A great friend, a great model. We mourn him deeply.

Silvia Castaldi