Tanya Velikanova

My name is Tanya and here’s why. When my mom was pregnant, she was discussing the child’s name with my father, Gueliy Khovanov. They decided that she could choose a boy’s name while he could choose a girl’s name. She wanted me to be Andrey in honor of her half-brother who died in World War II. He wanted me to be Tanya in honor of the unrequited love of his life. In an act of incomprehensible generosity, my mother agreed to name me after this woman. My parents were not even married when I was born.

After the decision was made, I was born on my own Name Day. In Russian culture, different names are celebrated on different dates. The a holiday for Tanyas is especially big and it falls on January 25, the day I was born. This serendipity led me to be very attached to my given name.

When I was a child, I believe that my father introduced me to his love, Tanya, although I do not have any clear memory of her. I doubt they were ever actually together. I do remember how my father loved her all his life. Even today I am sure that his love for Tanya brushed off on me, being her namesake.

I especially remember one day, when I was still a kid, my father agonizing about Tanya and calling to offer her help. My mom grimaced when he offered to babysit her children. My parents were divorced by then, and my father showed no interest in babysitting his own children. Now I understand that watching Tanya’s children was the least he could do. This was happening in 1968 when the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia, and Tanya’s husband, Konstantin Babitsky, was one of the few people in the USSR who risked their lives to openly protest against it. Tanya’s life and freedom were also at risk. Offering any help was the right and only call.

Right before my father died of an illness in 1980, he asked me for one last favor: to tell Tanya that he had died. I was 20 years old and didn’t have a clue how to find her; I only knew that her name was Tanya Velikanova. She was a famous Soviet human rights activist and dissident. That made it dangerous for me and for the people I might ask for assistance.

I finally asked my father’s best friend to do it for me. He said that Tanya was in exile, but promised to pass a message to her. I am not sure he did it and I still feel guilty that I didn’t do it myself before she died.

I forgot to tell you how my dad met the love of his life. They met as teenagers at a math Olympiad, where she beat him.