'Sense of duty': Litvinenko's widow hopes for answers
The memories still bring tears to Marina Litvinenko's eyes, over eight years after the horrific killing of her former secret agent husband by radiation poisoning under the glare of the world's media.
As a public inquiry into Alexander Litvinenko's death is to begin in London on Tuesday, his widow said her campaign for answers stems from a "sense of duty" to the man she refers to by his diminutive "Sasha".
"This is the last thing I can do for him," Litvinenko told AFP in an interview ahead of the start of the hearings at the Royal Courts of Justice.
She said she is nervous but quietly hopeful that the inquest will reveal what she and her supporters have believed all along -- that Litvinenko was murdered on direct orders from the Russian government.
The inquiry's chairman Robert Owen has said that there is evidence of Russian involvement, and a report in Britain's Daily Telegraph on Saturday said that US National Security Agency intercepts of communications between London and Moscow show exactly that.
Russia has repeatedly rejected the accusations as a "political provocations" by Britain.
"I have to see this through to the end. I have to defend his name and his memory," said the 52-year-old Marina, who fled Moscow with Litvinenko and their son Anatoly via Turkey after it became increasingly clear he would end up in prison.
The courtroom setting carries a painful echo of that time for Marina, reminding her of the Moscow military tribunal that tried and acquitted Litvinenko in 1999 for abuse of power and theft of explosives.
She believes those and other charges were invented to silence her husband after he made allegations about ties between Russia's FSB security service and organised crime, and about an FSB plot to kill the troublesome oligarch Boris Berezovsky -- a former supporter of President Vladimir Putin turned bitter opponent.
- Struggle for facts -
The inquiry was announced by Britain after the downing of a Malaysian passenger jet over eastern Ukraine in July last year. Marina said Russia's implication in that deadly conflict validated her own claims that Moscow wouldn't have had any scruples about murdering an individual opponent like Litvinenko.
"It means that we were right from the start. What we are seeing in Ukraine shows that it is possible that Russia could have ordered the killing," she said.
The fact that there will be an inquest at all is a source of consolation for Marina, since the prospect of a trial of the two men identified by British police as the chief suspects -- Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun -- is beyond remote.
Russia has refused repeated extradition requests issued in 2007 for the pair, and Lugovoi is now a lawmaker in the Russian parliament.
"The key thing is that the evidence gathered by the police will be presented and everyone will be able to see it," she said.
"The discussion will no longer be about whether to believe or not, but about facts. My struggle has been for the facts to be made public."
- 'I can help others' -
Whatever the outcome of the proceedings, which are expected to last two months, Marina said she has little hope of a change of heart in Russia.
She said she bears no resentment of British authorities for delaying the hearing, and does not blame the police for failing to protect Litvinenko, who was being paid as a consultant by Britain's MI6 foreign intelligence service at the time.
"In a country with rule of law, whatever the political situation, whatever the interests affected, your right to justice cannot be stopped," she said.
Marina is unsure what the future will hold once the inquiry is over for her and her son, a second-year politics student in London.
"Will it be an end to this period of my life or will something new beginning? For me it is just important to finally have an official explanation of Sasha's death," she said.
"Maybe these eight years have been torn from my private life... but I think I have gained a lot as a person, a lot of life experience. I know how I can help others."
© 2015 AFP