Slava Aidov with his daughter Marina [left], and wife Lera, 2006.
© Marina Aidova
When the first letter came it was like something from another planet. These letters were a sign that someone cared.
Marina Aidova, 2006
A postcard sent in 1971 by a couple in England to Russian political prisoner Slava Aidov started a 15-year correspondence that has grown into a book and theatre play.
Marina was eight years old in 1971 when she and her mother, Lera, received a postcard from two Amnesty International supporters in England. It simply read, “With love from Newbury, Berks, England. Harold and Olive.”
Marina’s father, Slava Aidov, had been a prisoner in a Soviet labour camp for five years and this unexpected card was proof that “someone cared”.
Slava Aidov was arrested in 1966 for attempting to obtain a printing press and print leaflets denouncing the Soviet regime. He was imprisoned in a labour camp east of Moscow, two days’ train journey from his home in Chisinau in present day Moldova.
Lera and Marina were shunned by neighbours for being associated with a political prisoner, and had their correspondence intercepted by the authorities.
Harold Edwards, a 73-year-old bookseller in Newbury, England, and his wife Olive had learned about Slava’s imprisonment through Amnesty International.
They wrote to each other until the elderly couple died in the mid-1980s. For 15 years after Slava Aidov’s release in 1971 the two families exchanged gifts and wrote about gardening, holidays and families; anything that wouldn’t result in the letters being confiscated.
Marina finally got to visit Harold and Olive’s home in England in 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. “We came to Newbury and walked in their garden, looked at the apple tree and stood where the letters had been written,” she said to Amnesty International in 2006.
A collaboration between Amnesty International, Marina Aidova and journalist Anna Horsbrugh-Porter resulted in a book documenting the families’ friendship. From Newbury With Love was published in 2006 to wide media attention.
In 2010, a cultural exchange took place between the Newbury Youth Theatre group in the UK and a school in Chisinau. This was part of the From Newbury With Love theatre project, which will perform the story at the Corn Exchange, Newbury, to coincide with Amnesty International’s 50th anniversary.