Natan Sharansky is star of the show as film premieres at BAFTA

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Natan Sharansky is star of the show as film premieres at BAFTA

The screening of ‘From Slavery to Freedom – the Refusenik Story’ was hosted in the centre of London ahead of its showing at the Jewish film festival in London

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Natan Sharansky, the film's protagonist (L) in conversation with Mark Regev, Israel's Ambassador to the United Kingdom (R) at BAFTA. (C) Blake Ezra Photography 2019
Natan Sharansky, the film's protagonist (L) in conversation with Mark Regev, Israel's Ambassador to the United Kingdom (R) at BAFTA. (C) Blake Ezra Photography 2019

Natan Sharansky was the A-lister at BAFTA in Piccadilly on Tuesday night as a packed house watched the London premiere of a documentary film about the Soviet refusenik then heard him recall his struggle in a Q&A.

The screening of ‘From Slavery to Freedom – the Refusenik Story’ was hosted by Mikhail Fridman and the Genesis Philanthropy Group (GPG), ahead of the film’s showing at the Jewish film festival in London and beyond.

A GPG co-founder and trustee, Fridman said he said heard of Sharansky – then known as Anatoliy Sharansky – when he was 13 years old, and described the diminutive freedom fighter as “a true Jewish hero”.

Describing the diminutive freedom fighter, Fridman said: “I didn’t know about politics, but I kept hearing his name everywhere. In my perception he was this huge colossus person fighting to destroy the Soviet system, a really dangerous guy.”

The film portrays the fraught efforts of Jewish refuseniks to force the Soviet regime to allow them to leave for Israel, covering Sharansky’s nine-year imprisonment and the monumental efforts of his wife Avital to free him.

Asked by Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev in the follow-up Q&A how he retained his sanity in solitary confinement, Sharansky made the audience laugh by recalling how his love of chess played a vital role.

“Once I wanted to be world champion at chess,” he said. “It didn’t happen but I learned how to play without looking at the board. In solitary confinement I played tens of thousands of games. I won all of them and I was world champion.”

The film touched on criticism of the Israeli state for not doing enough to help Sharansky and other imprisoned Jews because it wanted to build relations with the Soviets, but Sharansky told the audience that Israeli leaders did much more quietly.

He also spoke warmly of meeting Margaret Thatcher, whose funeral he attended in 2013. “She was one of the few leaders of the free world who knew how to speak to the Soviet Union,” he said, comparing her approach to the counterproductive description of the USSR as an “evil empire” by US President Ronald Reagan.

“At the very critical moments [of the refuseniks’ struggle] Thatcher met Avital. For those of you who never had the pleasure, she doesn’t let you say a word! You spend the whole hour [with her talking] and at the end she says what a great meeting it was but you didn’t say anything!”

But, he added: “The next day, she does everything that you wanted. She called the Soviet ambassador, condemns in the strongest possible way, tells him ‘don’t expect our delegation to come if this continues’… So, she was doing all the right things. She wasn’t listening, but she was doing all the right things.”

Following the event, GPG chief executive Ilia Salita said: “The story of the struggle for Soviet Jewry’s freedom should never be forgotten. Like no other period in Jewish history, it represents the critical importance of global Jewish communities standing united and working together to achieve the seemingly impossible”

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: