Roza Sakhina lived through the Russian Revolution, Stalin’s terror and survived the 872-day siege of Leningrad during World War II before she landed in St. Paul in 1991. At 101, she still went on daily walks — even in the winter — in her Highland Park neighborhood.
“She lived on her own with very minimal help,” said her grandson Ilya Finkelshteyn. “Walked every day. Cooked for herself. Read lots.”
On one of her walks last Friday, a St. Paul police squad car backed into her as she crossed the street. Sakhina died Wednesday from the injuries she sustained in that accident, having never regained consciousness after arriving at Regions Hospital, according to her grandson.
Police have released few details of the accident, citing a continuing investigation, and declined to name the officer involved.
Sgt. Paul Paulos, a police spokesman, said Thursday the officer was in the 800 block of S. Cleveland Avenue for a juvenile disturbance call when the accident occurred. The officer was backing up the squad car when it “either nudged or bumped” Sakhina, Paulos said.
“She [fell] to the ground,” he said. “At that time, we didn’t know how serious the injuries would be.”
Paulos said the officer was not heading to another call when Sakhina was struck.
The Ramsey County medical examiner’s office has not released the cause of Sakhina’s death.
Finkelshteyn said his grandmother suffered a skull fracture, rib fracture, internal bleeding and “quite a bit of bruising.”
Sakhina lived for years at the public housing high-rise at 899 S. Cleveland Av. A woman who lives in an apartment complex across the street said Sakhina, whom she described as under 5 feet tall, was struck by the police SUV in the early afternoon.
Sue Chicone’s apartment overlooks the accident scene. Chicone said she saw the SUV, parked at an angle to the sidewalk on the east side of Cleveland, back into Sakhina as she crossed the middle of the street. Sakhina was crossing west to east with the aid of a walker, her high-rise behind her and Chicone’s apartment complex in front of her.
Four other police squads were parked parallel to the sidewalk.
“Her head was gushing, gushing blood,” Chicone said.
Sakhina struggled to get up, but another elderly woman comforted her and encouraged her to lie down, said Chicone.
Police said the officer involved was placed on standard three-day paid administrative leave. The officer’s name will likely be released Friday, Paulos said. Police will investigate the accident and forward it to the Ramsey County attorney’s office to review possible charges.
“We’re putting together a full investigation,” Paulos said.
Finkelshteyn said he didn’t want to address the officer’s actions in his grandmother’s case.
“I’d prefer not to comment, except to say everyone in the family is stricken with grief,” he said.
Friends said Sakhina was kind, healthy and “way sharp.”
“She would always give me a hug and tell me, ‘I love you,’ ” said Charlene Jerue. “I’m going to miss that.”
Jerue said Sakhina rarely crossed the street on her daily walks, and it’s unclear why she did on Aug. 16.
Nina Gabay, 84, said Sakhina was like a mother to her, and was crucial in helping her cope with her husband’s death in 1999.
“Every time I had problems, I liked to go to see Roza and talk to her,” Gabay said through a translator. “I always felt better after talking to Roza.”
Sakhina immigrated to St. Paul from St. Petersburg, Russia, where she had worked as an accountant at a chocolate factory, a volunteer nurse and an accountant at a hospital. Her husband died in 1960, and two grandchildren had immigrated earlier to Minnesota. She is survived by one son, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A second son preceded her in death.
She studied hard for her U.S. citizenship test and passed it in the late 1990s without the aid of a translator, Finkelshteyn said.
“She was very happy to be here, and she loved the state,” he said.