The world is pausing to celebrate the life of the man who saved the world from World War III some 34 years ago as he dies aged 77.
A former Soviet military colonel dubbed “the Man Who Saved the World” who bravely decided not to start a nuclear war with the United States in 1983, has died aged 77.
Stanislav Petrov kept his courageous decision secret for eight years before it was revealed in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended.
Yet the famously modest former soldier, who was lauded with several international awards and was honoured at the UN, lived in a small town outside Moscow and died in relative obscurity on May 19.
His death only made headlines months later when a German friend wrote a blog post in tribute to him.
In September 1983, Petrov was an officer on duty at a secret command centre south of Moscow when an alarm went off signalling that the US had launched nuke-carrying intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The officer – who had only a few minutes to make a decision and was not sure about the incoming data – dismissed the warning as a false alarm.
Had he told his commanders of an imminent US nuclear strike, the Soviet leadership – locked in an arms race with Washington – might have ordered a retaliatory strike.
Instead the 44-year-old lieutenant colonel reported a system malfunction and an investigation that followed afterwards proved he was right.
Petrov came home only several days later but did not tell his wife or family about what had happened.
“He came home knackered but did not tell us anything,” his son Dmitry said.
Several months later Petrov received an award “for services to the Fatherland” but the incident at the control centre was kept secret for many years.
In 1984, he left the military and settled in the town of Fryazino around 12 miles northeast of Moscow.
Petrov’s story only came to light after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and over the years he became the subject of numerous media reports in Russia and abroad.
A self-effacing man, Petrov never thought of himself as a hero, according to his son.
“My father could not have cared less. He was always surprised that people were making a hero out of him,” he said.
“He simply did his job well,” Petrov’s son said, adding that his father received hundreds of letters from Europeans thanking him for averting the outbreak of a nuclear war.
“The Man Who Saved the World”, a documentary film directed by Danish filmmaker Peter Anthony and narrated by US actor Kevin Costner, was released in 2014.
Footage of the elderly Petrov is combined with re-enactments of what happened at that secret control centre in 1983.
“I categorically refused to be guilty of starting World War III,” Petrov said in the film.
“I felt like I was being led to an execution,” he said of those dramatic moments.