Russian poet Bella Akhmadulina dies at 73

Poet Bella Akhmadulina, whose verses have been described as one of the best in contemporary Russian literature, has died. She was 73.

Akhmadulina died Monday at her home in Peredelkino just outside the capital, the Moscow Writers Union said. Her husband Boris Meserer told the ITAR-Tass news agency that she died of a heart condition.

Akhmadulina published her first poems in 1955 and quickly won nationwide popularity. Her poetry was praised for its depth and bold use of metaphor. Nobel Prize winner Joseph Brodsky once described her verses as a "treasure of Russian poetry" and placed her above other poets of her generation.

In the 1960s, Akhmadulina and other poets drew large audiences striving for intellectual freedom in the brief thaw that followed Stalin's death. Her books of poems included "The String," ''Fever," ''The Candle," ''Dreams of Georgia," ''The Secret" and many others.

Akhmadulina often challenged Soviet authorities by defending poets, writers and others who were facing official persecution. She took part in the Metropol literary almanac that was published abroad in 1979 and angered the Soviet government. She published an open letter in support of dissident physicist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov when the Soviet government sent him into an internal exile.

Akhmadulina's first husband Yevgeny Yevtushenko, also a prominent Russian poet, said on Rossiya 24 television that she was an example of "civic nobleness." ''She fearlessly defended all those who were in trouble," he said.

President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered their condolences. In his blog, Medvedev said that Akhmadulina's death was an "irreparable loss" and described her poetry as "classic of Russian literature."

Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.