The death of former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev took me back to my travels to several Eastern European countries that he helped liberate from Communist rule. I made many friends as I traveled in the old Communist East,and they have remained close. They are friends who were brave enough to defy government restrictions.

In East Germany, the Stasi secret police kept an eye out for Germans befriending foreigners from the West, and so I was a suspect traveler. After the Berlin Wall came down, I discovered I had my own Stasi file. One of the friends I made then is Heiki Grosser from Erfurt, in the old East. Next week, she comes for a first visit to the Vineyard.

My first visit to the East was in 1957, five years after Hungary had become a Communist country. Hungarians had put up a brief, valiant fight against Communism, but it was crushed by an invasion of Russian tanks. Thousands were killed and thousands more fled the country in the way that Ukrainians are now fleeing Soviet Premier Vladimir Putin’s army’s advances.

My train compartment companions then would whisper to me: “Why did you Americans fail us when we needed you so badly?”

At least this time we are helping Ukrainians.

In 1961, six months after the Berlin Wall was erected, I crossed to the East through Checkpoint Charlie. I was en route to Czechoslovakia, to visit a longtime friend of the late Ann Lesnikowski of Vineyard Haven. Ann and her friend, also an American, had worked together at the publication UN World.

In later years, I traveled all over East Germany. My first long trip was in 1983 to write about the 400th anniversary of the birth of the father of Protestantism Martin Luther. I visited Eisenach then, where Luther was kept in protective custody in a castle for nine months. There I met Karla, a German Democratic Republic railroad employee, and the mother in law of an East German army officer. She was a determined anti-Communist and from then on, whenever I visited her country, she would not be dissuaded from traveling with me.

In Prague I stood in the Old Town Square and watched the figures of the astronomical clock — a skeleton, a procession of the apostles, a turbaned Turk and a rooster — parade by whenever the hour struck. I cooled off with Czech beer and went to the snowy ski slopes of the High Tatra Mountains.

In Poland’s Warsaw, an English-speaking journalist took me everywhere and gave me a place to sleep. She told me how, after the near-total destruction of Warsaw by the Nazis, proud Poles had contributed their savings to restore the facades of their capital’s buildings.

In Romania, I befriended the granddaughter of the man who had been prime minister of King Carol, Romania’s last royal ruler.

In Bulgaria, I was in the Valley of the Roses at harvesting time, when the air is filled with the fragrance or roses.

In the Soviet Union, I visited Moscow to see old friends, Nicholas and Ruth Daniloff. Nick, an American and a foreign correspondent, was later arrested and jailed on false espionage charges just before he was scheduled to return home. Happily, President Ronald Reagan was able to quickly negotiate his release.

Now living in Cambridge, the Daniloffs have been frequent Vineyard visitors. They told me they are somewhat ambivalent about Gorbachev. They listen quietly and read with interest the accolades that have been bestowed on him since his recent death. They point out, however, that the people of the Soviet Union suffered considerably from food shortages when he became the head of the government.

But for Ukraine’s sake and all Europe’s sake, I would wish that Gorbachev was in the Kremlin now.