CENTREVILLE, MD. -- Lyuda Shalyminol said it was a bad sign to shake hands over the top of a fence.

With that in mind, or possibly in the spirit of glasnost, or openness, Oleg Sokolov, minister of the Soviet Embassy in Washington, allowed a reporter and photographer into the Soviet compound here to take a look around and to talk with any Soviets strolling about.

The compound is on about 50 acres at Pioneer Point, a peninsula where the Corsica and Chester rivers meet. Since it was built in the early 1970s as a resort for Soviets living in the United States, rumors have circulated among Queen Anne's County residents as to what goes on inside the compound.

Before Sept. 5, the Soviets had not taken many opportunities to dispel those rumors. A tall, chain-link fence forms a horseshoe-shaped barrier to anyone attempting to get inside, and the water closes the end of the horseshoe. Video cameras monitor the gates.

On at least two occasions, buildings at the compound have caught fire and burned beyond repair while local firefighters were held up outside.

"We have nothing to hide here," Sokolov said with a wave of the tennis racket he held in his hand. "We have a good recreational facility here."

Sitting on the court and wearing a headband and white tennis shorts, Sokolov looked like the quintessential country clubber inviting a visitor to become a member. He speaks fluent English and can smoothly turn from a conversation on Dostoevsky to a topic as mundane as the local weather, which he compared with that in southern Russia.

"We like it here," Sokolov said. "You have a very nice area for fishing."

Vasily Shalyminol, Lyuda Shalyminol's husband and one of the groundskeepers at Pioneer Point, agreed that the fishing is good.

"Krabiruyu," he also conceded, using a verb found not in Romanov's paperback Russian-English dictionary but easily translated as: "I go crabbing."

Earlier, three Soviet Embassy employes were spotted in a rowboat 200 yards off Pioneer Point. All three were smoking cigarettes, and one was knocking down a Miller beer.

One of the men, who identified himself as Yevgeny, said they were here to play a soccer match the next day.

"Tomorrow we have a game," Yevgeny said. "We have a tournament with the International Monetary Fund. They have a beautiful team. But this year, God knows who will win."

All in all, though, only about 20 Soviets were enjoying the resort on that Saturday of the Labor Day weekend.

"We don't have too many people here this weekend," Sokolov said, "because it is still vacation time."

Lyuda Shalyminol said that sometimes as many as 100 people show up.

A tour of the place revealed a half-dozen or so A-frame bungalows -- some painted lime-green or pink -- on a freshly mowed lawn behind the ivy-covered fence. Most of the bungalows were empty and locked, and Vasily Shalyminol would not permit visitors to go inside the inhabited ones.

"They come here to relax," he said. "Not to be interrupted."

A glance through screened windows and open doors disclosed simple, clean rooms uncluttered with large furniture. Kitchenware on one table was without ornate patterns, and the walls were for the most part unadorned.

Near the shore stand two brick mansions, which were part of estates previously owned by a developer. The mansions were built by John Jacob Raskob, financier of the Empire State Building.

Since the Soviets took over the estates in the early 1970s, they have added bits and pieces to the buildings, the architectural style of which can be described only as eclectic.

Well-shaded and hedged-in roads -- some paved, some not -- crisscross the compound to connect the tennis courts, the soccer field, the bungalows, various metal and brick buildings, playgrounds, the groundskeepers' quarters, the pool, a small beach and the pier.

There were no armed guards, large antennas or radar dishes in sight.

Vasily Shalyminol said the long metal building near the end of the pier is used to show films to the Soviet children when they attend school at the resort.

Shalyminol's daughter Tanya was one of the few children there. She spent most of her time on a small, blue bicycle, but she volunteered the information that she was born in Moscow, is 5 years old and has at least 10 friends. "We play anything," she said.