They waited nine years for this moment and Elena Kusmenko Balovlenkov of Baltimore couldn't help but dance a little jig as she introduced her Soviet husband Yuri to his new homeland late yesterday at Dulles International Airport.
"We made it," she said, as the couple and their two young daughters greeted more than 100 well-wishers.
For nine years, Yuri Balovlenkov, a computer engineer, had been repeatedly denied permission to join his American wife. But the refusenik, who conducted several hunger strikes, was finally allowed to leave in what was widely regarded as a Soviet gesture of good will on the eve of the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meeting here next week.
"I feel like a soldier at the first hours of the war," he said in halting English, looking tired and slightly dazed by a battery of TV cameras, "Thank God I got out." He smiled and clutched a bouquet of red and white carnations.
The couple's two children were conceived during visits by Elena Balovlenkov to the Soviet Union. The oldest, Katya, 7, had seen her father only once, when she was 2 and he had just ended a hunger strike he attempted in his fight for freedom. Elena Balovlenkov, a nurse, has held two jobs to raise her children.
Yesterday Yuri Balovlenkov grinned and his eyes filled with tears as he held 4-year-old Masha, whom he had never seen. "She's very nice," he said. "I like her."
Asked who he credited most for his journey to America, he quickly said: "My wife and I."
Elena Balovlenkov had been fighting through diplomatic channels to have her husband, whom she met on a 1977 visit to the Soviet Union, emigrate to the United States. Yuri Balovlenkov was one of a group of Soviet spouses who appealed to the Supreme Soviet, the nation's parliament, to review repeated rejections from the visa office. Last month the chief of the Soviet office of visas and registration told U.S. human rights ambassador Richard Schifter that Balovlenkov would be issued Soviet travel documents and a passport.
The two met yesterday in the Immigration and Naturalization Department at the airport before meeting with the news media.
Balovlenkov and his wife had received official word last week that the long wait would be over within days. His papers from the U.S. Embassy and the Soviet office were issued Tuesday and Wednesday. Elena Balovlenkov, with help from the office of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), bought him a one-way ticket from Moscow to Frankfurt to Washington.
"We had to work on that," said Garth Neuffer, Mikulski's press secretary. "Because of the summit, all the flights from Moscow are packed."
Mikulski, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and Reps. Steny H. Hoyer and Benjamin L. Cardin, all Maryland Democrats, greeted the Balovlenkovs with an American flag and flowers. Each praised the couple's perseverance but cautioned against unabated celebration. At least 10 other couples in the United States and the Soviet Union are still trying to resolve their destinies, they said.
"This is one small victory," Hoyer said. He added, "But we must remember the many victories that hopefully are to come."
Elena Balovlenkov added: "The same day we got permission, other people were refused . . . please don't forget these people."
Elena Kusmenko and Balovlenkov met on May 1, 1977, the first day that Kusmenko, a Baltimore native of Ukrainian descent, arrived in Moscow for vacation. When her visit ended 15 days later, the two agreed to correspond.
That correspondence developed into a relationship built on phone calls, intermittent visits and, eventually, marriage on Dec. 5, 1978. And from that day began a frustrating fight for a visa, and one that the couple believes has only ended because of the U.S.-Soviet summit scheduled to begin next Tuesday.
"Our anniversary is just two days before the summit and I'm sure that had something to do with it," Elena Balovlenkov said at the time she heard of her husband's release.
Elena Balovlenkov said yesterday that she will host a reception at her home for family members. "And after that, we're closing the door and going to be a family."