A new generation of Russian immigrants to America has brought some revealing glimpses of life in the privileged strata of Soviet society. The stories told here all appeared in different form in Novoye Russkoye Slovo ("New Russian Word"), an emigre newspaper published in New York.
IT WAS a balmy summer evening in Leningrad. A Sunday. Along the embankment of the Neva River a floating restaurant called the Crimson Sails was filled to capacity. The patrons were enjoying their wine, vodka, schnitzel and macaroni, and dancing to western-style music.
Directly opposite the restaurant stood the apartment of the first secretary of the Leningrad district party committee, Vasiliy Sergeyevich T. He was home alone that evening, working late, had sent his family off to the country dacha and had given the guard on duty the night off. Suddenly feeling thirsty, he first tried the icebox, then the pantry, but found nothing. With no one around to order about, he would have to take the unprecedented step of walking over to the Crimson Sails himself and buying something to drink.
In virtually all places of entertainment in the Soviet Union a sign reading "no seats available" is posted at the entrance and never removed. Vasiliy Sergeyevich knocked on the glass door but was greeted with an icy stare from the doorkeeper, who pointed to the sign. To Vasiliy's gestures indicating he was terribly thirsty the doorkeeper merely got up and walked away. Unaccustomed to such cavalier treatment from anyone, the first secretary felt his blood pressure starting to rise.
He began banging loudly on the door. Furiously. After several minutes the doorkeeper finally opened up, grabbed Vasiliy Sergeyevich by the collar and cursed him out with a few choice Russian expletives. To the first Secretary's strident shouts of, "Don't you know who I am?", the doorkeeper thundered back that he'd better shove off or end up getting 15 days in the clink for disorderly conduct.
Vasiliy Sergeyevich grabbed the doorkeeper by the sleeve and ordered him to call the manager. But the doorkeeper, a former artilleryman with several combat medals, was unimpressed. "I'll show you who's in charge here," he retorted, and called to someone inside to summon the police. Some pushing and shoving ensued and the patrons began to take notice.
At this point the first secretary lost all patience. He broke away from the crowd, dashed across the street to his office, and in a frenzy picked up his special phone to the chief of the Leningrad police. "You know that joint across from my place?" he gasped. "Within the next 30 minutes it must cease to exist! No, not tomorrow. Right now! So what if it's filled with people? I couldn't care less! Do it any way you like. That's all."
Within the hour a tugboat and two police cutters pulled up to the dock. The lines were cut, the restaurant shook violently, the lights went out, and people went flying in all directions. The Crimson Sails was towed downstream with its dazed passengers and at 1 a.m. arrived at a remote loading dock at the mouth of the river. The passengers and employes, including presumably the bumptious doorkeeper, had to walk all the way back to Leningrad, arriving home about 5 a.m.
A few days later the Leningrad evening newspaper carried the following brief news item:
"At about 11 p.m. Sunday a powerful gust of wind tore the Crimson Sails restaurant from its moorings and sent it drifting downstream. Through the heroic efforts of members of the river milita and shore patrol, the craft was intercepted and brought into port. There were no casualities."
Dr. Vladimir Golyakhovsky, a leading Moscow surgeon before emigrating abroad, gave the following account of an operation performed on Academician Sergey Korolyov, the father of Soviet rocketry, in 1966.
Korolyov had earlier spent years at hard labor in Soviet prison camps, where he has suffered many severe beatings. Complaining of stomach pains, he entered the special sector of the fourth main directorate of the Soviet Ministry of Health -- the Kremlin directorate. The special sector treats only members of the Communist Party Central Committee, plus a few other highly placed individuals.
The chief surgeon of the hospital, Dr. Boris Petrovsky, minister of health of the U.S.S.R., was flattered that the famous Korolyov had come to see him. From the outset he tried to impress the patient with his broad knowledge and his ability to make decisions without consulting anyone else. Accordingly, after examining the pictures he made a superficial and, as it turned out, incorrect diagnosis of the problem, calling it a polyp on the wall of the rectum, correctable by a relatively simple operation which he himself would perform.
But as the operation proceeded Petrovsky realized he had made a serious error. Had he shown the pictures to an experienced proctologist, the latter might have spotted the true problem and advised that a more serious operation was necessary. But now, midway through the procedure, Petrovsky discovered a large, cancerous tumor which had spread to the surrounding tissues and would require a large resection, or removal of many tissues. The only sensible thing to do at this point was to halt the operation, advise the patient of new complications and prepare him for a more complex operation that would be performed several days later.
But Petrovsky was a proud man. In the struggle that went on within him between the surgeon and the bureaucrat, the latter won out. To admit a serious error in such an important case would be too great a humiliation. So, to the astonishment of his assistants, who would not dare contradict the minister of health, he pushed ahead with the operation and disaster struck. Soon a large blood vessel ruptured and severe hemorrhaging began. The situation became critical. Aghast at this unforeseen turn of events, Petrovsky suddenly gave the order, "Send for Vishnevsky immediately."
Dr. Alexander Vishnevsky was Petrovsky's archrival at the hospital. Of them it was said that one wanted to be the first surgeon of the Soviet Union, while the other wanted to be the only surgeon of the Soviet Union. An all-points alert from the Kremlin intercepted Vishnevsky's car on the street and he was rushed to the hospital. On entering the operating room he glared at Petrovsky and walked over to the hemorrhaging patient. A quick examination was all that was needed. In a loud voice for everyone to hear, he solemnly announced, "I do not operate on corpses." And he walked out of the room.
Before long the renowned Korolyov was dead at the age of 59. With proper diagnosis and competent surgery his condition could most probably have been corrected. The Soviet press printed lavish obituaries, citing his outstanding achievements but saying not a word about the bungled operation or his years in the labor camps. And Dr. Petrovsky to this day is the Soviet minister of health and continues to perform operations.
For Gen. Ivan Yershov, chief of staff of the Kiev Military District, things appeared to be going well. A lieutenant (two-star) general in the Soviet army, he was directly in line for promotion to colonel (three-star) general and a transfer to a higher post in Moscow.
But in 1976 a cloud appeared on the general's serene horizon. His daughter, Tanya, and her husband, Edward Lozansky, a physicist at the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, suddenly announced their decision to emigrate from the Soviet Union. Such a moved spelled potential disaster for the general's career and some forceful action was obviously necessary.
Yershov first tried intimidating the young couple, threatening Edward with incarceration in a mental hospital. But when that failed he came up with a different plan. Because of his work at the institute, Edward's chances of receiving permission to emigrate were poor. Yershov proposed the following: The couple would get a paper of divorce, and Yershov would see to it that Edward was allowed to emigrate. That way the general would vindicate himself in the eyes of his superiors and would be able to get his long-awaited promotion. And after that, the general solemnly swore, he would help Tanya and the couple's young daughter to emigrate and the family would be reunited.
Shortly thereafter Edward was summoned to the emigration office and informed that if he would agree to a divorce he would receive an exit visa immediately. Suspecting that all was not as simple as it sounded, Edward categorically rejected the offer. But Tanya, yielding to the pleas and tears of her parents, accepted the plan after her father gave her a written pledge that he would help her rejoin her husband in no more than one year. The couple was then divorced and Edward, with great misgivings, left the Soviet Union, not knowing whether he would ever see his family again. And Gen. Yershov shortly thereafter got his promotion and transfer to Moscow.
Tanya now submitted her application to emigrate and, as required by Soviet law, asked her father for permission to do so. But at this point she learned the bitter truth about the ways of the Soviet system. On receiving her request, her father gave her an emphatic, no." In fact, he ranted and raved and told her to "put such nonsense out of her head" and forget her husband for good. Tanya's daughter was taken away from her and was continually told ugly things about her father. And Gen. Yershov's wife, Tanya's mother, added the revealing comment, "You'll go traveling around Europe while we have to stand in line for potatoes with all those clods." She was, of course, implying that if Tanya were to leave, the general might be cashiered, and it would be goodbye to all those special shops, personal cars and dachas.
So the Lozanskys remain separated to this day. Edward is a professor of physics in Rochester, N.Y., and is continually soliciting support on his wife's behalf. Tanya is still in graduate school in Moscow and the couple communicate regularly by telephone.
And Col. Gen. Yershov has not been idle either. Despairing of changing his daughter's mind, he writes to his former son-in-law in America, telling him crude and unprintable things about Tanya and saying that he deserves a better wife. And to Tanya he sends "documents" collected by Soviet intelligence in America to the effect that Edward is umemployed and spends his days rummaging for food in garbage cans on Broadway. And somehow, at the same time, these "documents" report, he has been living with a rich window whom he recently married.