Rhona Branson, 29, came from Kiev, while her friend Sue Parminter, 26, was arriving from Minsk.

The two British teachers had heeded the advice of their embassy and decided to spend the May Day holiday in Moscow, away from the uncertainty and possible hazards of life in the regions surrounding the crippled Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

They had been told to wash their clothes as soon as they arrived in a friend's Moscow apartment. But before they did, they had them tested for radiation today at the American Embassy, and were told that the levels were slightly higher than normal for Moscow.

"But," said Parminter, "it is difficult to say what that means."

Eager to get back to their jobs teaching English but delighted to be together and with friends here, both Branson and Parminter were worn out from the last four days. Their hostels had been inundated with calls from the embassy and western journalists, and each time they rang, they had had to troop down flights of stairs to talk on the hostels' only phones.

The two teachers arrived here confused and skeptical. Like the foreign students who also arrived today in groups from both Minsk and Kiev, the women felt they had been caught between two systems, two journalistic traditions and two versions of events.

"There was no concern at all in Kiev," said Branson. "I got such abuse for leaving, my Soviet friends there couldn't understand why. They thought the western stuff on the Voice of America and the others was grossly exaggerated."

Parminter found the same chasm between what she was hearing from her embassy in Moscow and what people thought in Minsk on the basis of the meager news bulletins on Soviet television.

"I came off the phone with Moscow [on Tuesday] when they told me, shaking and thinking, oh, my God, when a Soviet teacher came up and wished me a nice [May Day] holiday. It took me a while to realize people there were really not worried," she said.

"The attitude there is that it is political," she said. "But then again, friends said if I found out anything in Moscow, to let them know."