Nearly a decade ago, 24-year-old Elena Kusmenko of East Baltimore returned from a vacation in Moscow to tell her mother this starry-eyed revelation: "I've fallen in love with a Russian."

"And she told me then, 'If you love him, you'll let him go. Because a Russian will never be able to leave,' " Kusmenko said. "Well, I went out to prove her wrong. I just never expected it to take 10 years."

Yesterday, Elena Kusmenko Balovlenkov, now a mother of two who has worked two jobs to make ends meet, celebrated glasnost in Baltimore. Her husband Yuri -- whom she married Dec. 5, 1978, and who has seen one of their children only once -- has received permission from the Soviet Union to emigrate to the United States.

"It's been an incredible 10 years. I don't regret it, but it's been lonely. It's been sad. It's been very frustrating . . . . But I got what I wanted. My husband is coming home," Balovlenkov said in an interview from her home.

Yuri Balovlenkov is 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. Yesterday, the word came officially to his wife: The chief of the Soviet office of visas and registration told U.S. human rights ambassador Richard Schifter that Balovlenkov will be issued Soviet travel documents and a passport.

"I'm flying," Elena Balovlenkov said. "Our ninth wedding anniversary is just two days before the summit {next month in Washington} and I'm sure that had something to do with it."

The couple met on May 1, 1977, the first day that Kusmenko, a Baltimore native, arrived in Moscow on a vacation to see the Ukraine region where her parents were born. By the time her visit ended 15 days later, she, a nurse-clinician, and Balovlenkov, a computer engineer, knew they would keep in touch.

They began a routine of phone calls and letters that today is the only real pattern of marriage they know. After another three-month visit by Kusmenko, the two married. From that day on, the fight for a visa has meant a life apart.

The couple have two children, Katya, 7, and Masha, 4, both conceived during visits by Kusmenko to the Soviet Union. Katya has seen her father once, when she was 2 and he was finishing one of three hunger strikes he has waged in his effort to come to America. Masha has never seen her father.

"The fact is he's never been there to see a dance recital. He's never seen them off to their first day of school. He's never been able to hold them and be with them," Elena Balovlenkov said. "Those are the kinds of things that will never be able to be replaced . . . . There were days I thought: Why are you doing this? But I knew I would not rest until the case was resolved on American soil."

Balovlenkov was effusive in her praise of officials, including Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who announced the decision yesterday at a news conference, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) and former senator Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.), as well as Secretary of State George P. Shultz.

Balovlenkov said she and Mikulski would be urging the Soviet government to send her husband here in time for the couple's wedding anniversary. Yesterday, Balovlenkov was already planning the first morning together: "We'll be in our own home. In control of what happens to us . . . . It'll be so neat just to sit here and have a cup of coffee with him."