MOSCOW, DEC. 16 -- For years, Natalya Martynova could not bear to browse through the photographs depicting her contented family life in Alexandria, Va. They reminded her too painfully of her husband, who had led a spy's double and perhaps triple life while working in the Soviet Embassy in Washington -- and who had been executed after their return to Moscow in 1985.
"Those were the best years of my life," Martynova recalled in an interview today. "I could not look at that happy face and wonder who was that happy woman."
But when veteran counterintelligence officer Aldrich H. Ames was arrested last February and was revealed as a KGB mole who had betrayed many American agents, Martynova decided to confront her past. For among the 10 or more Russians whose deaths Ames allegedly caused with his secret revelations was her husband, Valery Martynov, who was 41 years old when a firing squad gunned him down on May 28, 1987.
Ames has been sentenced to life in prison, and his treason, greed and indiscretions have all been amply described. But until now, the fate of his alleged victims and their families has remained in the shadows. In her interview today, Martynova, now 48 and a librarian in Moscow, described in poignant detail the shattering of her family's life, the troubles and poverty she faced as a traitor's widow in the Soviet Union and the pain she and her children -- a son, now 24, and a daughter, 17 -- still carry with them.
"My daughter is a grown-up girl now, but she is still crying for him," Martynova said in softly accented English. "If there is a second life, I think he is very satisfied, because she still loves him very much."
Martynova herself has not remarried -- she is "a woman of single love," she said -- and still carries with her the shock and bewilderment she felt when she was lured out of Washington nine years ago to Moscow and Lefortovo prison.
"I still have much fear," she said, "and I will go to the grave with this feeling."
But last summer, after Ames's arrest had brought her husband's name into the public arena, Martynova summoned up her courage and telephoned the U.S. Embassy here to inquire whether her children might be entitled to U.S. government assistance. The American with whom she talked promised to call back that day, but Martynova so far has heard nothing.
"If he was really working for them, I think some kind of help would be fair," she said today. "Of course, maybe it was all concocted here, and he was not working for the Americans. I am sure I will never know the truth... . The main thing is that I want my children to be somehow protected."
The Martynov family arrived in Washington on Nov. 4, 1980 -- the day of Ronald Reagan's first election as president, Martynova recalled. Martynov was nominally assigned to the cultural section of the Soviet Embassy, she said. In fact, with a sophisticated background in science, he was working for the KGB's division of technological espionage -- "Line X," as it was known.
Martynova knew that her husband worked for the KGB, but that did not prevent the family from living a fairly normal and happy life in the Hamlet North subdivision of Alexandria, she said. Together, they traveled -- to Annapolis, to Philadelphia, "of course, to New York" -- and she loved the United States, she said.
If her husband was working for the FBI, she was unaware of it, she says now. Nor can she imagine what his motive might have been. She never saw extra money, and while her husband criticized the Soviet system, so did everybody else in those days, she said. "There was nothing unusual about it," she said.
In 1985, Martynov was instructed to return to Moscow, accompanying Vitaly Yurchenko, a KGB agent who had defected to the United States and then, in a bizarre incident, re-defected back to the Russians. In a separate interview this week with Natalya Gevorkyan, a reporter with Moscow News, Martynova recalled that she thought the assignment somewhat strange, since her husband's KGB work ordinarily would not have called for such "special-flight" duty.
Still, she thought no more of it, and her husband too left home without any apparent worries, donning his fur hat and giving her a jaunty wave. That was the last time Martynov's daughter, then 8, would see her father. It was the last time anyone in the family would see Martynov free.
Ten days later, Martynova received a note from her husband saying he had reinjured a bum knee while carrying luggage, was laid up in the hospital and wanted her and the children to join him in Moscow. In those days, she said, telephone contact was rare, and she flew out of Washington without further ado.
Only later, she said, did she realize that some of the wording of the note -- "Sheremetevo Airport" instead of simply "Sheremetevo" -- was bureaucratic and artificial, and that the note must have been dictated to him.
Once she landed back on Soviet territory, it did not take long for her to realize there was serious trouble. Officials at the airport whisked her children away to her mother's apartment and took her directly to Lefortovo prison for questioning.
At first, the KGB did not reveal what crimes they were alleging her husband had committed; Martynova thought perhaps he was under suspicion of bringing cassette players or other things back from America and selling them. Soon, however, she learned that the charge would be high treason against the motherland.
Martynova was interrogated repeatedly but never was held overnight in jail. During the next two years, before and after her husband's sentencing, she was allowed to see him four times. Each time, he looked older and more despairing, she said.
Their visits were monitored, and they were not allowed to discuss the case. Still, Martynov gave her to understand that she too was under suspicion -- and that he still hoped the death sentence would not be carried out.
But she sensed that the fourth visit would be the last, and she brought her son but not, after much soul-searching, her daughter. "I think I was right, because she still remembers him happy," Martynova said today. "Prison had changed him a great deal."
She did not learn of her husband's execution until nine days after it took place. Authorities had misaddressed the notice.
By then, Martynova, who has a degree from one of Moscow's most prestigious colleges, was working as a sorter in a post office, considered one of the lowliest jobs here. She worked from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every other day, a convenient schedule, she said, because it allowed for KGB interrogations on nonworking days. No one else would hire the wife, and then widow, of a traitor.
Despite the hardships, she said, her children did not suffer as they would have in Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's time. Her son was permitted to earn an engineering degree and has recently started work at an institute. Her daughter too continued her education.
In 1990, with the changing political climate here, Martynova managed to move to her current position as librarian, a job that she loves and that pays well enough, she said. Her daughter, who was the apple of her father's eye, still has trouble talking about his fate. But these days, they can manage to look at their Alexandria photo albums "and have pleasant thoughts," Martynova said.
To this day, Martynova said, she does not know what her husband may have done and what Ames told the KGB about him.
But she said that she believes her children deserve some answers. "If he did not work for America, why was he shot?" she asked. "And if he did do something for America, why has America turned its back on him?"
As for Ames, whom she said she never met and never heard of until his arrest, Martynova said she has "very sad feelings."
"He betrayed my husband, and my husband was executed simply because of Ames," she said today. "Of course, he knew what would be the end result, and if he says now he did not know, he lies."
Ames's attempts to absolve himself by saying that all agents knew they were playing a risky game are "very convenient," Martynova said, but also somewhat justified.
"You should not deal with these organizations -- I mean both American and Russian," she said. "Because you can be sold very quickly to the other side."