Soviet immigrant creates food airlift Owners of 2 firms in state help artist get food into Russia.

April 23, 1991|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,Evening Sun Staff

Yankel Ginzburg was 12 years old in 1957, when he and his family fled the Soviet Union.

Things were bad in his native country then. But when he returned for the first time last November, he found things worse than he remembered.

At 46, having immigrated first to Israel then to the United States, Ginzburg was returning as a prosperous and noted painter and sculptor.

His artwork -- mostly bright oil abstracts on canvas and post modern sculptures shaped from molded plastics -- have been exhibited here and in Israel. Now a U.S. citizen, he works from a studio in Chevy Chase.

The purpose of the Soviet trip was to prepare for an upcoming exhibit of his work in Moscow. But what he saw there, he said, moved him beyond what he expected.

"I was struck by the people on the street," Ginzburg said last week, recalling his trip back to the Soviet Union. "Nobody is happy. Nobody is smiling.

"The shortages of food were embarrassing to the officials, but they were painful to me," Ginzburg added.

When he returned to the United States, Ginzburg said, he approached a friend, Herbert H. Haft, chairman and chief executive officer of the Dart Group Corp., the Landover company that owns Crown Books and Trak Auto. Haft, who has long been interested in the Soviet Union, helped Ginzburg set into motion an airlift of food.

Ginzburg said Haft introduced him to Benjy Green and Martin Brill, two executives at B. Green & Co. Inc., the Baltimore wholesale food distributor.

Green subsequently donated $25,000 worth of canned and packaged foods, culling volunteers from its work force last week to package the goods for shipment. The 1,500 cases included vitamins and food such as dried milk, coffee, cocoa, sugar, coffee, sausage, flour, rice, soup, fruit and potatoes.

The shipment is to be flown to the Soviet Union yesterday, to be distributed with the help of Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian Republic, and the Renaissance Foundation, a conglomerate of Soviet charity organizations.

Ginzburg, who along with Haft flew to Moscow on Saturday, said the shipment will be divided into three parts -- the first to be distributed to an orphanage in the outskirts of the capital, the second to a retirement community in the city and the third in Ginzburg's hometown of Kalinin, north of Moscow.

The third shipment keeps a promise Ginzburg said he made last November.

While in Kalinin, a city of about 400,000, he visited his old neighborhood and 28 relatives he hadn't seen since he was a boy.

"I took them to a hall, and I stood up and told them how proud I was to rediscover my relatives," Ginzburg said. "And I told them I would not abandon them and I would try as hard as I could to improve their lot.

Ginzburg said that loudspeakers will call residents from his neighborhood in Kalinin out of their homes to pick up the food packages.

Said Ginzburg about the prospects of helping his hometown, "I will feel pretty good."

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