Immigrants worry over those left behind Many see reforms slipping away

August 20, 1991|By Jean Marbella Sun reporter Patricia Meisol contributed to this article.

They left the Soviet Union for different reasons and during different years, but now their fears are similar: The overthrow of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, said a number of local immigrants, may signal a return in that country to the repression they escaped.

From Ukrainians and Lithuanians who have lived in the Baltimore area for generations to Soviet Jews who settled here more recently, people with ties to the Soviet Union spent much of yesterday trying to call relatives in their troubled homeland and worrying that the freedoms of the Gorbachev era may be over.

PTC "It's very scary. When we left 12 years ago, they made us sign papers saying we were traitors. They took our citizenship away. But since Gorbachev came in power, he let us come back," said Nelly Solovyovsky, who was able to return to her homeland two years ago for the first time since she left in 1979. "Now, I don't think we will have that opportunity for Russian immigrants to go back and forth."

At Ms. Solovyovsky's store, the International Food Market on Reisterstown Road, business was a little slow yesterday, but the talk was animated.

Russian immigrants, who make up about 90 percent of the clientele, spoke of their fears for relatives still over there. Americans asked Ms. Solovyovsky and her sister, Lisa Rudyak, about their families. The sisters have not been able to get calls through to their relatives since the trouble began.

Their emotions were close to the surface yesterday. Ms. Solovyovsky started crying, she said, when a customer told her that her son, who was scheduled to leave the Soviet Union shortly, might not be able to because of the coup.

"Everybody has a part of themselves in Russia," said Ms. Rudyak. "It's our past."

The sisters are among the growing population of Soviet Jews who left the country because of religious persecution. Others around Baltimore left the Soviet Union for political rather than religious reasons. Yet they, too, feared the takeover of the government by the hard-liners.

"The world knows what Stalin did," said Aldona Buda, who left Lithuania with her family 42 years ago because of their fear of communism. "It is happening again. I think there is going to be bloodshed."

Ms. Buda is manager of the Lithuanian Hall in Baltimore, a culturalorganization that represents many of the estimated 25,000 to 40,000 Lithuanians in the area.

She was awakened at 2 a.m. yesterday by a cousin from Lithuania who had visited her in Baltimore, then left Saturday for California. "He said, 'My God, what am I going to do?' " Ms. Buda said. "I am not going to let him go back there."

Baltimore's sizable Ukrainian population also spent the day worrying about relatives still there.

"There's an awful lot of concern and frustration," said the Rev. Uriy Markewich, pastor of St. Michael's Ukrainian Church, a 450-member parish that is erecting a new, golden-domed church on Eastern Avenue. "All our hopes for independence have been --ed, or postponed indefinitely."

Other immigrants said they feared losing some of the gains of glasnost and perestroika now that Mr. Gorbachev was out of power.

"There was a fundamental trust established between the people of the Soviet Union and the people of America. This just blasts so many good things away," said Irina Barshay, a Ukrainian immigrant. Her Waverly restaurant and catering service, Unlimited Range, is closed on Mondays, which allowed her to spend much of yesterday in front of a television tuned to CNN.

Ms. Barshay had been planning to visit the Soviet Union soon as part of her research into starting a joint venture, perhaps an import-export business, with a group from her homeland.

"I would not want to go there now," she said. "I'm not going to give it up, though, I'm going to continue to pursue it, continue my research."

Ms. Barshay said she believes the hard-liners responsible for the coup represent a step backward.

"They cannot possibly think of the new," she said. "This is just their last [attempt] to save their cushy jobs."

Others were more optimistic, such as Sacha Pais, an Odessa native who has lived in Baltimore for 15 years. He said he believes the Russian people will quell the uprising and return Mr. Gorbachev to power.

"When you give somebody a sweet candy, then sour . . . well, they're going to try to get back the good," said Mr. Pais, who owns the Moscow Nights restaurant in Bolton Hill. "It's hard to go back to the bad."

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