Elie Ramsay and her daughter Jennifer never imagined their trip to the Soviet Union would end with a harrowing ride to the Moscow airport along tank-lined streets.
The Ramsays, of Clarksville in Howard County, went to visit friends at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and wound up living through a coup attempt.
"We were worried about getting to our plane," Ellie Ramsay said yesterday at Dulles International Airport after she got off Aeroflot Flight 317, one of the first Soviet flights to the United States since Mikhail S. Gorbachev was detained Monday.
"Our driver kept assuring us, 'Don't be nervous.' "
Soviet and American passengers filed out of the plane with supercharged emotions and stories to tell relieved friends and relatives at the airport in Virginia.
A handful of travelers remained in suspense while their credentials were checked, however. Immigration officials detained seven Soviet agriculture students who planned to visit Maryland farms as part of an exchange program run by the state Department of Agriculture.
They were said to lack necessary documents, but after a lengthy delay they were permitted to enter the country in the company of two department officials.
Tiffany Jackson, 18, of Germantown, Tenn., could hardly stop crying as she greeted her mother. She had gone to the Ukraine as a member of Teen Missions International to build a church. By the time the youths returned to Moscow, Gorbachev -- whose glasnost policy made such religious activity possible -- was gone.
"A guy told us Gorbachev was shot, there was a revolution in Red Square," said Michael Voulgarelis, 16, of Miami.
Several of the youths said they took the news in stride, however.
"Not to be the typical teen-ager, but it was cool to be there then," said Chris Leininger, 17, of Norfolk, Va. "Everybody bought postcards and sent them home saying Gorbachev was removed from power today."
"It was just like a normal day in Moscow, except that Gorbachev was missing," said a nonchalant Patty Keehn, 15, of Murphysboro, Ill.
But the Soviets on the plane had planned their trips to the United States when Gorbachev was president. Now they weren't sure what fates await their families and, when they return, themselves.
Julia Tochilina, 24, received a scholarship to study performing-arts management at American Universi
ty in Washington. She had dreamed of the day she would leave for America, but then came the coup attempt.
"I was frightened to death," she said in accented English. "There is nothing more impressive in life when you see the Soviet tanks going through the streets."
"You could breathe freely," she said of life under Gorbachev. "One can just see [this] only in comparison: In comparison with my parents' life, it was freedom."
"But, really, I feel happy now," she insisted. "I've got such an opportunity to see the American people, just at the moment when we have such difficulty."
HD Nervous Soviets and Americans arrive at Dulles on Aeroflot jet
Passengers recall tanks in the streets.
Soviet military coup