Soviet journalists, fearing censorship, manned barricades in coup

September 01, 1991

Five days after the collapse of the Soviet coup against Mikhail S. Gorbachev, a score of Soviet journalists from Moscow and Odessa arrived in Baltimore for a visit as guests of The Baltimore Sun.

They arrived exhausted, still in the grip of the anxiety and triumph of those days. They described what they had thought and felt and seen and done as their country lurched backward toward totalitarianism, then fast-forward to liberty as the plotters were arrested, the Communist Party effectively banned and the Soviet Union began to fall apart.

As journalists, they spoke of a particular fear: that, after a period of unprecedented freedom of the press, they might now be faced with a return to censorship. Yuri Sovtsov, first deputy editor of the labor newspaper Trud, described turning on his television Aug. 19, seeing a man playing a cello and thinking that there had been a coup. Classical music always accompanies catastrophic news in the Soviet Union.

"I thought immediately: 'Gorbachev's health has just taken a turn for the worse.' And 10 minutes later, the announcer came on and said just that," Mr. Sovtsov recalled. "I had this feeling of horror, of revulsion. Were we really going to have to go back to trying to squeeze the truth in between the lines of what we wrote?"

Two of the visiting journalists, an editor and a photographer for Trud (circulation: 18 million), were on the barricades around the "White House," the Russian Federation building from which Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin led the opposition. Here are their stories.

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