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G E N E R AT I O N A L B ATO N

2006 - Igor V. Yasnogorodsky Near the village of YASNOGORODKA, North of Kiev, Ukraine

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Table of Contents Dedications!

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Introduction!

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The Little That We Know!

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Yasnogorodsky Clan!

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Yasnogorodsky, Solomon!

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Yasnogorodsky, Isaac Solomonovich!

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Sokolik, Anuta!

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Yasnogorodsky, Israel Isaakovich!

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Levina, Sima Il’inichna!

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Yasnogorodsky (Yason), Vilen Israilevich!

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The War!

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A Huckleberry Finn!

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The Family Man!

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The Roman Holidays!

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The Big Apple!

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The Pacific!

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Veprinsky (Yasnogorodsky), Kira Israilevna!

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Yasnogorodsky (Yasno), Igor Vilenovich!

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The Beautiful Game!

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The Forest!

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Stranger in a strange land!

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A Juvenile Dissident!

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The D-Day!

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The Taste of Freedom!

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The Eternal City!

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The Teenage Mediterraneo!

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Yasnogorodsky (Yasno), David Igorevich!

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Yasnogorodsky (Yasno), Andrew igorevich!

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Miretsky/Rabinovich Clan!

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Rabinovich (Altshuller), Zelda!

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Miretsky, Iosif Aronovich!

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Miretsky (Rabinovich), Genna (Anuta) Iosifovna!

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Yasnogorodsky (Miretsky), Bella Iosifovna!

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Miretsky, Aron (Alik) Iosifovich!

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Miretsky, Michael Aronovich!

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G e n e r a t i o n a l B a t o n!

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Dedications To my sons David Igor Yasno, aka !"#$% &'()*#$+ ,-.('()(%-/$0 Andrew Igor Yasno, aka 1.%)*0 &'()*#$+ ,-.('()(%-/$0 “Those who don’t know the past are condemned to repeat it”, said a famous man at one time or another. With due respect to all wise men in history I must disagree with this well accepted “bumper-sticker”. Firstly, I’ve met too many people who don’t know much about their past, yet this shortcoming does not prevent them from doing very well in life, thank you very much! Secondly, I don’t think that our past can repeat itself, whether we know our history or not. New events may resemble the old ones, but they will always be unique for many different reasons. In other words, “You can not step into the same river twice”. Nevertheless, as someone who truly appreciates history, I think that it is important to know the past or, at least, have enough curiosity about it. Therefore, I’d like to dedicate this research to you, my sons. Much of your family history may appear trivial at the first glance. Indeed, being able to remember your ancestors’ names will not make your life any easier or any more prosperous. However, I am convinced that it is important to know where one comes from. Everyone of us is a walking and talking pool of genes, which determine what we look like, what we sound like and whether or not we will have certain diseases and character traits. It would be really nice to be able to add some “color commentary” to the cut-and-dry genetical tree. It is great to know that there were plenty of people who had lived hundreds of years prior, carried your last name and had participated in revolutions, fought in world wars, moved from one country to another, loved, hoped and died. I believe that there is a lot to be said for belonging to something bigger than yourself. You are unique, but you are not alone! Your problems and worries are very important, but it may be easier to deal with them knowing that you are not starving, that you didn’t loose your father in a war, that you enjoy freedom, democracy, prosperity and a great loving family. Your father, Igor Yasno, aka &'()2 3$4*.(#$+ ,-.('()(%-/$0 Spring 2013 Calabasas, California, USA

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Introduction February 2013 - Mount Sinai Cemetery, Los Angeles It was a pleasant sunny day, which can still be had in Southern California during the chilly and rainy winter months. Ten members of our immediate family had gathered at the cemetery to commemorate the 20-year anniversary since the passing of my wife’s father, Yakov Markovich Kucherov. Everyone was in a somber mood, clearly not knowing what to say and how to behave under these circumstances - our family does not usually gather in cemeteries. The silence was becoming a bit prolonged and uncomfortable when I decided to break the ice. “What do you remember about your father?”, I asked Gene, Yakov’s son. To my great surprise, Gene did not have any meaningful recollections, even though he was almost 19 years old when his father died. This was the most convincing confirmation of my theory that people don’t know nearly enough about their closest family members. We may be able to see each other on the regular basis, share food at the family dinner tables, but our conversations tend to focus on the trivial issues of our daily lives. We simply don’t take the time and effort to look closer under the outer shell of our kids, siblings and parents. Certainly, we don’t know nearly enough about what makes our relatives tick and we, definitely, don’t know much about our own parents. Where do they come from? What did they do during their lives? What kind of people where they before they became the annoying old-timers constantly talking about their problems, ills, pensions, etc.? Eventually, we gather at their funerals and we try to remember and piece together random pieces of information that was never really passed from one generation to another. This is my own attempt to break the vicious circle. From now on, my sons and their kids will not have the luxury of ignorance about the people who gave them their lives.

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The Little That We Know The original Russian word “"#$%&%'%(#)*+ - Yasnogorodsky” consists of three parts. The first part ("#$% - Yasno) means “clear”. The second part (&%'%( - gorod) means “city”. Finally, the suffix (#)*+ - sky) usually means “originating there”. In other words, a member of the Yasnogorodsky family is someone who comes from a Clear City. Unfortunately, this concept doesn’t make much sense in neither Russian nor English. The Y family had lived in small Ukrainian villages and towns near Kiev since the 1800‘s, at least. Like most Jews of that time and place, the Y’s were not allowed to settle in large cities until the early 1900‘s. There are two small villages located about 50 km north and west of Kiev named “"#$%&%'%(), - Yasnogorodka”, whose name bears strong resemblance to our family name. It is plausible that one of our great-grandfathers had lived in one of those villages and was arbitrarily given the village name as his new surname sometime in the 19th century. As a kid, I was led to believe that my surname was very Jewish, like Rabinovich or Goldberg. Now I think that it has no Jewish roots, especially if the family was named after a Ukrainian village. If anything, the “sky” suffix makes it sound more Polish than anything else - not surprisingly considering that this part of the world used to belong to the Polish kingdom for a few centuries. Also interesting that during my 16 years of life in Kiev, prior to our leaving the USSR, I had never met (or even heard of) another person with the same last name as mine. As an impressionable teenager, I even started to believe in some sort of uniqueness of my family. However, many years later and with the help of the Internet, I discovered plenty of Y’s in the world. I even found a lost uncle and his family, who had lived in the apartment building across from ours in Kiev! Some of the Y’s are Jewish people living right here in Los Angeles and Israel and some of them are clearly Slavic, living in Russia and Ukraine. Note that in this part of the world it is virtually impossible to establish a genealogical family tree with deep roots for two main reasons: 1.

Most of the Jews residing in the Russian Empire of 19th century did not use “family” names and where known only by their first names and patronymics, e.g. “Israel ibn (son of) Isaac”. This was sufficient for their purposes since most of the Jews had lived in small shtetl’s (villages) located in the rural “Pale of Settlement”. Only during the late 1800‘s Russian Jews started to leave the Pale and it became necessary for them to get surnames and to obtain the appropriate identification documents. Therefore, the Russian archives do not contain any reference to most of the Jews prior to them getting either the internal or foreign passports.

2.

Most of the Russian and Soviet archives were destroyed or lost during the tumultuous events of the 20th century, i.e. revolutions, two World Wars, Civil War, anarchy, massive movement of peoples, just to name a few of them. Most of these events had taken place on the Ukrainian territory. Therefore, it is a small miracle that the Y family is even here today to be able to tell this tale.

I had collected the brief information about the Y family by talking to the older members of the family, who might have saved a few ancient photos and may have remembered some names and stories from a distant past. So far, the information spans just four generations before my own birth.

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Yasnogorodsky Clan Yasnogorodsky, Solomon Not much is known about Solomon, other than he had 10 children (the first 5 born were girls, followed by 5 boys) and lived in a small town of Belaya Tserkov’ near Kiev. Given the lack of any other information as well as Solomon’s propensity to have a large family, it is safe to consider him the patriarch of the Y clan. Yasnogorodsky, Isaac Solomonovich Born in Belaya Tserkov’ in 1879 (the same year as Josef Stalin, whom he despised). Father Solomon Yasnogorodsky. Wife - Anuta Sokolik. Children: Sima (1901 - 1975), Israel (1905 or 1907 - 1945), Naum (1906 - 1941), Nathan (1915 - ?). Isaac had left his home when he was 13 years old and studied the trade of taylor in the city of Dnepropetrovsk. Shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 he had moved his family to Kiev. Isaac did not sympathize with the revolutionary feelings of his children, which had caused some friction in the Y family. At lease one brother (Yankel) and one sister (Shura) were killed by the Nazi’s in Babiy Yar - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babi_Yar. After the end of the war (1945) Isaac lived in Kiev on the Luteranskaya Street 3 (near Metro Khreschatik). Isaac came to Igor’s first birthday in October of 1961, perhaps Igor was the firstborn among his great-grandchildren. Isaac died in Kiev in 1963. Sokolik, Anuta Born in Belaya Tserkov’. Husband - Isaac Solomonovich Yasnogorodsky. Children: Sima (1901 - 1975), Israel (1905 or 1907 - 1945), Naum (1906 - 1941), Nathan (1915 - ?). Anuta grew up in a wealthy Jewish family - the Sokolik’s had owned a large grocery store in Belaya Tserkov’.

Belaya Tserkov’ is ancient town located south of Kiev. It was one of the centers of Jewish population in Ukraine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bila_Tserkva).

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Yasnogorodsky, Israel Isaakovich Born in Belaya Tserkov‘ in 1907. Parents: Isaac and Anuta Sokolik. Siblings: Sima (1901 1975), Naum (1906 - 1941), Nathan (1915 - ?). Wife - Sima Il’inichna Levina. Children: Vilen and Kira Yasnogorodsky. Like many other Jewish young people of that time, Israel became a revolutionary activist and, later on, a professional communist cadre. As such, he had worked throughout Ukraine to establish collective farms and to expand the communist influence in the countryside. In 1933, during one of his assignments in a provincial town of Pavlograd, Israel met a 16 year old Jewish girl named Sima Levina. Israel’s young family lived in the Pavlograd area, while he had served as a Chairman of the local communist organization. In 1937, during Stalin’s “Purge”, Israel was accused of some political misbehavior, was fired from his post and discharged from the Communist Party. This was a very serious problem to have in 1937. Israel was truly lucky not to have been imprisoned or executed, which was a very common outcome of the purge. Soon thereafter, Israel left Pavlograd and moved his family to Kiev, where he worked as a butcher on the Bessarabsky Market - the same place where David I. Yasnogorodsky bought some black caviar during his visit in 2008. Despite his serious problems with the Party, Israel did not loose his faith in Communism and continued to be a loyal Soviet citizen. In fact, he had (very likely) volunteered to serve in the Red Army during its brief 1939 campaign to occupy the eastern half of Poland (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_invasion_of_Poland). In 1941 Israel once again joined the Red Army soon after the Nazi Germany attacked the USSR on June 22. Israel had spent four years fighting the Nazi’s, earned the rank of a Captain of Artillery and was awarded a number of military orders and medals. Israel was killed in action on 2 Feb 1945 in the town of Zielona Gora in Western Poland (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zielona_G%C3%B3ra). The war in Europe was concluded just 90 days later. Levina, Sima Il’inichna Born in Pavlograd in 1916. Siblings: 3 brothers and 5 sisters. Husband - Israel Isaakovich Yasnogorodsky. Children: Vilen and Kira Yasnogorodsky. Sima grew up in an impoverished Jewish family. In 1933 Sima “was swept off her feet by the striking, gun-wielding, leather-wearing commissar”, in her own words, and married him. Two children (Vilya and Kira) were born soon thereafter. As a wife of a fanatical communist, Sima started to actively participate in his work, which included raiding villages and confiscating food and livestock from the well-to-do peasants. Sima was very proud of her gruesome work, as she described it in detail to Igor Vilenovich Yasnogorodsky during her visit to Rome in 2001. The practice of “Collectivization” was so widespread and so devastating in Ukraine during the 1930’s that it caused massive famine and deaths, called Holodomor or “extermination by hunger” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor). This issue still remains one of the most dark and controversial in the modern Ukrainian history.

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In 1941 Sima, Vilya and Kira were evacuated from Kiev to a tiny Siberian settlement, near the city of Kuybyshev (now - Samara). In order to feed the family, Sima worked in a local factory producing horse-drawn carriages used to transport the Maxim-type machine guns. These legendary platforms are called “tachanka” and were used widely as a sort of a battle tank during the early 1900’s and later (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tachanka).

The Soviet Army liberated Kiev from the Nazi’s on November 6, 1943, on Vilya’s birthday. The city center was practically destroyed during the war and there were few buildings suitable for housing. Nevertheless, Sima and the kids returned to Kiev as soon as in January of 1944. Finding a place to live and trying to feed the kids were the most pressing problems for Sima during those years and beyond. Sima became a widow in 1945, when she was only 28 years old. She only remarried in mid-1970’s to Grigory Israilevich Greenberg (?) and lived with him for a few years in the city of Krasnoyarsk (Siberia), then moved back to Kiev to be with the children and grandchildren. In Kiev Sima had lived in a five-story apartment building on Turovsky Street, located near the Dnieper river in the Podol neighborhood. The building didn’t have any elevators and Sima had to take the stair up to her apartment on the top floor despite suffering from the chronic inflammation of varicose veins in her legs. Toward the end of her life the same condition prevented Sima from being able to walk. Sima didn’t have any specific education and profession. For most of the time she was working as an administrative assistant in a vocational school in Kiev. She was responsible for the students’ behavior and their compliance with the communist doctrine. In 1988 Sima visited Los Angeles arriving from Kiev and staying for about 2 weeks. This was her first trip outside the Soviet Union. Accustomed to many hardships, including chronic shortage of food, Sima was completely blown away by the abundance of food in the US supermarkets. She was particularly moved by multiple chicken thighs packaged into a single tray. Sima was also very impressed by the Automatic Teller Machines, which would dispense cash to anyone just for asking, in her opinion. During the early 1990‘s Sima emigrated from the Soviet Union to Israel along with Kira and her daughter Lena. They lived in a remote border settlement called Ma’ale Efrayim - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ma%27ale_Efrayim. In 1995 David I. Yasnogorodsky had visited them there and stayed in their house. David was 11 years old at the time. In August of 2001 Sima and Kira came to Rome, Italy from Israel to spend some time with Igor V. Yasnogorodsky and his family. At that time Sima could not walk and Igor rented a wheelchair in order to show her the city. During those walks in Rome Sima told Igor many stories about her youth, meeting her future husband, and the rest of her life. Sima had died in Israel shortly after returning from Rome, in Fall of 2001.

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2001 Rome. Left to right: Andrew Y., Sima Levina, Igor Y., David Y., Kira Veprinsky Yasnogorodsky (Yason), Vilen Israilevich Born in Pavlograd on November 6, 1934. Parents: Israel Yasnogorodsky and Sima Levina. Sister - Kira Israilevna Veprinsky (Yasnogorodsky). Wife # 1 - Bella Iosifovna Yasnogorodsky (Miretsky). Child - Igor Vilenovich Yasnogorodsky. Wife # 2 - Rita Yason (?). Vilya’s parents were dedicated communists and their children’s names were supposed to have revolutionary significance. Therefore, in Vilya’s name (VILEN) the letter V stands for Vladimir, I for Ill’ich, and LEN for Lenin, i.e. the full name of the leader of the Bolshevik / Communist party and the founder of the USSR. Vilya’s sister, Kira (born in 1935), was named after another prominent communist functionary, Sergei Kirov. Vilya’s date of birth was also very significant to his parents. November 6 was widely celebrated in the Soviet Union as the anniversary of the Great October Revolution, the 1917 overthrow of the Russian Provisional Government by the Bolshevik forces. Vilya’s mother believed that her son was destined to become a new star in the Communist universe. However, Vilya turned out to be a very independent and sarcastic young man, who grew up on the troubled streets of the war-torn country and was not willing to accept the communist dogma, which was being fed to him by his mother and the state. It was a very rough road from the very start. Vilya was 3 years old when his father, Israel, was purged from the Communist Party, lost his job, had to relocate his family and change profession. By all accounts, Israel should have been arrested, executed or sent to the GULAG labor camps for a decade or two. This would have spelled out a disaster for Vilya, his mother and his little sister, all of whom would have been considered to be “enemies of the people”

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and likely candidates for further repression. It is easy to imagine how stressful this time was for the Yasnogorodsky family and how it effected the children, who were old enough to share everyone’s fear and hardship. The War However, as bad as it was, this was only the beginning. Just a few years later, on June 22, 1941, The Nazi forces had invaded the USSR. By all accounts “The War”, as everyone still calls it, was the most dramatic and devastating event in the life of any person living during and even long after that time. Almost 30 million people had lost their lives between 1941 and 1945, countless millions more were wounded and left homeless. Tens of thousands of cities, towns and villages were completely destroyed and huge masses of people tried to escape from the western part of the country to the Ural Mountains. The entire society had crumbled and millions more had died from starvation, diseases, cold, and complete neglect. The mere survival became the only issue of the day for the young and old, men and women, soldiers and civilians. These were the worst of times and there was a six year old boy and his five year old sister, whose life had changed for the worse virtually instantaneously. Their father had vanished into the war, only to appear for a one week leave during 1943. After that he was gone for good, leaving nothing behind but a few letters and photos. During the summer of 1941 their mother had only a few weeks to take just whatever she could carry, ride anything that moved from west to east and escape from Kiev, which was captured by the advancing German armies only a few days later. Both Vilya and Kira still remember being on a deck of a river boat, while the Nazi dive bombers attacked them from a low altitude. They still recall an impossibly long journey to an obscure frozen railroad station on the western edge of Siberia, which they would call home for the next few years. Their definition of happiness was a sugar cube and a slice of black bread soaked in the sunflower oil. Then, there was the winter of 1944 and a long trip back to Kiev, which turned out to be just a skeleton of a city. Their old apartment building was destroyed, which meant sleeping on the floors of relatives’ room, playing in the ruins, watching long lines of the German POW’s being marched on Khreschatik, feeling constant hunger and living in devastating poverty. However, looking on the bright side of life - they had won the war and they were alive!

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1944 Kiev. Maidan Nezalezhnosti and Khreschatik A Huckleberry Finn The kids were free to roam the streets of Kiev, while their mother toiled away at a textile factory. The “street” became their new world and the neighborhood kids became their new family. The “street” had replaced the dilapidated schools, the murdered or imprisoned fathers and the exhausted mothers. Everyone was in the same boat - equally orphaned, poor, hungry and happy to be alive. Vilya did not become a Communist functionary or a government bureaucrat. In fact, he was even uncomfortable with his revolutionary name and called himself Vitya. He also preferred to avoid using his patronymic name, after all, “Israilevich” was too Jewish for the post-war Soviet tastes. The school was not his “thing” either - studying was neither relevant nor important and his undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder did not help the matters. Besides, Vilya was too hungry and too independent to walk the tight rope of the rigid Soviet school system. So, Vilya enrolled in a vocational boarding school in Kiev, which gave him a daily hot meal, a dorm bed to sleep in and a profession of the lathe machinist. In 1952 Vilya was conscripted into the Soviet military. Initially he had served in an artillery unit, just like his father did during the war. Having previously completed eight years of schooling, Vilya’s math skills allowed him to stand out from the rest of the conscripts, many of whom could not even read and write. While serving near the city of Smolensk (western Russia), Vilya decided to go AWOL and traveled to see his family in Kiev. It was a very dangerous and daring adventure - going AWOL from the Soviet Army was considered to be a very serious crime. All train and bus stations were being patrolled by the Military Police, who were looking for the soldiers trying to escape from the Army. Somehow, Vilya was able to avoid being caught and returned to his unit after a week absence. Amazingly, his absence went unnoticed by his commander and Vilya was not punished! Soon, however, Vilya was transferred onto a Navy Air Force base near the city of Murmansk, north of the Arctic Circle. His primary duties were to clean the airfield from the constantly falling snow. G e n e r a t i o n a l B a t o n!

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The Family Man In 1959 Vilya was introduced to a shy Jewish girl from his neighborhood. Her name was Bella Miretsky, she was 20 years old and lived in a small wooden hut on the corner of Frunze and Ratmansky (now - Vvedenskaya) Street. The couple was married in December of 1959, moved into the same hut together with Bella’s parents and her teenage brother, Alik. Almost exactly nine months later, Bella gave birth to their only child - Igor V. Yasnogorodsky. Most of the 1960’s witnessed Vilya becoming a family man. He had changed a few jobs, was promoted to a supervisory position and, most importantly, was able to secure an apartment in a new building that was constructed and sponsored by his factory. The housing shortage was a huge problem for most of the Soviet citizens during the postwar years. Millions of people continued to live in the crowded dilapidated conditions.

1952 Kiev. The old house on the Ratmansky Street (left upper corner). The man in the photo is unknown. For example, the old house on the Ratmansky Street had two rooms and housed 7 people - the Miretsky family (Iosif, Anuta, Alik, Zelda (Anuta’s mother)), plus the young Yasnogorodsky family (Vilya, Bella, Igor). The total livable area was about 20 sq. meters or 180 sq. feet. The house had the electricity, but it didn’t have gas, running water and the toilet. It may be hard to believe, but these were actually enviable conditions for many people during the post-war years. The old house was only taken down and replaced by a modern apartment building sometime in 1980’s. One of Vilya’s greatest accomplishments of that time was that in 1965 he received a new apartment from his place of employment, the Mayak factory, which was manufacturing the TV and radio equipment. It took three years of waiting to get the new place, but it was well worth it - the new apartment had 3 rooms and had more than doubled the living area to 50 sq. meters or 450 sq. feet! Not to mention that it also had all modern conveniences, such as gas, heating and plumbing! The only drawback was that the new place was located far from the city center, in a new neighborhood called Vetryanye Gory (-./'0$1. 2%'1).

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1970’s Kiev. Svetlitsky Street # 25. The “new” apartment building (the back side)

Life was good - there was enough food on the table and the family was even able to take an occasional summer trip to the Black Sea. A few years later, in early 1970‘s, the family managed to “exchange” their three room apartment for two separate apartments, with two rooms each. The Miretsky part of the family moved into one and the Yasnogorodsky’s moved into another. This was an unbelievably high level of luxury and achievement! But Vilya was not satisfied with the life of an accomplished Soviet middle-aged family man. He wanted new adventures, he was ready to completely change his life, even though he wasn’t entirely certain about his own goals and desires. Becoming a “Traitor” As it usually happens, a glimmer of opportunity appears on the horizon of those who look for it - in 1972 a small number of Soviet Jews started to emigrate from the USSR to Israel. Some of them left for religious or cultural reasons, others wanted to escape the stifling environment of uniformed thinking and belief system, others still were looking for better economic conditions and opportunities. Perhaps, Vilya was motivated by all of those reasons as well. However, it is also likely that he was simply looking for new challenges, for a way to change the status quo, to do something extraordinary in his life. Be as it may, but Vilya had suddenly discovered a clear goal for himself and his family. He started to seek out relatives of the people who had already left the country. Given the complete absence of communication with the outside world, it was acceptable and even customary at the time to read the letters of those who had recently moved to Israel and were willing to share their experiences. Some of the letters had described every minute detail of taking a train to the Soviet border, passing a rigorous customs search, boarding another train heading for Bratislava, changing the trains one more time and eventually arriving to Vienna. This city was a major migration hub, where the Israeli immiG e n e r a t i o n a l B a t o n!

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gration services would take newly arrived people to the airport for their flight to Israel. Needless to say, this information was extremely valuable to anyone who was preparing himself for a similar trip in the near future. However, well before boarding a train one had to jump through dozens of bureaucratic hoops in order to obtain the necessary documents and permissions to leave the country. The mechanics of emigration from the Soviet Union were extremely complicated, archaic, and, in some cases, torturous. Every person who decided to leave the country was considered to be a traitor of his or her Motherland. That person risked to be publicly ridiculed, fired from the job, expelled from school, stripped of the Soviet citizenship and so on and so forth. Additionally, the emigrant’s distant family could have suffered from his “betrayal” of the Motherland. It was also very expensive to leave the USSR - the Soviet government demanded to be compensated for the free education, healthcare, and other benefits, which were “given” to the Soviet citizens during their life in the country. Therefore, it might cost a few thousand rubles for a typical family of three to “loose” their Soviet passports. This was a very significant sum of money, considering that most family’s monthly income was just 200 - 300 rubles. One thing was certain - Vilya did not have enough money to pay for all of the expenses required to emigrate. He was still working as a shop floor supervisor at the Mayak factory and his wife was employed as a nurse. Their combined income was very modest, even by the Soviet standards, and there was no way to put away 3000 - 5000 rubles during the next foreseeable future. However, there were other ways to get the money. One could borrow the sum necessary to leave the Soviet Union and repay the debt in hard currency, once he would get a job upon arrival to another country. This was the quickest and the easiest way to emigrate, but the “old school” Soviets were not accustomed to having a debt and considered it to be a very dangerous and inappropriate option, especially when starting a new life abroad. The second way was to leave the slow-paced low-paid job and to make a lot more money a lot quicker, albeit in less than “kosher” ways. Vilya liked the second, more “romantic” option. He had quit his factory job and signed up for a stint with a semilegal construction gang, whose task was to build irrigational systems in the remote rural areas of the USSR. The working conditions were terrible, the deadlines were unreasonable, the bosses were cruel criminals, but the promised pay was really enticing. Once again, Vilya found himself in the Ural mountains, near the city of Izhevsk, not too far from the place where he had spent the war years as a child. Unfortunately, the adventure did not work out as planned. At the end of the project, after months of hard labor, the boss had escaped with the payroll money in the middle of the night. No one was paid any money and Vilya returned home sick, beaten up, and even poorer than before. The only thing he brought back was a mustache, but even that was gone soon. That would have been enough for many people to give up, return to the old factory job and forget about these crazy ideas. But there was no going back for Vilya. Apparently, all those hungry years in the destroyed streets of Kiev taught him a thing or two about survival and perseverance. Vilya made a few important friendships and got a job as an umbrella repairman at an indiscreet shop on Khreschatik 26. This proved to be the golden chance that he was waiting for! An umbrella repairman? How could this be an opportunity of a lifetime? Well, in the crazy land of constant shortages of consumer goods and services, this was one of the geese that laid golden eggs. It so happened that the fashionconscious Soviet women absolutely had to have the flowery Japanese umbrellas, which would open with a push of a button. Each umbrella could cost around 100 rubles, or close to one’s monthly salary and it used to break on the regular basis thanks to the heavy Ukrainian rain, snow and winds. It was inconceivable to discard a broken Japanese treasure. Instead it had to be fixed at the cost of 3 - 5 rubles and Vilya could easily fix 20 - 30 umbrella’s per day. You do the math - Vilya was making more money per day than during one month at his old factory job. Additionally, G e n e r a t i o n a l B a t o n!

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there was an occasional opportunity to sell a large shipment of the contraband umbrella’s or other hard-to-get merchandize. The money kept rolling in, but it had to be shared with a number of people who were “supervising” and “protecting” the illegal operation. Somehow the protection money wasn’t sufficient to keep the trouble at bay and one spring day in 1976 a few men in the civilian clothes knocked on Vilya’s door. They took him to the “big house” on the Korolenko Street (now - Vladimirsky), which headquartered the Ukrainian division of KGB and OBKhSS (Department Against Misappropriation of Socialist Property). Vilya came home after spending a day in the “Big Building” and said: “We have to leave this country, the sooner the better”. The deal was sealed. OBKhSS was a unique organization, whose mere existence was indicative of the fundamental problems with the Socialist society. Virtually everything in the USSR was owned by the State, while very few individuals had any private property worth mentioning. Naturally, the State had to employ its impoverished citizens to work in and manage its factories, land, schools, stores, theaters, hospitals, etc. Not surprisingly, many enterprising people had found creative ways to “privatize” some parts of the Socialist property, which belonged to everyone and to no one at the same time. This practice was so wide-spread that it was common to feel sorry for anyone, who wasn’t able to supplement his income by stealing from his place of employment. In response, the State created a powerful organization, OBKhSS (1937 - 1992), which was desperately trying to slow down the tidal wave of economic crime against the State. Vilya was also “stealing” from the State. He was employed by the State agency, which provided the repair service to the public. For every repaired umbrella Vilya was to charge 1 ruble and pass that money to the State. His official quota was to repair a few hundred umbrellas per month. Instead, Vilya and his partners were able to drastically exceed the quota, charge more money for expediency and high quality service, and pocket the difference. This was a violation of the law, even though the State did receive the money per its own quota.

The official reason for letting the Jews to leave the Soviet Union was the “Family Reunification” agreement between General Secretary Brezhnev and the US President Nixon. In theory this meant that every Soviet Jew could reunite with his long lost relatives residing in Israel. There were a few exceptions to this rule, which prohibited certain Jews from leaving if they could somehow damage the Soviet security. Vilya and his family did not know any state secrets, but they also didn’t have any relatives living in Israel or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Not a problem! Vilya told a couple of soon-to-be-emigrants that he wanted to receive an invitation from Israel and within a few weeks a colorful envelop was delivered to his apartment in Kiev. Inside the envelop was a letter from a “long-lost uncle”, who more than anything else wanted to see Vilya and his family at his house in Israel. The letter was soon followed by a parcel containing a synthetic winter coat and a few souvenirs - the Israeli “uncle” was really eager to reunite his family. Vilya took the invitation to the special government office, which was processing all requests to leave the USSR, and started the long and difficult process of loosing his Soviet citizenship.

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This famous government agency was called OVIR (Office of Visas and Registrations). Prior to the Brezhnev - Nixon accord it must have been a very sleepy operation. Very few people even dreamt of leaving the USSR even for a short excursion abroad. However, after 1972 OVIR had to deal with huge numbers of the Soviet Jews who missed their newly-discovered foreign relatives terribly and just had to move to Israel in order to make their broken families whole again. It was not an easy task - almost two million Jewish applications were approved by OVIR between 1972 and 1992. About one million of the Soviet Jews actually settled down in Israel, while the other one million people ended up living in North America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. A few hundred thousand Jews still live in the region commonly known as the Former USSR. It was a really difficult task to compile the documentation in order to apply for the permission to leave the country. But it was even more difficult for Vilya to persuade his wife, Bella, to agree to emigrate with him. Bella wasn’t bothered too much by the usual economic hardships experienced by the Soviet citizens. Somehow she found a way to deal with the constant food shortages and ignore the shabby quality of the Soviet consumer goods. Also, she just couldn’t care less about the lack of political freedoms, rigged elections, one party system and the obvious lies on TV. She would have never, ever had left her country, her parents and her job for the unknown dangers of a foreign land. But Vilya had a secret weapon - the couple’s 16 year old son (Igor) also wanted to emigrate and Bella didn’t really have a choice in this matter. She was, however, able to get one condition into her agreement - the family will not move to Israel, where her son was certain to be conscripted into the military and sent to fight in the perpetual war against the neighboring Arabs. Any other, more peaceful, destination was acceptable and Vilya did not object. A similar issue was related to Bella’s parents, Iosif and Anuta Miretsky. By law they were supposed to give a written permission for her daughter to be able to leave the country. Initially, Iosif was very upset about this whole ordeal, in part because Bella’s emigration could have jeopardized his Chief Accountant position at the famous Paton Research Institute. Of course, both Iosif and Anuta knew that emigration from the Soviet Union meant a one-way trip - there was no possibility of returning to the country, regardless of the future circumstances. In other words, there was high likelihood that they would never be able to see their daughter and their grandson ever again. However, they also gave in to Vilya’s relentless pressure and signed the permission forms. By comparison, it was much easier to get Sima’s agreement to let her son (Vilya) to emigrate. Perhaps because she had already given up on her dream for Vilya to become the next Communist Leader or because Sima was deeply engulfed in the life of her daughter (Kira) and her granddaughters (Anya and Lena), all of whom were not planning to leave, but Sima did not put up a fight about signing the parental release forms. In December of 1976 Vilya finally submitted the thick documentation file to OVIR for their review and approval. There was nothing else to do but to wait and hope. The bureaucratic black hole was infamous for being completely unpredictable and unmanageable, when it came to the mysterious process of giving either a green or red light to the waiting families, whose life depended on this decision. Nevertheless, Vilya was able to make a friend (a.k.a. Officer Tamara), who was employed by OVIR and who could, perhaps, move the Yasnogorodsky file to the top of a huge inbox. It was difficult to overestimate the importance of this relationship and Vilya had given many gifts and personal favors in order to foster this friendship with Officer Tamara.

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1977 Kiev. Late March, shortly before the D-Day 1st row left-to-right: Lena Veprinsky, Sima, Grigory Israilevich, Kira Veprinsky 2nd row left-to-right: Igor Y., Anna Veprinsky, Bella Y., Vilya Y. In early March of 1977 OVIR had announced its verdict: “Vilen Israilevich, Bella Iosifovna and Igor Vilenovich Yasnogorodsky’s were striped of their Soviet citizenship and were required to leave the Soviet territory within the ensuing 2 weeks”. The Rubicon was crossed on March 31, 1977. The Y’s went by train from Kiev to the Soviet border junction of Chop http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chop,_Ukraine, then to Bratislava, Vienna and Rome. There was a four-month waiting period in Italy necessary to process the US immigration documents and to find a Jewish organization willing to sponsor the new refugees in America. The Yasnogorodsky family had temporarily settled in the Roman suburb of Ostia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ostia_%28Rome%29, which became the epicenter of the Soviet immigration life in Italy. The Roman Holidays Vilya, the enterprising businessman, was not wasting any time in Italy. He was able to make a number of profitable transactions by selling the stuff the family brought from the Soviet Union. The merchandize consisted of photo cameras, telephoto lenses, linens, classical music records, Russian caviar, vodka and sparkling wine. Most of the sales occurred at the legendary Roman flea market called Mercato di Porta Portese, although the “Russians”, aka the Soviet Jews, used to call it “Americana”. During the peak of immigration (1972 - 1983), hundreds of Russians would stream to the Americana every Sunday morning. They would line up the small streets of the Via Portuense neighborhood (closed to the car traffic for this occasion) and lay out their offerings on the ground next to their feet. This was the first real exposure of the former Soviet citizens to the market economy of the capitalist West and most immigrants dove-in head first, including former scientists, doctors, engineers - people who would have never even thought of selling their possessions on a street market in their previous lives.

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Most of the transactions were held in either US dollars or the Italian lire. One Sunday, however, Vilya was paid the asking price for a Zenit 35 mm photo camera in West German currency. Vilya gladly accepted the banknotes and a few days later was almost arrested for passing the counterfeit currency, when he went into a bank in order to exchange his Deutschmarks for something more useful in Italy. Vilya’s most valuable merchandize turned out to be red corral necklaces, which were fashionable (and expensive) in Western Europe, while being plentiful (and cheap) in the Ukrainian countryside. Vilya got the wind of this unexpectedly valuable commodity from a letter of someone, who had recently made the same journey. Vilya had invested a few thousand rubles (a significant sum of money!) in the corral jewelry and brought it with him to Italy. Many people thought that this was a very foolish investment, but it generated a few thousand US dollars, which was amazingly favorable exchange rate!

1977 Capri, Italy. Vilya Y. and Igor Y. During the so-called “Roman Holidays”, Vilya had suddenly received an offer to immigrate to New Zealand instead of the US. This small country located at the edge of world was looking for the young, skilled, healthy and energetic workers. Their recruiting officers promised the right candidates wonderful benefits for moving to his country - beautiful nature, instant employment, free healthcare and subsidized housing. There were drawbacks as well - the country was too small and too remote. Besides, the Kiwi’s were infamous for taking long time (more than one year) to choose the right candidates. Vilya could not wait this long and after spending four months in Italy ended up with his family in Brooklyn, New York.

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The Big Apple On August 4, 1977 the Y family boarded a TWA flight in Rome and arrived in New York City on the same day. Right in the John F. Kennedy airport Vilya declared that from now on he will be celebrating his birthday on August 4th instead of November 6th. By all accounts, the situation in New York City was terrible during the 1970’s. The city was nearly bankrupt, it was infamous for its high crime rates, police corruption, electrical blackouts, racial tensions, dangerous subway system, apartment blocks burnt for insurance money, flight of white population, etc. Yet, Vilya was completely unfazed by any of the bad news. He was able to get his first job in America just four days after arriving into the country. His employer, an old Polish Jew, was manufacturing oversized bumpers for the NYPD cars and needed someone to make and repair molds and dies at his small machine shop. The shop was located in a terribly depressed neighborhood in Brooklyn under the Williamsburg Bridge. But Vilya could not care less - he was making $4 per hour - a very respectable sum of money, at least in Vilya’s mind. Just one week’s income was enough to pay for the apartment rental, another week would pay for the food and incidentals and the rest was gravy! The fact that he had to bring a metal rod for self-defense when he walked to the subway station didn’t bother him a bit. During the next 8 months Vilya found a new job (Admiral Plastic Corp. in the Canarsie area of Brooklyn) and nearly doubled his income. Then he bought a used car, a green 1973 Ford Gran Torino, and the American Dream became a reality. In late 1978 Vilya made another strategic move and got a job in Erie, Pennsylvania. His income had doubled again, but he had to live there by himself, because Bella and Igor had stayed in Brooklyn. In Erie Vilya worked for Jarecki Valves, whose owner was a Polish ex-fighter pilot, Frank Jarecki, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franciszek_Jarecki. On 5 March 1953 Lieutenant Jarecki flew his MiG-15 from a Polish Air Force base and defected to Denmark. This was the very first opportunity for the American military to analyze the Soviet-made MiG-15, the most advanced fighter jet of the time. Vilya was very proud to have had the opportunity to personally meet and regularly talk to Mr. Jarecki. Vilya bought a huge red car in Erie, the Lincoln Continental, and was visiting New York every other weekend. In June of 1979 he received another lucrative job offer from California. This time he and Bella had moved clear across the country to West Hollywood. Vilya was barely 45 years old, full of enthusiasm and energy. He had “made it” in the very tough world of The Big Apple and the rest of America was now at his feet! 1978 Brooklyn. Igor, Bella and Basya (Iosif’s sister). G e n e r a t i o n a l B a t o n!

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The Pacific LA was booming in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The region was the hub of major defense and aerospace companies and The Valley was overflowing with hundreds of smaller subcontractors. President Reagan was elected in 1980 and immediately started to spend fortunes on rebuilding the US military. Naturally, Southern California was a job heaven for Vilya, an experienced tool-and-die maker. But Vilya was no longer satisfied with the hourly salary, even the constantly increasing one. He had discovered the new, potentially a lot more profitable and riskier form of making money - the real estate development. The first project started in the mid 1980‘s - the idea was to purchase an old 4-unit building on the 17th Street in Santa Monica, tear it down and build a much larger multi-unit condo complex. While it didn’t go as planned and took longer than expected, the project was a success and generated a lot more money for Vilya and his partner (Misha Shimanovsky) than they both could ever make as working men. Many people would have taken the prize money and had retired at that point, but not Vilya. In the early 1990’s he bought another, more expensive, property in Pacific Palisades, remodeled and tried to “flip” it. Unfortunately, the real estate market in S. California was badly effected by the recent Northridge earthquake, Rodney King riots, floods, fires and the economic downturn. Given these adverse conditions, Vilya could not sell the Pacific Palisades house and had to abandon the project. During the mid-1980’s, Vilya and Bella changed their last name from Yasnogorodsky to Yason. In 1999, in time for his 65th birthday, Vilya had retired from his job at P.L. Porter, a manufacturer of aircraft parts located in Woodland Hills, CA. At the same time he decided to divorce Bella. In January of 2001 the divorce was finalized and, shortly thereafter, Vilya married Rita (?). Vilya Yason currently resides in Brea, CA. Veprinsky (Yasnogorodsky), Kira Israilevna Born in Pavlograd on December 1, 1935. Parents: Israel Isaakovich Yasnogorodsky and Sima Il’inichna Levina. Brother: Vilen Israilevich Yasnogorodsky. Ex-Husband: Peter Veprinsky. Children: Anna Petrovna Veprinsky, Elena Petrovna Veprinsky. Kira’s childhood is intertwined with the childhood of her brother, Vilya. Together they had experienced the terrible years of the war and the years of hunger and poverty that followed it. Together they had lost their father and together they grew up on the streets of Kiev. Even their looks were almost identical as they were growing up. From the early age Kira was very athletic and was competing at a fair high level in gymnastics. She was able to achieve the title of Master of Sports and was accepted into the Institute of Physical Education, which was producing professional coaches and trainers. Kira and her husband, Peter, were among the few people in Kiev during the early 1970‘s who owned a private car, a boat, and a color TV. They also kept exotic pets in their apartment - a monkey, parrots, etc. During the late 1980’s Kira was able to find and visit the grave of her father, Israel, who was buried in Poland. In the early 1990’s Kira emigrated from Ukraine to Israel and lived with her mother, Sima, in the remote settlement of Ma’ale Efrayim. Currently, Kira lives with her daughters and their families in Monsey, New York.

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Yasnogorodsky (Yasno), Igor Vilenovich Born on October 6, 1960 in Kiev. Parents: Vilen Israilevich Yasnogorodsky and Bella Iosifovna Yasnogorodsky (Miretsky). Wife - Elena Yakovlevna Yasnogorodsky (Kucherov). Children: David Igorevich and Andrew Igorevich Yasnogorodsky. Igor was born in a hospital located on Frunze Street, just a few blocks away from the old family house on Ratmansky Street # 1. The hospital was built in the late 19th century by a Jewish sugar magnate Ion Zaitsev and it is still being called The Zaitsev Hospital. Igor was named after his late grandfather, Israel Isaakovich Yasnogorodsky. Since it was quite inappropriate in the Soviet Union to call a kid by such Jewish name as Israel, the newborn was named Igor thus inheriting the first letter of his grandfather’s name. In fact, both of Igor’s sons (David and Andrew) continue to carry Israel’s name, since their middle name is Igor. On March 13, 1961 a devastating mudslide descended within 2 km from the house on Ratmansky Street. Almost 2,000 people were buried alive by a 14 meter wave of water, industrial waste and pulp, which came down from the Babiy Yar area at the speed of 5 meters per second. This event went down into the history books as The Kurenevka Tragedy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1961_Kurenivka_mudslide_in_Kiev, but on that day Vilya decided to take his 6 months old son to see the calamity. He wrapped Igor in a blanket on a cold spring day and walked up the Frunze Street to see what was going on. Luckily for both of them the worst of the flood was over by that time and the area around the flooded Spartak Stadium was already cordoned off by the military. In 1965 the combined Miretsky and Yasnogorodsky family finally left the dilapidated house on Ratmansky Street and moved into a modern 3 (!) room apartment in Vetryanye Gory, a fairly remote outskirt of Kiev. Five generations of people continued to live under the same roof and the space of 50 sq. meters, but it seemed like a palace! Not to mention that there was cooking gas, central heating, flushable toilet and a shower!

1 September 1966 Kiev. Grandma Sima, Mother Bella and Igor. The very first walk to school. G e n e r a t i o n a l B a t o n!

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In 1966 Igor started the first grade in School # 156, which stood on a steep hill, about 2 km away from the apartment building on Svetlitsky Street. In 1969 another school was built much closer to Igor’s home and, luckily, his entire grade was moved into the new School # 193. Igor was growing up as a typical Soviet “latchkey” kid. Both of his parents and both grandparents were working during the day and the only adult left in the three-room apartment was his great-grandma Zelda. By that time she was already in her late eighties and suffering from dementia and a slew of other mental disorders. Therefore, it was decided to keep Zelda locked in her room while her daughter, grandma Anuta, was not at home. Zelda was the only person in the apartment privileged to have her own room. The Miretsky family (Iosif and Anuta) claimed the second room and the Y family (Vilya, Bella and Igor) shared the third one. Igor’s uncle, Alik, was also supposed to live in this place, but he was smart enough to get married soon after returning from a stint in the Soviet Army and had lived with his wife’s family in another part of town. The 450 sq. foot apartment had a small kitchen, a tiny closet with a toilet built into it and a small bathroom with a tub and a faucet. The new apartment also had a new television set - a black and white marvel of the 1960’s. It had one main channel broadcasting from Moscow and a Ukrainian channel beaming from Kiev. The TV programming on both channels was available just for a few hours in the morning and at night. It consisted mostly of the official news, folk and classical music concerts, occasional films (usually about the war), and, most importantly, the soccer matches. The regional station was usually showing the matches of Kiev’s legendary team - Dynamo. The Beautiful Game In the 1960‘s Dynamo (Kiev) was quickly becoming the premier football club of the USSR. The club was established in 1927, but for various reasons it won its first Soviet League title only in 1961. After that, Dynamo kept the title for three years in the row (1966 - 1968) and for most of 1970’s and 1980’s. There was nothing sweeter (and nothing more heart-breaking) than gathering in front of a tiny black-and-white screen to see Dynamo play, especially when they had to face their arch-rivals from Spartak (Moscow). The games were played in the main city stadium, which used to be named after Nikita S. Khrushchev, who was, at one point, the top man of the Ukrainian Communist Party and, later on, of the entire Communist Party of the Soviet Union. When Khrushchev was replaced by Leonid I. Brezhnev, the stadium was renamed to The Republican Stadium. In 1980, during the Summer Olympic Games hosted by the USSR, the stadium was renamed again. Since then it is known as The Olympic Stadium. Watching soccer matches at the “Respublicansky” was a real treat - Dynamo was such a popular team that virtually all of its matches were sold out and the stadium was full to the capacity of 100,000 amazingly enthusiastic fans. Dynamo’s youth squad was playing in the older and much smaller Dynamo Stadium, but it was located closer to the Y’s apartment than the giant “Respublicansky” and it was easier and cheaper to buy the tickets there. So, it just happened that Igor got to see more of the “B” team games than the main team. The game continued at earnest in the paved area in front of Igor’s apartment building on Svetlitsky Street. One of the neighborhood boys had a ball made from heavy rubber, which would burn one’s skin when it hit an exposed area. Half of the ball was painted in red and the other in blue, but what a luxury to was! No one owned a stitched leather ball, soccer boots or a uniform. It was impossible to buy any team replica shirts and the boys would draw a blue stylized letter “D” inside a blue diamond on their white undershirts. The games would start when the ball owner came down into the play area and finish only when his mother called him home from a balcony overlooking the asphalted yard. G e n e r a t i o n a l B a t o n!

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Igor and his friends had never played soccer on real grass, but they believed that they were good enough to tryout for a youth soccer club. The tryouts were being held in the Spartak Stadium, the same one that was badly flooded during the Kurenevka Tragedy in 1961. The green pitch was beautiful, the goals were huge, and a team of coaches looked as cheerful and welcoming as hangmen on the execution day. One of the coaches told the group of hopefuls to run a lap around the stadium. When the boys had crossed the finish line the coach flatly told them that they were not good enough for the club and that they should apply themselves in other areas. The tryouts were over just minutes after starting and the boys had not even touched the real soccer ball or stepped on the grassy playing field. Nevertheless, the game had lived on, in the school, in the yard, and later - in the far-away State of California! The Forest Kiev’s north-western border literally went through the Svetlitsky Street. Igor’s building (number 25) was facing a large farm field, which had served as a huge playground for the neighborhood kids. Igor and his friends were as happy as they could be to dig around for potatoes and radishes growing in the field, while trying to avoid the old watchman. However, the main attraction for everyone was situated right behind the field - there stood a majestic dark forest, full of tall and wide pine trees. In the summertime the forest was a treasure cove. The kids of all ages would look for and find edible mushrooms, berries, and... spent ammunition in the shallow trenches dating back to the war. More than 300,000 Soviet officers and soldiers were encircled, killed and taken prisoner by the Nazi’s during a disastrous attempt to defend Kiev in August of 1941. Even today kids continue to find live ammunition, play with it and get hurt or killed from the explosions. During the winter the Physical Education classes in School # 193 consisted of strapping on the cross country skis and heading deep into the nearby forest. It was usually covered with deep fresh powder, the forest was silent and it felt a lot warmer to be skiing between the pine trees than in the open field. Igor’s love for the forest stayed with him well into his adult years. Stranger in a strange land Going to school was the time of discovery in very many ways. During the second school year a classmate told everyone that Igor was a Jew. That statement perplexed Igor a great deal - he had always considered himself to be Russian or Ukrainian, just like everyone else in his class. Somehow he had never paid attention to the telling signs of his Jewishness, such as non-Slavic names of his grandparents or that they had often peppered their speech with strange words in a foreign-sounding Yiddish language. On that day Igor came home from school very upset and shaken up. More than anything else he didn’t want to be different from the others. Igor didn’t know what it meant to be a Jew, but he didn’t like it already. So he asked the burning question at the family dinner hoping to hear that he couldn’t possibly be Jewish. After all, even his first name had the proud Viking / Slavic roots. Alas, judging by the uncomfortable silence hanging in the small kitchen, it became clear that Igor Vilenovich Yasnogorodsky had just discovered a well known secret - he was different from most of the kids in his school, the neighborhood and the entire country. Now the rest of the world also knew that Igor was a Jew. How did a second grader find out about his friend’s socalled nationality, the Soviet term for ethnicity? Very simple - this peculiar column was present in the roster section of every Attendance and Performance journal of every school in the country. Yes, it was important for the Soviet educational system, as well as the entire establishment, to classify everyone by his or her ethnicity. More than 250 million people were carefully identified, filed and sorted by their “nationality”, even though all of them were citizens of the G e n e r a t i o n a l B a t o n!

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same country. This information allowed the Soviet bureaucratic beast to compile statistical tables indicating the number of Jews, Armenians, Russians, Chechens and others who attended every school and worked in every office, farm or factory of this huge country. What was the purpose of this massive, expensive and, seemingly, useless exercise? Perhaps, to divide and conquer the diverse population - who knows? This practice ended only during the early 1990’s, along with the dismemberment of the USSR. Being classified a Jew didn’t mean that a person was practicing Judaism, had any links to the State of Israel, spoke Yiddish, Hebrew, or adhered to the Jewish culture or dietary traditions. It was just a label, which was assigned to every newborn based on the ethnicity of his parents. It was a normal, well accepted and customary thing to do and all ethnicities were labeled in the similar manner. Therefore, being labeled a Jew wasn’t supposed to be punishing or discriminatory. It definitely wasn’t the same thing as having to wear a yellow Star of David on one’s clothing in Hitler’s Germany. It was just a matter of fact - a Jew was a Jew, just as a Ukrainian was a Ukrainian. Nevertheless, Igor, a 7 year-old kid, had instantly saw a problem in this particular predicament. He was right - it wasn’t easy to be the only Jewish boy in a class of 30 kids. Especially, because the same group of kids would stay together through the elementary, middle and high schools. During the next 8 years Igor was a butt of endless jokes, bullying and many other ugly things that cruel kids can resourcefully come up with in order to make someone’s life miserable. There was only one thing left to do - to defend oneself - and Igor joined a Greco-Roman wrestling sports club, followed by the boxing training section. Were Igor’s classmates exceptionally antisemitic? Probably not. It is likely, that they would have picked on anyone who was different from them - that’s what kids do all over the world. If Igor were black, Asian, or a Chukcha from the Russian extreme North East, the result would have been the same. In the end, this uneasy feeling of being a stranger, of not belonging, was one of the deciding factors in favor of leaving the Motherland once and for all. A Juvenile Dissident Living in the Soviet Union meant being bombarded by a constant avalanche of propaganda slogans and messages. Every form of the official media consisted of 80% propaganda and 20% of actual information or entertainment. Most of the Soviet citizens had gotten used to the perpetual propaganda noise and didn’t pay any attention to it. Many people found it to be a natural part of their life, just as people in the capitalist world find it normal to watch commercials during TV programs and drive by the advertisement billboards along their roads. At the same time, however, there were people who were truly irritated by the onslaught of red banners, patriotic songs, insistent political lectures, heroic movies and so on. For these people it was impossible not to notice the lies that streamed from the official TV, radio, newspapers, etc. The Communist Party and the Soviet government would insist that the country was producing plenty of food and consumer goods, yet the store shelves were empty and the common people had to perform miracles in order to feed and clothe their families. Igor just happened to be one of those people who were not willing to accept the lies. It is hard to identify the source of Igor’s skepticism and dissent from the official line. Perhaps, it can be traced to his non-conformist father or his cool and free spirited uncle, Alik. Regardless of the underlying reasons, the 10 year old became a little rebel and his sarcastic remarks during the nightly news programs used to infuriate and frighten his grandpa, Iosif, who truly believed in everything he saw on TV and read in the papers. As Igor became older, he started to openly voice his alternative views of the current affairs, even though it was a major violation of the code of silence practiced by the Soviet families. Almost all kids in the USSR were taught by their G e n e r a t i o n a l B a t o n!

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parents not to repeat anything subversive they might have overheard in the family kitchens. Nevertheless, Igor would openly argue with his history teacher during his lectures about the 1968 Prague Spring suppression by the Soviet tanks. Igor would listen to the shortwave radio, trying to catch the Russian language programs from the Voice of America, BBC, Radio Free Europe and so on. Most of the time, the Soviets would jam these broadcasts, but every now and then Igor could hear the news programs as well as some of the American and British rock music. Igor also refused to join KOMSOMOL, the communist youth organization http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Komsomol, even though the membership in this group was virtually required and expected of all school kids from the age of 14. All of a sudden, music became a major part of Igor’s life. At that time VIlya was working for a military factory, which was also manufacturing radio equipment on the side http://www.mayak.com.ua/index.php/en/. One day Vilya brought home a huge reel-to-reel tape recorder. Thus began Igor’s career in music pirating, the Soviet style. The undisputed king of the underground music sharing was Vladimir Vysotsky. - a brilliant poet and singer, who gave all of himself in every song that he performed for the millions of people around the enormous country. Vysotsky was and will always remain Igor’s idol and the searchlight in life. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Vysotsky The hottest artists of the 1970’s were the western rock bands: Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Uriah Heep, Grand Funk, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Suzi Quattro, and others. The Beatles had already disbanded but their music was going strong in the Soviet music scene, reinforced by Paul McCartney’s “The Wings”. None of the recordings by these groups were not sold in the Soviet stores and had to be smuggled into the country by rare visitors from the other side of the Iron Curtain. Not surprisingly, each record could easily cost up to 100 rubles (a good chunk of one’s monthly salary) on the black market. The only way around the high prices was to borrow (or even rent) a record from a friend and copy its content onto a magnetic tape. The tape would then start an endless chain reaction of copying. Given the poor quality of the analog tape the sound quality deteriorated significantly as the chain continued. Another difficulty was to find the second recorder in order to duplicate the tapes. Luckily, Igor’s neighbor also had a dad who worked for the Mayak Factory and also owned the identical reel-to-reel unit. It was not uncommon to see Igor during those days to haul large and heavy boxes from one apartment to another, but it was well worth it - Igor was able to put together an impressive collection of British and American rock music.

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The D-Day Igor’s last day in Kiev turned out to be cold and rainy. As it usually happens in Ukraine, winter was not ready to give up its hold on the frozen land and spring was not yet strong enough to claim it. On Tuesday, March 30, 1977, Vilya, Bella and Igor Yasnogorodsky had gathered the last of their belongings, packed them into a dozen suitcases and large bags made out of rough canvas. 'Let's sit down for a minute', said Vilya and parked himself on one of the suitcases. Everyone else sat down as well to observe an ancient Russian tradition - people must quietly sit on the suitcases right before embarking on a long journey. Igor looked around the tiny apartment as all three people were contemplating their next move. The Y family had shared these two rooms and a kitchen for the past 6 years. Now there was no furniture left as everything was either given away or sold in order to scrape up additional cash for the long and mysterious road ahead. An old minivan was hired for this special occasion and was already waiting outside. A quiet group of neighbors had gathered nearby, staring as the simple treasures were being loaded into the van. The scene looked similar to a typically Russian funeral procession, which always starts by carrying an open casket from the apartment block as the curious neighbors silently cross themselves near the entrance. !

!

1977 The Soviet “Exit Visa”

It took the creaky van about 30 minutes to reach Kiev's Railroad Station. As the family entered the structure, they could not avoid receiving a stern look from a huge statue of Vladimir Lenin, which was facing the entrance from the center of a vast waiting hall. Hundreds of people were shuffling from one end of the hall to another, waiting in lines at the ticket counters, sitting on long wooden benches, sleeping on the floor, smoking, eating, playing cards and otherwise killing time. "Go and say goodbye to your grandfather", someone told Igor. Only then he noticed a hunched figure of a broken man hiding beneath the majestic staircase. Iosif Miretsky, Bella’s father, had to officially condemn his daughter's decision to leave the USSR in order to keep his job as a Chief Accountant at the PATON Research Institute. Nevertheless, he came to the station to bid his final farewell and was afraid of being recognized by a colleague who might be passing by. Also, there could have been a KGB agent taking photos of everyone who was present at these tearful scenes. G e n e r a t i o n a l B a t o n!

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At any rate, Iosif did not allow himself to hug his daughter and grandson in public, even though he believed this to be his very last opportunity to do so. The “Kiev - Uzhgorod” train was waiting to take the emigrants to a small railroad station called Chop, located on the western border of their vast and now alien Motherland. Dozens of people came to see off their friends and relatives. Some brought flowers, candy and other farewell gifts. They rushed onto the platform and surrounded the train. These people represented a few million Soviet Jews who were also considering an incredibly scary, yet tempting, thought of leaving the USSR. They came to the station to say goodbye to their friends, as well as to imagine themselves hauling their own suitcases into the same train. A silent question was hanging in the dump cold air: "Would I have the courage to abandon everything I have in favor of a new and unknown life?" Once again, the general feeling was very similar to the one at a cemetery. The train epitomized an open grave, huge suitcases looked like coffins and the crying people resembled a funeral gathering. Everyone was certain that this was the last chance to see the people who were leaving and there will be no further communication with them. Despite the grim surrounding Igor felt very upbeat. He wanted to speed up the proceedings, to close the first and somewhat boring chapter of his life and to move on with the rest of the story. For a while he kept himself busy arranging the suitcases in the tiny compartment, then stepped out into the platform. The sobbing figures were getting wetter and colder by the minute and Igor jumped back into the train. He had had enough of this country and the weather certainly did not encourage any long goodbye’s. The train had slowly left the station and was already making its way through the cold Ukrainian countryside. Five people were sitting shoulder to shoulder in a tiny railroad car compartment, which was already packed to the ceiling with the suitcases. Besides the Y’s there was Bella’s brother, Alik, who rode along until the border, and Vilya’s cousin, Valery Selutin, who was emigrating at the same time. On the window side of the compartment was a small table featuring a bottle of vodka, a loaf of rye bread, some sausage and pickles. This was the last supper in the Soviet Union. On the next morning (March 31, 1977) the train pulled up to a small station called Chop. This was a famous no-man’s land, which could be visited only by three types of people: the local residents, border guards, and those who were either leaving or entering the country. Since Uncle Alik did not belong to any of these three categories, he had to jump off the slowly moving train shortly prior to its arrival at the station. Then he had to walk into the town pretending to be one of the locals and reunite with the rest of the group at the railroad station. This wonderful plan was devised by the people who emigrated a few months earlier and was explained in detail in the letters which we read as a part of the preparation for this event. However, the border guards were also well aware of this plan and were waiting for Alik and the other relatives of the train passengers as they were making their way into the town. Luckily for everyone, it was possible (and even customary) to buy the guards’ cooperation for a few rubles or some vodka - the most reliable currency in such affairs. This was one of the reasons to pack one’s suitcases with bottles of Stolichanaya, Crimean sparkling wine and jars of black caviar. The same stuff was also meant to be sold for the hard currency on the other side of the border.

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1977 Kiev. Late March, shortly before the D-Day. Left to right: Valery Selutin, Igor Y., Vilya Y., Semyon Selutin The Chop railroad station was a small building, which had one waiting room filled to the capacity by the emigrants of all ages. The stop in Chop was mandatory to go through the final passport control as well as the customs inspection. Then the emigrants would have 3 (three!) minutes to board a train heading for Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. The railroad lines connecting USSR with its Western neighbors are not compatible by design. The Soviet version of the tracks (dating back to the Russian Empire) was wider than the western tracks. Therefore, a train simply could not cross the border separating USSR from other countries and its passengers had to disembark and board a different train. As with everything else in this part of the world, this engineering "mishap" had a deep historical roots. Its purpose was to protect Mother Russia from being invaded by the Austro-Hungarian and German troops riding in the railroad cars. Instead the foreign armies were forced to invade in the old-fashion way - via the Ukrainian hills, forests and swamps, which they had done a number of times. Changing trains in Chop was one of the most stressful and highly choreographed parts of leaving the country. The main problem was that the railroad station was very small and the Customs and Passport Control personnel could only start to "process" people just a few minutes prior to the train’s departure. Furthermore, the Bratislava-bound train could spend just a few minutes in Chop, during which the emigrants would have to clear the Customs and load their “shmatas” into the train. If a family was unlucky to be delayed at the Customs, the train would leave without them; thus creating a major problem for the emigrants. Needless to say, everyone was trying to be among the first ones to get into the Customs room. A place in the front of the queue was one of the most valuable possessions known to the mankind. It could have been sold for money and exchanged for various assets and favors. The price would go up during the winter months, when spending sleepless nights on the cold stone floor was not desirable. This is where it helped to be strong, fast, young, wealthy and beautiful. All of the others ended up in the back of the line. The Y’s were among the best prepared people – Vilya, Valery and Alik knew exactly how to deal with the local administration and the rubles were flowing freely. The three young and aggressive men had quickly secured a leading G e n e r a t i o n a l B a t o n!

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position in the waiting queue and appointed Bella to guard it. Having done this heroic deed, the threesome decided to take a walk in the town and took Igor along. As they left the station building they saw an Information booth located on the street corner. Every Soviet town used to have one of those booths. Students of a local university would usually work in the booths in order to answer various questions, related to the local places of interest or help to look up someone’s telephone number. Each inquiry would cost 5 kopecks to answer. Valery walked up to the booth, noticed a pretty girl sitting inside and asked her: "Comrade, my name is Colonel Babashkin (he had invented a name and rank on the fly) and I have a question for you. Where in this town would I find a place to marry someone as beautiful as you are?" To everyone’s surprise the girl came back with a salvo of her own: "I can’t answer any questions, until you pay 5 kopecks per answer!" Everyone was happy, lighthearted, and clearly enjoying the sunny day in Chop. The experience of going through the customs was fast, scary and furious. The family had a few minutes to load their huge suitcases onto a long table. A procession of the border guards would walk along the table and empty the suitcases by throwing everything out of them. Vilya, Bella and Igor would run after them and pack their belongings back in. Outside the building the train was already giving its final warning whistle. The time was running short and Vilya gave a few bottles of vodka to the porters and train conductors, who delayed the departure until everyone had climbed on board.

The infamous railroad platform in Chop. As the train pulled away from the station Igor could see the faces of soldiers, their dogs, and dark silhouettes of AK47’s hanging from the guard’s shoulders. Within seconds, the vast void of the Soviet Union was left in his past. Igor looked at the train clock – it was a few minutes past midnight and beginning of April 1, 1977 as well as the rest of his life.

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The Taste of Freedom The morning of April 1, 1977 turned out to be sunny, warm and cheerful. As if by magic, the patches of dirty snow on the fields had disappeared as soon as the train crossed the Soviet border and the fields were already covered by the bright green carpet. The Y’s were rolling into the Slovakian city of Bratislava. Just ten years before these events Bratislava was one of the hot beds of the Prague Spring, when the Czechs had granted their Slovakian neighbors the full autonomy against the wishes of the Communist Party bosses back in Moscow. Just 14 years from then Bratislava would become a capital on an independent nation after a bloodless “velvet revolution”. In Bratislava another train change had to be made, but there were a few hours of free time before the Vienna-bound train would arrive. Once again, Vilya, Valery and Igor decided to explore the city while Bella was left behind to guard the luggage on the platform. Everything went exceptionally well - the men enjoyed strolling around the city center, but when they got back to the station they noticed that the Vienna train was ready to leave and distraught Bella was standing outside with all their luggage not knowing what to do! It turns out that the men were completely ignorant of the time change, which took place alongside the Soviet border. Bratislava’s time was one hour earlier than their watches had indicated and they were extremely lucky to have returned to the station just in time to catch the leaving train. An hour later the train left the Socialist Camp for good. As it crossed the Austrian border, a small group of military commandos boarded the train. Almost instantly all emigrants had noticed that the smiling young soldiers were carrying the unusually compact submachine guns. It should be remembered that the 1970’s were the heyday of deadly terrorist attacks by such groups as the PLO, Red Brigades, IRA and others. The smiling soldiers were there to protect the Israel-bound Jews from the anti-Israeli terrorists. However, very few Soviet Jews on this train were going to Israel. As soon as the train pulled up to the Viennese station, two men entered the railroad car and introduced themselves as the representatives of the Jewish Agency for Israel - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Agency_for_Israel, known in Hebrew as Sochnut. Their goal was to load the newly arrived people on a plane flying to Israel. But most Russians had other plans for their own future. They were forewarned by their predecessors to expect the Sohnut men and to resist their pressure, which was considerable at times. In the end, only one family from the train ended up going to the airport with the Sochnut guys. Then another pair of men entered the train. These guys were from HIAS, an American Jewish organization, which was helping the Soviet Jews to relocate, regardless of where they were going as long as they were escaping the oppression (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HIAS). Many years later Igor had learned that Sohnut and HIAS had major disagreements during the 1980‘s on how to help the Soviet Jews during their emigration process. Everyone unloaded their luggage and three members of the Y family had made their first small steps into the world of Capitalism and Freedom. For Vilya, Bella and Igor the air was instantly filled with the entirely new smells, sounds and colors. It was as if they were transported onto a different planet, which was settled by another type of human beings. A group of the fellow “Russians”, as they would be known from now on, had surrounded a small kiosk standing next to the platform. It was a simple newspaper stand, but the Russians have never seen such colorful magazine covers, posters, calendars, souvenirs and so many different newspapers! How easy it was to impress the barbarians on their first day in the civilized world... But Vienna continued to dazzle the Y’s and their newly acquired friends during the next 7 days. Clean streets, small shops full of seemingly unlimited merchandize, smiling people, no waiting in line anywhere, shiny cars of many different makes and models, and so on.

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The first week of April in 1977 happened to be the Passover week - celebration of the successful exodus of ancient Hebrews from the Egyptian slavery. How appropriate it was for Y’s to participate in their very first seder, which was organized by the Viennese Jewish community. A hundred or so people were seated along long communal tables in a large hall. They all read something from their books, chanted, and performed rituals, which looked quite strange to the untrained eyes of the Soviet Jews. The Y’s did not enjoy the proceedings - the ceremony took too long, the food was cold and tasteless and the rituals seemed obscure and irrelevant. Only one dish stood out - the matzah ball chicken soup, which the Y’s appreciated a great deal having not eaten any soup for a week or so. Under the normal circumstances, most immigrants would spend just a few days in Vienna in order to get their travel documents in order and be transferred to Rome, Italy. However, the Y’s had to stay in Vienna for the entire week because the HIAS offices were closed during the Passover holidays. The family of three plus Valery had stayed in one room of a bed-and-breakfast pension, which was uncomfortable enough, but also lacked one major feature - there was no shower or bath facility available. Clearly, it was time for everyone to wash up. The opportunity had presented itself one day when the foursome was killing time by strolling aimlessly through the ring-streets of Vienna. Suddenly Valery saw a small establishment, which looked like a bathhouse, and decided that this was the right place to wash up. Of course, no one in the group spoke any German or English, which made the communication with the locals almost impossible. As soon as the dumbfounded group was able to figure anything out, a burly man walked out from the back room and stared uninvitingly at them. Vilya looked at the man and exclaimed in Russian: “Peter! Is that you?” Peter Goldinov was an old heavyweight boxer, a former Ukrainian champion. He had left the USSR a few years earlier, went to Israel at first, then decided to come to Vienna, lived with an Austrian woman and worked in her sports club as a masseur. When Vilya was a young man, Peter was his boxing coach and now he was all smiles. Say what you will, but the probability of running into someone you know under these circumstances must be astronomically small. Peter’s life story was very disturbing to the new immigrants. Despite his seemingly comfortable life in Vienna he was very unhappy in the West. More than anything else he wanted to return to the USSR, but the Soviets wouldn’t let him back in. Then he decided to do something completely insane - he had crossed the border illegally and made his way back to Kiev, where he was apprehended and deported. Peter was not alone - Vienna was full of the former Soviet citizens, who wanted to re-immigrate back in the USSR. A great majority of them were refused the permission, while a few were allowed to return. These people were paraded on the Soviet TV as the showcase of how great life supposedly was in the Soviet Union and how terrible it was in the West.

Peter offered a 50% discount to use the club’s sauna and everyone had thoroughly enjoyed themselves for only 8 schillings a head! Then, he invited the group to his girlfriend’s house for dinner. The food was good, vodka was flowing freely and the color TV was showing a UEFA Champions’ Cup match - Dynamo Kiev vs. Borussia Monchengladbach. April 6th turned out to be a great day - Dynamo won in Kiev and was one step away from playing in the finals http://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/season=1976/clubs/club=52723/matches/index.html. Unfortunately, Dynamo had lost the return game in Germany and missed this amazing chance. But that was a few weeks later, on April 20th. In the meantime, the Y’s had to go to Italy!

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The Eternal City The stopover in Italy was mandatory for all Soviet emigrants wishing to settle down in either US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand. According to an agreement made between all parties involved, Italy had granted a special long-term transit visa for all of the people who had just left the Soviet Union. While staying in Italy the emigrants were able to apply for the permanent residence visa in the country of their choice, learn English and get familiar with the Western world. The emigrants used to refer to this wonderful period of time in their lives as the "Roman Holiday", although very few of them had seen the old American film by the same name. To say the least, Italy was instantly adored by every Russian, who had this unique opportunity to spend a few months there on his way to a new home. Igor’s "Roman Holiday" became one of the main reasons why he and his wife kept on coming back to the Apennines over and over again, and they eventually decided to move and live in Rome between 2001 and 2003. It was late in the evening on April 8th, 1977 when the train from Vienna pulled up to a small station near Rome. Because of the very real terrorist threat, the Italians decided to avoid using large railroad stations to disembark the Russians. Two things surprised the emigrants as soon as the train came to a halt. First, there was an impressive unit of sharply dressed Carabinieri (the paramilitary police) waiting for them at the station. Second, the emigrants did not have to carry their own luggage – a group of old Italian men quickly and expertly loaded them into the waiting buses. This was the first time in the Russian collective memory when they did not have to do this by themselves and the significance of this moment was not lost on the group of tired, completely disoriented refugees. The Y family was taken to a small pensione in the center of Rome, called Il Pollo, which means “the chicken" in Italian. It was a family-run bed-and-breakfast place. HIAS had contracted dozens of these hotels around the city in order to allow the tired people to spend a few days in peace, while trying to find more permanent apartments. Il Pollo was located on a small street crossing Via Nazionale – one of Rome’s major thoroughfares. The Russians had quickly and entirely immersed themselves into the life of the Eternal City. They enjoyed every minute of being among its ancient ruins, countless churches, colorful open-air markets, clogged streets and beautiful people. For one reason or another, the Russian refugees decided to settle in a seaside town called Lido di Ostia, located south of Rome. This was an excellent choice, given the fact that the apartment prices in Ostia were much lower than in Rome and that Ostia is located right on the beach. The lucky Y’s had arrived to Italy in early April and left in August and were able to spend the entire amazing summer on the Tyrrhenian coast. A few years later (late 1970‘s - 1990) Ostia had fallen out of favor with the Russians for the reasons unknown. It was replaced by another seaside resort called Ladispoli, located north of Rome.

Finding a place to live in Ostia was a part of the adventure. Most likely, the apartments were originally rented from the Italian landlords, who didn’t suspect how many people were going to live there for the years to come. It was customary for two or three families to share an apartment (one room per family) in order to be able to afford it. The Italians were getting paid and the Russians didn’t complain – many of them had grown up in the old Soviet "communal" apartments shared by multiple families. Thereafter, the apartments (actually, the rooms) were passed from one family to another, as the old-timers were leaving Italy for their final destinations. A privilege to "inherit" an apartment came at a price – the old tenants were charging the newcomers a fee. Of course this fee was recoverable – in just a few months the roles would reverse and a former newcomer would sublet the apartment to someone else. G e n e r a t i o n a l B a t o n!

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On their second day in Rome, Igor’s parents took a local train to Ostia and instantly found a place for themselves and their friends, the Shimanovsky family. The apartment was located within a 10 minute walk from the beach, had three bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room. It had marble floors, a balcony and looked like a palace compared to the old Y’s apartment left back in Kiev. Two other families shared the place with the Y’s and the rent was split three ways. Given the temporary nature of their stay in Italy, the Russians did not have permission to work in this country. The only official source of income consisted of a small stipend paid to them by HIAS, which was getting the money mostly from the American Jewish community and partially from the US Government. A family of three would receive just a few hundred dollars a month, which was clearly insufficient to survive. Therefore, everyone was trying to supplement this income in various ways. Some people found jobs at gas stations where they would work for tips. Others organized excursions for their fellow immigrants. This was a lucrative business, since every Soviet citizen could only dream about visiting such places as Florence, Pisa, Sienna, Naples and Pompeii. Most people, who were born well behind the Iron Curtain, would gladly spend their last lira to walk across the narrow bridges of Venice and to dip their toes in the magical waters of the Blue Grotto of Capri. The excursion business was monopolized by a group of Russians known in Ostia as the “Israelis". These were the same Soviet refugees who had left the USSR in the early 1970’s for Israel, but then decided to leave the Promised Land. By then the “Israelis” had lost their refugee status, since they were no longer escaping from the oppressive Soviet regime. Somehow they ended up in Italy and were trying to make a living while applying for a visa to any place in the world that would take them. Since Vilya made a respectable sum of money by selling the Ukrainian corrals, the Y’s were able to afford to take two trips up and down Italy. The first excursion was to Naples, Sorrento, Pompeii and the island of Capri. The sights were simply stunning and everyone was saying how lucky they were to be able to see this precious beauty. But the enterprising Russians did not just come to southern Italy to enjoy the sights - they also brought with them some of their Soviet souvenirs to sell and had expertly setup their own flea markets in a piazza’s in Naples and by the ruins of Pompeii. The second trip took the Y’s to Sienna, Pisa, Florence and Venice. By that time they had already sold all of their Soviet stuff and were able to properly concentrate on the unforgettable tourist attractions.

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The Teenage Mediterraneo Once the Y’s settled down in their room in the new apartment in Ostia, the most important order of the day was to get rid of the old Soviet-style garb. For Igor the outfit just had to consist of the denim, head to toe, followed by a leather jacket. For the reasons unknown, one of the most popular brands of denim clothing at that time was Super Rifle, produced by an Italian manufacturer. While Igor was never a fashion-minded person, he was extremely proud of his new Super Rifle look. He allowed himself to keep just one article of his old clothing – a wide leather belt, a standard issue item for the Soviet Army officers. He loved this belt and lost it many, many years later, in the US. Having satisfied his desire for the haute couture look, Igor decided to prepare himself for the life in America and signed up for the English language classes. The classes were held in the center of Rome and were taught by a young American teacher, named Mark. Apparently, Mark really liked to work abroad while experiencing la dolce vita at the same time. And enjoy he did! He was teaching English to a group of impressionable Russian kids, including many attractive teenage girls, who were only eager to try their charms on the very first American they met. It was pretty clear that their charms were working just fine! Mark’s teaching methodology was simple and effective – il Professore would play a song by The Beatles, then spend a few days analyzing the song’s lyrics with the class. This was the place where Igor learned such pearls as: 'Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…' as well as 'Back in the USSR', which was extremely confusing, yet very close to the kids’ hearts. No matter what, when the Y’s had arrived in America three months later, Igor was officially appointed the family’s interpreter. Getting to school was half of the fun. Every morning a group of guys and girls would meet at the train station in Ostia and noisily occupy one of the train cars. While the Italian commuters were trying to catch a few additional minutes of sleep or read a newspaper, the Russian teenagers would laugh, chase each other, play cards, sing and otherwise irritate everyone around. Following the train ride was a 30-minute bus trip across Rome. Of course, no one had even thought of buying the bus tickets and was on a lookout for the conductors, who had a nasty habit of boarding the bus at the most inconvenient moment. During a lunch break the kids would gather in a nearby café to play the colorful and noisy pinball machine. This was the first time when Igor saw such a device and was amazed to discover how many emotions it had invoked among his new friends. There were many tournaments, bets, arguments and fights related to the game. Many people were impatiently waiting to feed their last 100 lira coin into the machine. The "pinball money" was saved by avoiding paying for the bus tickets on the way to and from school. The evenings were reserved for getting together in a small park, near the center of Ostia. While the adults would meet at the nearby post office to swap news, rent their apartments or take a stroll along Lungomare, the seashore, the young people took their guitars to the park. This was the place to see and to be seen. The park was the famous meeting place for the teenage boys and girls and a great number of friends and lovers met there, only to part ways a few weeks later, on their way to the different parts of the world. While everyone was enjoying their time in Ostia, people were extremely concerned and anxious about what was awaiting them in their new countries. Most of the Russians were going to the US and the rumors were abound concerning the American lifestyle. One of such rumors held that the Boeing 747 jets had a swimming pool installed on board. Therefore, it was possible to swim in the pool during a transatlantic flight and observe the ocean below through the transparent bottom. Another rumor insisted that all aspects of life in America were completely automated to the point where it was possible to get married and divorced in a special vending machine. G e n e r a t i o n a l B a t o n!

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A very important discussion of the day was about which part of the United States one would like to live in. The most desirable place was California, of course! In reality, however, there was very little choice given to the immigrants. Depending on the inner-working of the American Jewish community, a family could have been sponsored by a small Jewish community located somewhere in the American heartland. According to the popular opinion, settling down in the provincial boonies was superior to living in Brooklyn, NY, where most of the Russians found themselves anyway. Igor’s close friends (Vladimir Nemirovsky and Gene Ostrovsky) were all planning to move to Canada and Australia, but to Igor’s great surprise he saw both of them in Brooklyn and New Jersey a few months later. On August 4th, 1977 Igor and his family were taken to the Leonardo da Vinci International Airport located near Ostia, in the town of Fiumicino. They boarded a huge Boeing 747 plane, which belonged to the now-defunct Trans World Airlines (TWA), and took off for New York. Igor was extremely disappointed not to find a swimming pool on board of this enormous plane. Yasnogorodsky (Yasno), David Igorevich Born on May 23, 1984 in Fullerton, California, USA. Parents: Igor Vilenovich Yasnogorodsky and Elena Yakovlevna Yasnogorodsky (Kucherov). Brother - Andrew I. Yasno. In 1989 David started playing soccer in AYSO in Sherman Oaks, CA. In the summer of 1995 David flew alone from LA to Israel and back. He had spent a month in a remote settlement near the border with Jordan with his great-grandmother, Sima Levina. In 2001 David along with his parents and brother moved to Rome, Italy, and returned back to LA two years later. In 2002 David graduated from the American Overseas School of Rome in Italy and completed one year of college in John Cabot University of Rome. After returning to Los Angeles in 2003, David graduated from Santa Monica Arts Institute and started working as a graphic designer specializing in web user interface. In 2009 David decided to experience life in Italy one more time and moved to Rome with his friend from L.A. In 2010 David returned to California., settled down in Sherman Oaks and continued his career in the area of Web User Experience. Yasnogorodsky (Yasno), Andrew Igorevich Born on January 18, 1986 in Los Angeles, California, USA. Parents: Igor Vilenovich Yasnogorodsky and Elena Yakovlevna Yasnogorodsky (Kucherov). Brother: David I. Yasno. In 1991 Andrew started to play soccer in West Valley Soccer League in Woodland Hills, CA. In 2001 Andrew along with his parents and brother moved to Rome, Italy, and returned back to LA two years later. In 2004 he graduated from Calabasas High School. In 2011 he started his studies in the Physical Therapist program. Andrew currently resides in Canoga Park, CA.

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Miretsky/Rabinovich Clan Rabinovich (Altshuller), Zelda Born in 188x in Kanev, a small town located south of Kiev on the Dnieper river. Husband Iosif Rabinovich. Children: Ida, Sarah, Asya, and Genna (Anuta). The Rabinovich family owned a prosperous candy store or a bakery in Kanev http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaniv. The family relocated to Kiev after the 1917 Revolution and after their business was confiscated / destroyed by the Bolsheviks. Purchased the entire house on the Ratmansky Street # 1. In the spring of 1941 Zelda went to Moscow to assist her oldest daughter, Ida, who recently gave birth. Zelda had stayed in Moscow through the summer of 1941 when the war broke out and the Nazi’s started to rapidly approach Kiev. Her two other daughters (Sarah and Genna) decided to leave Kiev together with the families. Sarah went to the city of Novosibirsk and Genna to the city of Kuybyshev. Zelda was able to join Genna’s family in Kuybyshev as well. However, Zelda’s husband (Iosif) and their daughter Asya did not evacuate from Kiev. It seems that Asya was a nurse and continued to perform her duties in a hospital until it was too late to evacuate. Her father (Iosif) decided to stay in Kiev with Asya. In September of 1941 both of them were rounded up by the Nazi’s and executed in Babiy Yar. Zelda had lived to be almost 100 years old, but during her later years she had suffered from a mental disorder, possibly an advanced version of the Alzheimer's Disease. Zelda died in Kiev in 1974. Miretsky, Iosif Aronovich Born on July 11, 1919 in Chernobyl, a small town 100 km north of Kiev. Parents: Aron Gershkovich Miretsky and Sheynulya Abramovna Miretsky. Wife - Genna Iosifovna Miretsky (Rabinovich). Children: Bella Iosifovna Yasnogorodsky (Miretsky) and Aron (Alik) Iosifovich Miretsky. During the early 1930‘s Iosif’s and two of his siblings had left Chernobyl and moved to Kiev, but the parents continued to live in Chernobyl. He became a bookkeeper and married Genna Iosifovna Rabinovich on May 19, 1938. Their first child (Bella) was born on the same day one year later. In 1941 Chernobyl was occupied by the German army and Iosif’s parents were executed along with other Jewish residents of that town. At the beginning of the war, Iosif was not drafted into the Red Army because of his bad health. He had evacuated his family to the city of Kuybyshev (now - Samara). The couple’s second child (Aron - Alik) was born in Kuybyshev on May 13, 1944. Iosif might have served in the Army toward the end of the war on an administrative position. He was awarded a few commemorative medals. Iosif was a member of the Communist Party and was very proud of his professional career as a chief accountant at the Paton Research Institute - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._O._Paton_Electric_Welding_Institute. Unfortunately, Iosif had lost this job as a result of his daughter's emigration from the Soviet Union in 1977. Iosif and Anuta also emigrated from the USSR in November of 1982 and arrived in Los Angeles in January of 1983. Iosif died in Los Angeles, USA on April 12, 2001. He is buried at Mount Sinai Memorial Park. G e n e r a t i o n a l B a t o n!

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Miretsky (Rabinovich), Genna (Anuta) Iosifovna Born on May 12, 1920 in Kiev. Parents: Iosif and Zelda Rabinovich. Children: Bella Iosifovna Yasnogorodsky (Miretsky) and Aron (Alik) Iosifovich Miretsky. In 1941 Anuta, Iosif and Bella evacuated from Kiev to the city of Kuybyshev. The couple’s second child (Alik) was born in Kuybyshev on May 13, 1944. In 1945 the family returned to Kiev and discovered that their house was occupied by other people and their belonging destroyed or stolen. Somehow they managed to move into two rooms of the entire property. Anuta worked as a bookkeeper. The most memorable place of her employment was a Pharmaceutical Plant named after the Russian scientist M. V. Lomonosov. The factory still exists in the same location - http://farmak.ua/en/history. As almost every Soviet employee, Anuta was able to take home something valuable from her job. One day she took home a 3-liter jar of pure alcohol, which after the proper dilution would be equal to 7 liters of high quality vodka. Unfortunately, Anuta slipped while putting the jar into a storage cabinet and the treasure had shuttered all over the kitchen floor. Iosif and Anuta emigrated from the USSR in November of 1982 and arrived in Los Angeles in January of 1983. Anuta died in Los Angeles, USA on January 18, 2008. She is buried at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in the same grave as Iosif. Yasnogorodsky (Miretsky), Bella Iosifovna Born on May 19, 1939 in Kiev. Parents: Iosif and Anuta Miretsky. Brother - Aron (Alik) Iosifovich Miretsky. Husband - Vilen Israilevich Yasnogorodsky. Child - Igor Vilenovich Yasnogorodsky. A pretty young girl was raised in a fairly solid, somewhat bourgeois, Jewish family. Both of her parents (Iosif and Anuta Miretsky) were life-long bookkeepers and very practical people. They had always managed to put enough food on the table, even during the most difficult times. Bella was two years old when The War started. Her father was not drafted into the Red Army and the family was evacuated from Kiev to the city of Kuybyshev. Incidentally, Bella’s future husband (Vilya) had also lived in the Kuybyshev region during the same period of time. In 1945 the family returned to Kiev. Bella graduated from high school and was admitted into the nursing school in the city of Kharkov. Shortly upon graduation, she was introduced to Vilen Israilevich Yasnogorodsky and married him in December of 1959. She was 20 years old at that time. On October 6, 1960, Bella gave birth to her only child, Igor Vilenovich Yasnogorodsky. During most of her adult life in Kiev, Bella was employed as a nurse in a typical Soviet neighborhood health center, which was called a Polyclinic. Her responsibilities included to look after the newborn babies in a certain part of Vetryannye Gory, where she lived. Bella was making house calls to examine the newborns and to help their mothers. Soon she became well known and respected in the neighborhood - most of the children and their parents would greet Bella on the streets and stores. This had pleased her a great deal.

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Not surprisingly, Bella was reluctant to emigrate from the USSR. She knew that leaving the country meant never seeing her parents again and the thought of this was devastating to her. Also, it was very painful to loose her dear job, her patients, her friends, her apartment and everything she had worked for all her life. Last but not least, she was very afraid of what was awaiting her on the other side of the world - there was new language to learn, new profession to acquire, new lifestyle to get accustomed to and so on. But, on the other hand, there were her husband and her son, who couldn’t even imagined themselves living in the Soviet Union and Bella didn’t have any choice. Unfortunately, many of Bella’s fears came true in Brooklyn, NY. At the end of her first full day in America, Bella experienced a terrible migraine attack. An ambulance was called in and Bella was taken into an Emergency Room of a nearby hospital. She had laid for a few hours in the ER’s hallway, while no one came to help her. Eventually she started to feel better and asked her husband and son to take her home. The hospital’s staff didn’t pay any attention as they just walked away from the ER. Very often Bella was feeling lonely, depressed and suffering from more migraine attacks. From the professional standpoint, Bella gave up on the idea of becoming a nurse in the US. Instead she took a few English language classes and worked for a minimum wage as a packer at a watch and jewelry factory in Brooklyn. In 1979, after moving to Los Angeles, Bella became a bank teller and worked for the now-defunct Crocker Bank and First Fidelity Bank. The new profession gave Bella a great deal of self respect and confidence. She had enjoyed working in the bank environment where she was able to talk to many of her customers. It seemed that she was always looking for that personal level of communication, which reminded her of the old work with hundreds of young children and their parents. Unfortunately, Bella’s health could not support the high stress associated with precise financial transactions and large amounts of cash she had to deal with on the daily basis. By the mid-1990’s Bella had to leave her job and apply for the government disability program. In 1999 Vilya had asked Bella for a divorce. Her mental health continued to deteriorate - Bella was becoming increasingly forgetful, absent minded and could not drive a car. In 2006 she was diagnosed with an early stage of the Alzheimer’s Disease. In 2008, after the death of her mother, Bella was no longer able to live by herself in her apartment in Playa del Rey, near the Los Angeles International Airport. For a number of years she had lived with the live-in household assistants, until 2011 when she was relocated into an Assisted Living facility in Chatsworth, California. Miretsky, Aron (Alik) Iosifovich Born on May 13, 1944 in Kuybyshev (Russia). Parents: Iosif and Anuta Miretsky. Sister Bella Iosifovna Yasnogorodsky (Miretsky). Wife - Irina (Rimma) Grigor’evna Miretsky (?). Child - Michael Aronovich Miretsky. In 1965 Alik was conscripted into the Soviet Army. In 1966, as a member of the Engineering Battalion, Alik was involved in the massive reconstruction of the city of Tashkent, following a devastating earthquake (7.5 points on the Richter scale) on April 26th, 1966. Upon returning from the Army service to Kiev, Alik was introduced to his future wife, Rimma. By coincidence, Rimma’s father (Grigory) was working together with Alik’s mother (Anuta) in the bookkeeping department of the Lomonosov Pharmaceutical Plant. The couple was married in 1968 (?) and bought their own apartment in the brand new building located within a few kilometers from the Babiy Yar area. Their son, Michael Miretsky, was born in February of 1970.

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Alik’s father (Iosif) wanted him to become an engineer and had helped Alik to get a job at the Paton Research Institute, where Iosif was employed as a chief accountant. Alik was a very outgoing, communicable, athletic and resourceful person. He was very much a “people person” and had many well-connected friends. Therefore, he was able to procure (and resell ?) the consumer goods, which were extremely difficult to find in the Soviet Union, such as the blue jeans, etc. Alik, his wife and son emigrated from the Soviet Union in the spring of 1980. They were among the last Soviet Jews who were allowed to leave the country before the beginning of the Summer Olympic Games in Moscow. The emigration process had stalled during that time, also due to the Soviet-led war in Afghanistan and resumed only a few years later. Miretsky, Michael Aronovich Born on February 23, 1970 in Kiev, Ukraine. Parents: Aron (Alik) Iosifovich Miretsky and Irina (Rimma) Grigor’evna Miretsky. Wife: Glenda Miretsky (?). Child: Aaron Miretsky.

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Memory Dump  

The history of the Yasnogorodsky, Miretsky and Kucherov families.

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