Difficulties Faced by Jewish Refusniks in Isolated USSR Areas

Jewish refusniks in isolated areas of the USSR “are still facing many difficulties,” according to the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ).

Dr. Iosif Begun, a 46-year-old Moscow electrical engineer, sentenced to exile in Siberia for the second time in as many years, is now in the village of Susuman, where temperatures are -50f. He has been placed in a small room, 40 feet square, with three other Russians who drink and play cards, making it virtually impossible to observe the Sabbath or engage in any intellectual activity. There is neither enough nor good quality food available. Mail from Israel and Western supporters does not reach him.

In Ilyinka, a small Jewish farming village in the Voronezh region some 500 miles from Moscow, commissar Victor Tarasov continues what the SSSJ called “a reign of terror” over its inhabitants. 130 Jewish families, 90 percent of whom are still intensely devout and who seek to emigrate to Israel. Dvora Matveeva told SSSJniks this week by phone that both Tarasov and the local emigration office refuse to pass on to them the affidavits sent to them by relatives in Israel which are a prerequisite for exit applications. “We just want to leave!” she shouted.

The call is only the third successful connection in over 25 attempts; Soviet phone operators have even occasionally maintained “there is no such place.” The plight of the Ilyinkaites, who evidently descend from local peasants who converted en masse to Judaism over a century ago, was first publicized by Moscow activist Vladimir Slepak, now exiled to Siberia and Anatoly Schcharansky.

In Tashkent, 42-year-old widow Svetlana Levina, a physician, is barred from joining her son Ilya in Israel, ostensibly because her mother, who lives in another city, does not assent to her emigration. Levina wrote her son that “despite all my appeals and your suffering, the worries of our families, the answer of the emigration office’s director was ‘I’ve told you already: no, no and again no!’” Levina’s widow’s pension has now been cut off for half a year and she and her second son Anton are in dire financial straits, the SSSJ reported.

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