Tarnopolsky Family Told They Can Leave the USSR
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Tarnopolsky Family Told They Can Leave the USSR

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Ten-year refusenik and former Prisoner of Conscience Yuri Tarnopolsky has been told that he may leave the Soviet Union with his wife, Olga, and daughter, Irina. Tarnopolsky was called to the OVIR emigration offices in Kharkov on December 31 and told they would be allowed to emigrate. The information came from Nancy Rosenfeld of the Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry, which has been pressing for Tarnopolsky’s release for almost four years. Chicago Action is a member organization of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, also involved in the case.

In addition, the plight of dissident chemist and poet Tarnopolsky has been the subject of an international campaign of scientists and government leaders, especially in France, where former Prime Minister Pierre Maurois personally travelled to the Soviet Union in recent months to speak with Soviet authorities specifically about Tarnopolsky.

Tarnopolsky, 50, spent three years in prison and a labor camp for “fabrications which defame the Soviet state and social system.” His arrest was part of a policy of increased harassment of emigration activists in Kharkov, which began with the 1981 sentencing of refusenik Alexander Paritsky to a three-year term in a labor camp.

Tarnopolsky, Paritsky and other Kharkov activists had set up an unofficial “Jewish University” in Kharkov for children of refuseniks who were not permitted higher education because of their parents’ applications to emigrate. Paritsky is an acoustics physicist.

After Tarnopolsky and Paritsky were arrested, the university was closed by Soviet authorities and there ensued a series of apartment searches, police detentions and interrogations, and threats of criminal prosecution of remaining Kharkov activists.


The Tarnopolskys first applied to emigrate in 1976 and were refused in 1979 on the basis of “insufficient kinship” abroad. As a result, Yuri Tarnopolsky lost his job as a full professor at the Polytechnical Institute in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. He was subsequently prevented from working in his field, organic chemistry, about which he authored over 60 scientific papers.

Despite everything, he continued to speak out publicly against the state of refusal of all Jews who sought to emigrate, and wrote an account of refusenik life, “Description of a Disease,” describing refuseniks as “an oppressed Jewish minority … created in the USSR,” denied protection by “the Soviet constitution and Soviet law” and whose “fate is in the hands of the secret police.”

Tarnopolsky also writes poetry, “about everything,” said former refusenik Tanya Bogomolny, a Russian-English translator who described Tarnopolsky’s poetry as “among the best I’ve ever read from any writer.”

Bogomolny, who spoke out on behalf of Tarnopolsky as soon as she arrived in San Francisco in October, had expressed interest in translating his works into English to help his campaign.

Tarnopolsky’s poetry has been translated into French. While Tarnopolsky was in the labor comp, a group of prominent French poets issued an appeal on his behalf.


Moves to pressure the Soviets to free Tarnopolsky began in France in October by Maurois, who, as Mayor of Lille, had “twinned” his city with Kharkov. Maurois travelled to Moscow in October with aides and spoke to Politburo members about Tarnopolsky. Maurois was advised by the Kremlin not to travel to Kharkov to see Tarnopolsky and Paritsky, which was his original plan. Instead, he sent his aides.

On December 4, Rosenfeld in Chicago got a call from Paris from a committee of concerned scientists and was told that the Soviet Embassy in Paris had just contacted Maurois, saying that a decision on Tarnopolsky would be made in two months.

On December 24, Tarnopolsky was summoned to OVIR by its chief, where he was told that they had not made a decision and asked him to reapply for an exit visa. He refused and told them to work with his existing application. That night, he was visited by what he described as a member of the militia, who had also visited his neighbors and asked questions about him.

Exactly one week later, Tarnopolsky was called back to OVIR and told that his entire family had permission to emigrate. Rosenfeld said they are hopeful they will be able to leave in about two weeks.

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