Soviet Cancer Patient Refusenik Dies After His Arrival in Vienna

Soviet cancer patient Yuri Shpeizman died Sunday in Vienna. The ten-year refusenik succumbed to cardiac arrest immediately after his arrival in Vienna after being released from the Soviet Union.

Shpeizman was en route to Israel with his wife, Nelly, to be reunited with their daughter, Rita Levin of Jerusalem, who campaigned for her father’s emigration. She never got a chance to see her father again. She has been living in Israel for 10 years. Shpeizman, 55, who was ill with lymphosarcoma, suffered a heart attack March 11 at the Leningrad OVIR emigration office where he had been told his much-refused application was incomplete, lacking a new photograph. Almost two weeks later, Soviet emigration authorities finally granted the Leningrad engineer permission to leave. At the time, he was too ill to be moved.

Nelly Shpeizman had been unusually active in past months trying to publicize the plight of her husband and other refuseniks. She was among eight signatories to a telegram sent to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev saying they were tired of waiting to emigrate, and also joined a three-day fast by a group of hunger-striking women refuseniks during commemoration of International Women’s Day. Yuri Shpeizman’s heart attack came one day after his wife concluded her hunger strike.

Dr. Gerald Batist, a Montreal research oncologist who founded the International Cancer Patients Solidarity Committee and was constantly in touch with Shpeizman and his family, told JTA, “For me, this is a confirmation of the pattern begun with Michael Shirman (brother of Inessa Fleurova) and Inna Meiman, who have all been victims of the Soviet Union. There is no question in my mind that the delay in their emigration contributed to their deaths. The Soviets will only let a person leave when it is too late, and then they will benefit from positive public relations and not be asked to account for the emigres’ deaths.”

The Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry mourned the death of “our good friend Yuri Shpeizman. This is the true face of ‘glasnost.’ The Kremlin is continuing its policy of either forbidding the release of many ill refuseniks or permitting some to emigrate only when they’re about to die.”

The National Conference for Soviet Jewry said, “Once again, as in the case of the valiant Inna Meiman, a courageous refusenik waiting so long to be repatriated to Israel but prevented by Soviet officials from doing so, even though desperately ill with cancer, has died with the Promised Land almost literally in sight. Inna Meiman and Yuri Shpeizman were denied even their last wish: to live in freedom and dignity in Israel.”

Shpeizman will be buried in Israel.

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