Special to the JTA One Odyssey Ends, Another Begins
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Special to the JTA One Odyssey Ends, Another Begins

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One odyssey has ended for Leah Maryasin, her husband Alexander, and daughter Faina, and another has just begun. After 15 years of refusal, the Maryasins were finally allowed to leave the Soviet Union and arrived in Montreal late last week. Early this week the family was reunited with relatives in Toronto who fought for their release.

Leah Maryasin from Riga, who suffers from multiple myeloma, was admitted to Toronto General Hospital for treatment of her cancer. Bundled in a pink bathrobe and slippers, with two intravenous tubes attached to her body, Leah, 61, appeared with Alexander and Faina at a press conference convened by B’nai B’rith Canada in the hospital’s main lecture hall.

Though obviously tired from their trip from the Soviet Union–which included a last-minute bureaucratic foul-up overcome by Canada’s Ambassador to the USSR, Vernon Turner–the Maryasins exuded joy at their official welcome here. “I am very glad that I am in a free country,” Leah said in English, sitting in a wheelchair. “You must know what it is to be in Russia to understand what it means to be in a free country.” But, she added, “I am very sad to leave behind my sick friends (other refusenik cancer victims). My heart aches to be in such a position.”

Alexander, 62, said his family was “overwhelmed” by their experiences in the USSR during the 16-year visa struggle and “the kind treatment which we are not used to.” He thanked Leah’s sister Mara Katz and brother-in-law Eugene Katz of Toronto for their unwavering support during the dark years in the USSR. “If not for them, it would be much more difficult. I would never have been able to survive.” Alexander also thanked others who were instrumental in helping the Maryasins obtain their freedom.


B’nai B’rith Canada executive vice president Frank Dimant and president-elect Ralph Snow described the Maryasins’ story as one of love and courage. “Today we see what happens when we work for the impossible,” said Snow.

Dr. Gerald Batist, the Montreal oncologist who founded the International Cancer Patients Solidarity Committee and has kept on top of Leah Maryasin’s case as well as that of all refusenik cancer patients, said: “Today is the celebration of a victory of hope over despair, of caring over callous indifference. These cancer patients are the litmus test. The whole world will watch in shock if the Soviet Union continues to toy with them.”

Dr. Michael Baker, head of the hospital’s cancer treatment and research program, said Leah would probably be in the hospital for 10 days for tests and to begin chemotherapy. He said she had multiple tumors in her skin and possibly her bones and is being treated with heparin for a blood clot in her leg. Baker noted that Alexander, who is also ill, has refused treatment deferring all attention in favor of his wife.

Eugene Katz said about the Maryasins, “It was a 15-year struggle but then the most important thing was not to give in to the nogoodniks.” Mara Katz asked if she was angry that it took so long to free her sister, answered, “I’m overwhelmed with anger. Why did they keep them? What kind of criminals were they that they kept them?”

Outside his wife’s hospital room Alexander Maryasin told the Canadian Jewish News “It is very important for future generations to learn about the USSR. It’s very important for people to go there.” He added that he was very concerned about the Jewish community he left behind in Riga whose cultural activities he coordinated.

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