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Soviet-American Couples Cope with Daily Life after January Reunions

May 7, 1986

Undated (AP) _ Most of the eight Soviet-American couples reunited as a goodwill gesture before last year’s superpower summit have retreated from the public eye, working to append the traditional ″happily ever after″ to stories that had mostly been about the pain of separation.

Some are still struggling to cope with their new lives together, with worries about jobs, citizenship and family left behind.

″I don’t really enjoy celebrity status. We just want to be normal people,″ says Edith Luthi, who lives in Holliston, Mass., with her emigre husband, Michael Iossel, a bookstore employee.

The couple decided to decline interviews primarily because Iossel still has relatives in the Soviet Union, said Ms. Luthi, who works for a computer firm.

Tony Bartholomew, 47, who waited three years before his Soviet wife could live with him in California, says he’s out of a job.

He said he could not get a security clearance to continue on a classified Navy project for Bendix Corp., and was let go at the end of March.

The Pentagon’s Defense Legal Services Agency never said yes or no to the clearance after 13 months of review and promises in January and March to expedite his case, he said.

The federal agency’s Industrial Security Clearance department in Arlington, Va., did not respond to requests for comment.

″No one could say I’ve been a bad American,″ the engineer said in an interview. When he returned from private business in communist countries before joining Bendix, he said, he always agreed to interviews by the FBI and CIA.

On one such trip in 1981, he shared a taxicab during a Moscow snowstorm with Tatyana Bondareva, 27, a linguist who speaks English. They were married March 23, 1982.

Immediately after their marriage, Tatyana’s father was demoted as deputy director of a science institute in the space program, Bartholomew said.

His wife ″came to America thinking this was a beautiful country. Now we’re getting the same prejudice against us that the Soviets showed the Americans when she wanted to go.″

Financially, ″things are not good,″ said Bartholomew. He said the couple rented an apartment in the Los Angeles suburb of Fountain Valley and just completed furnishing it before he lost the job. Mrs. Bartholomew is also unemployed.

Aleksei Lodisev’s transition to American life has been easier. Lodisev, who waited nearly five years to join his wife in Michigan, quickly found work as a computer software engineer.

He married Sandra Gubin in 1981 while she was studying in the Soviet Union. After being reunited in January, Lodisev, 33, and Ms. Gubin, 38, moved to an apartment in Ann Arbor last month after he was hired by a computer company as a software engineer. She is a student at the University of Michigan.

″He was frustrated,″ Ms. Gubin said of Lodisev’s search for work. ″But to find professional work in this country in that time is remarkable.″ It helped that he was a skilled programmer and had advanced degrees in physics and mathematics, she said.

″He’s making enough money that I can do what we planned - writing my Ph.D. dissertation on Soviet politics and policy-making,″ Ms. Gubin said.

″One’s understanding of Soviet policy-making is definitely enhanced when one has been personally involved in it.″

Lodisev’s struggle to obtain an exit visa put Ms. Gubin in the spotlight as a spokeswoman for the Divided Spouses Coalition, a group representing 23 divided U.S.-Soviet couples.

Their plight has made Lodisev and Ms. Gubin reluctant to withdraw from media attention, she said.

″We’d like to have a private life, but we feel very strongly that we have to help the others and do what we can,″ she said.

Marina Lepehina, who was reunited with John Kapecki of Justice, Ill., is still waiting for a permanent visa and lives with fears that her home is only temporary.

A woman who answered the telephone at the residence of Ted Kapecki and identified herself only as John Kapecki’s mother said the couple would not grant interviews until they receive confirmation that Ms. Lepehina has been granted a permanent exit visa as promised.

She is in the United States on a travel visa, Mrs. Kapecki said.

David Carle, press secretary to Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., said the State Department regarded the case as settled and said the travel visa is sufficient to allow her to remain in the United States. He said it is unknown when or if the Soviets will grant her a permanent visa.

Woodward and Irina McClellan of Charlottesville, Va., who waited 12 years for her to win permission to emigrate, have remained active in the cause of reuniting couples.

In a recent interview, Mrs. McClellan, 46, said she is sometimes overwhelmed by well-stocked shoe stores and vegetable markets in this country. ″I have a headache from too much,″ she said.

Kazmierz Frejus, 82, of Pomona, Calif., said his 50-year-old wife, Helle, was living with friends in Los Angeles and is studying English. ″Everything is OK, Mister,″ he said in a brief conversation.

Robin Rubendunst and Leonid Ablavsky of Brookline, Mass., and Mary Lou Hulseman and Dimitri Argakov in Cleveland both declined to be interviewed.

The hunger for privacy is something Ms. Gubin said she could understand.

″We want to spend some time alone together,″ she said. ″It’s an adjustment period. But it sure beats being separated, believe me.″

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