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Soviet, Chinese Dancers Refuse to Go Home

August 24, 1989

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Immigration officials Wednesday asked a love-struck Soviet dancer whether she wants asylum after refusing to rejoin her troupe, and they sought two Chinese dancers who left their hosts and did not return.

All three women were in Springville to perform in the World Folkfest.

Don Russell, director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s Denver office, said officials interviewed Svetlana Kirenko, 32, who refused to join her Ukrainian Donbass troupe as it boarded a bus for Salt Lake International Airport on Tuesday.

″We’re asking her, ’What do you want to do?‴ Russell said. He said Kirenko’s entry visa doesn’t expire until Nov. 1, giving her time to decide what to do, and she was staying in Utah with friends for now.

Russell said Kirenko had fallen in love with Robert Retallick, 22, of Rexburg, Idaho, during a folk festival in that southeastern Idaho city earlier this month.

But if the relationship is her only reason for wanting to defect, the government may be unable to grant her political asylum, he said.

″Asylum is based on persecution,″ Russell said. But she could marry the American and apply for conditional resident status as an immediate relative of an American citizen, he said.

Retallick could not be reached Wednesday for comment. His sister, Holly Retallick, said he left Rexburg late Tuesday for Salt Lake City and she had not heard from him since.

Russell said the INS had no information on the whereabouts of Chen Li, 24, and Zhe Qian, 27, both from Guizhou, China.

The two dancers told their host family they were going for a walk Friday morning, then were seen by a neighbor getting into a car driven by a man believed to be the husband of one of the women, said Folkfest President Brent Haymond. The man is a Chinese exchange student in Houston, and the other woman also has relatives in this country, he said.

The dancers called the host family back later in the day, indicating they were outside the state but safe, and they thanked the family for taking care of them, Haymond said.

Haymond said the Chinese troupe was a last-minute festival replacement for another dance group held back in Beijing because of political turmoil there.

Update hourly