Making the decision to immigrate was difficult not only because my parents were risking literarily everything they had but also because once the process had started, there was almost no option for changing your mind; You were a traitor because you decided to leave … and that would be mentioned and kept in all records and impact your whole family.
In order to immigrate, and besides going through the motions of obtaining the necessary paperwork and approvals from the United States, my parents – much like all everyone else would have to obtain permission to leave. It may sound like a trivial formality, but this was no joking matter. Plenty of those applying to depart the USSR (or a newly formed country of the former USSR) were denied. Refuseniks as they were called, were denied for mostly due on your education level or military status. It definitely made sense: the country was bleeding its sharpest, most educated minds directly into its most serious rival’s hands.
My dad’s military rank was a cause for major concern and to this day, I have no idea how he managed to obtain permission to leave. He did have to sign away his rights to all benefits otherwise earned through twenty six years in the service. It is ironic because in the late 1970ies, my mother’s sister emigrated to the United States with her husband and two daughters. My father was applying for admission to the Frunze academy shortly after her departure and in true USSR fashion, they needed to know everything about everyone in your family. Having a sister-in-law who resided in the US made my parents a ripe target for continuous and heavy surveillance and … more which I will not delve into on the blog but am happy to discuss privately. It is perhaps the sole cause for their posting to Baku instead of Moscow despite my dad’s stellar record.
The higher-ups there thought that posting him to Baku was the proverbial equivalent of the English shipping their inmates to Australia. Little did they know, it was the best thing for our family. First, my family was shipped off to the boonies in the 1980ies and now we feared the government would want to keep us close and never let my family go. Let go they did and we
happily departed with great anxiety on August 21st, 1994.