** war and social upheaval: Communism

Soviet Union: Defectors

Figure 1.--

Defection is an interesting topics. Spies and big-name dancers are the most famou, but lot of private individuals are involved. The ideology of Communism is intelectually very appealing. That is why so many were attracted to Communism and Socialism continues to attract many seeking a better life. Most of us stopped believing in the Easter Bunny and Santa at about age 5-6 years. Bur there are still intepid souls tht believed passonately in Communism and the worker' pradise. A few like Lee Harvey Oswald wre mentally disturbed. But most were not. This is the cost of freedom. When you allow people to think for themselves, there will be those who make poor choices, both privately and pubically. This when the Bolshevicks seized power during World War I and then founded the Soviet Union, many idealistic people were very optimistic that they were seing a utopian society being created. And this view was fueled by the imperfections they found in their own contry. These ideas were fueled by the closed nature of Soviet society. All negative information was supressed not only to the Soviet public, but to foreigners as well. Thus as Stalin was starving millions of Ukranian peasants, American leftists were writing articles about the happy and prosperos Soviet peasants and workes. Most of the American defectors came to regret their decesions and led largely unhappy lives, most speding years trying go get back to the United States. There have also been defectors that have come from the Soviet Union to the West. In sharp contrast to the Western defectors, most have found happiness and fullfilment. There were a lot more defectors from than to the Soviet Union despite the fact that is was a lot more dofficult to defect from the Soviet Union. Americans are free to lece. Trying t defect from the Soviet Union could cost you your life or a lengthy sentence to the Gulag.

To the Soviet Union/Russia

Joseph Dutkanicz

Joseph Dutkanicz was an American soldier serving in West Germany. The KGB recruited him (1958). Dutkanicz defected (1960). He was given a job in a TV factory in Lvov in the western Ukraine. Like otherdefectors, he lived under constant KGB surveillance. He complained that the KGB agents were driving him mad. He requested to be allowed to return to America, but died drunk (1963).

Emma Goldman (1869-1940)

Emma Goldman was born to a Jewish family in Lithuania, than a part of the Tsarist Empire. The family like otgher Jews fled Tsarist oppression. In America she became involved in the radical labor movement. She became close to anarchist Alexander Berkman. When Berkman shot and stabbed factory manager Henry Clay Frick during the Homested strike (1892), Emma defended him, convinced that such targeted acts of violence were the only way to change the system. In fact the attack on Frick turned popular opinion shrply against the workers. Authorities correctly concluded that Emma was aware of the attack in advance. Berkman and others, however, refused to implicate her. She traveled throughout America giving sppeches and publishing articls supporting the workers anbd feminist issues she expoused becoming known as "Red Emma". She played an important role in development anarchist political philosophy in the United States. She was convicted twice, once for inciting to riot (1893) and then during World War I for promoting resistance to the draft (1917). Authoritie in the United States arrested and deported a number of immigrant radicals after World war I. Authorities deported Goldman to the new Soviet Union (1919). She was at first optimistic about the Revolution. She met Lenin, but was shocked with Lenin cracked down on Russian anarchists with a brutality far beyond what she had experienced in America. She left Russia after only 2 years, totally disilusioned. She spent the rest of her life traveling, living both in Western Europe and Canada. The irony of her life is that this eloquent spokesman for anarchism came to see herself as an America, the center of world capitalism. She lived several years in the south of France , writing her autobiography, Living My Life, a fascinating account of her tumultous life. Her last major cause was the Spanish Republic which she attempted to support in London (1936). She died in Canada (1940). She has been lionized as an early feminist spokesman and criticism for her promotion of political murder and other violent acts. Goldman like other radicals at the time failed to preceive the importance of law and the democratic system in acieving worker rights. Her experiences Soviet Russia, a society completely devoid of law, came as a great shock to her.

Big Bill Haywood

Radical labor leader Big Bill Haywood helped fund the International Workers of the World (Wobblies/IWW). Hewas charged under the Federal Espionage Act of 1917 fr clling a strike during Wrld War I. He served a year in prion and then while out for his ppeal, took off for Moscow. He married a Russian woman, but never learned to speak Russian. They communicated with hand gestures. After a few years in Russia, he decided that America was not so bad after all. He died of alcoholism at the age of 59 years (1928). Half of is ashed were burried at the Kremlin Wll. The other half were sent back to Chicago.

William Martin

William Martin and Bernon Mitchell were National Security Agency employees who defected (1960). They complained that the United States ws spying on countries all over the world. They dud not mentin that their Soviet hosts were doing the same or that was one did duriung times of War since ancient times. Both went in to live long, dismal lives in the Soviet Union.'[Brrett]

Bernon Mitchell

Bernon Mitchell and William Martin were National Security Agency employees who defected (1960). They complained that the United States ws spying on countries all over the world. They dud not mention that their Soviet hosts were doing the same or that was one did duriung times of War since ancient times. Both went in to live long, dismal lives in the Soviet Union.'[Brrett]

Lee Harvey Oswald

Ex-Marine Lee Harvey Oswald surely is the most notorioy=us of all the American defectors. He was experiencing failure in America. He believed the fault was Ameriuca, not him. He believed that the Soviet Union was indeed a worker's paradise. He left for what he thought would be a glorious life (1959). He was given a dreary job in a Minsk electronics factory. He soon found life in Russia was worse than meruca. The Russians were glad to get rid of him. He returned to America with his Russian wife (1962) and shot President Kennedy thefollowing year.

John Robles

John Robles was a teaching English in Moscow. He applied for a new passport as his old passport was expiring. He claims it was denied because he owed child support in California which he denies. Being stateless, he applied for asylum. He now appears as a presenter and interviewer on Voice of Russia Radio. He regularly castigates America, but of course is silenbt about Russia. He does, however, complain a great deal about his life in Russia on his Vkontakte website. He complains aboutbthe hot water being cutoff and rusty water coming out of the faucet. Robles]

Edward Snowden

Glenn Souther

Glenn Souther was a U.S. Navy photo analyst. He defected considered to be a master spy (1986). He killed himself at the age of 32 years in Moscow (1989). Unlike many others, he had not been sent to dreary provincial city.

Robert Webster

Rober Webster ws from Cleveland, Ohio. He traveled to Mosow to set up a trade fair exhibit for a plastic company. He was besmitten by a bixon beauty at the Ukrine Hotel, presumably a KGB agent. After defecting, he was given a job in Lenningrad. He soon decided he wanted tocome home. He ws allowed to as part of the Russian immigration quota (1962). [U.S. Congress]

To America

Victor Kravchenko

Victor Kravchenko was a Soviet engineer who witnessed horrors of the Holodomor. He defected during World war II while serving in the Soviet Purchasing Agency in Washington DC in the United States (1944).

Valeri Tihonovitch Minakov

Escaped from Siberia across the Bering Sea in a small boat, with his 6 year old son Oleg (1945). He was assisted by Eskimos of Savoonga and Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. Shortly afterward 14 Siberians arrived for 'a visit' and questioned inhabitants whether they had seen a 'white Russian'.

Walter Polovchak

The Polovchak family emigrated to the United states (January 1980). Michael and Anna Polovchak had three children. They settled in Chicago which has a sunstantial Ukranian ethnic community. America proved to be a disappointmnt to the parents, especially the father. Unlike the Soviet Union there was no guaranteed job and it was not the paradise he had expected. The two oldest children, Nataly (then aged 17), and Walter (12) had different opinions. They very much liked their new country. They did not want to go bavk to the Sovirt Union. As a resukt they left there parents home and moved in with a cousin (July 1980). Their parents wanted them back and went to the police. The police contacted the Federal Government because of the international ramifications. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the State Department recommended that the police not intervene and to allow the courts to adjudicate the matter. The parents initiated custody proceedings in an Illinois court. The issue wasrather clkear cut withb Nstaly because of her age. As Walter was much youngder, it proved to be much more controversial. The Ukranian community attemoted to assist Walter. They helpe him get a lawyer and Walter On July 19, 1980, Walter Polovchak, with the help of his lawyer, filed an application for asylum with the INS, on the grounds of potentially being disadvantaged and persecuted in the USSR as being a defector.


The Soviet Union despite the NAZI Holocaust still had a very substantial Jewish population. The Refusniks were Soviet citizens, especially but not all Jews, which the Soviet Government refused permission to emigrate. This was a post-Stalinist development. Jews for the most part did not dare request to emigrate during the Stalinist era. This was likely to invite the NKVD to arrest them. And just before he died, Stalin had decided on a major anti-Jewih pogrm. The so-called Doctor's Plot was a beginning step. Actually this may have contributed to his death, with Kremlin doctors either in NKVD prions are too terrified to do their jobs. With the 20th Party Congress and the de-Stalinization process, Soviet Jews began to apply for exit visas to Israel. Most of the applicants came from the new 'western territories' annexed as a result of World War II. This included the western Ukraine, Belorussia (formerly eastern Poland), the Baltic republics (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia), Transcarpathia (formerly eastern Czechoslovakia), Bessarabia and northern Bucovina (formerly Romania). The Jewish population in these areas was desdescimated y the NAZIs, but there were survivor. And unlike the Russian core and central and eastern Ukrraine, Jews in these areas had a very real memory of life before being annexed into the Soviet mpire. Their requests for emigration were systematically denied by Soviet officials. It did not fit well with the Soviet propaganda narative that people wanted to leave the workr's pradise. This was done n an individual basis. The people involved had had no way of knowing that others were attmpting to emigrate. This began to change in the late-1960s. Nnationalist and other political dissident activity became more common and while not tolerated was not as brutally supressed as had been the case previouly. D├ętente was another major development. The Soviet leadership became more sensitive to Western pressures and opinion. Economics was another factor. It was becoming better understood that Western economies were supporting the Soviet state to a greater degree than formerly known. The Refusniks some of whom had been trying to emigrate for over 20 years began to undrstand that they were part of a larger group and not just isolated individuls and they began to influence the wider Soviet Jewish national movement. The Refuseniks dispairing of ever having their emogration requests approved began to engage in dissident activities. Actially several of the more prominent Refusniks were active in the overall dissident movement before engaging in the Jewish one. This of course was only possible once the draconian Stalinist actions against disidents ceased. But it did not mean that the KGB did not have a full panoplay of powers it could use against the Refusniks. THe Refusniks began establishing contact with individuals and organizations beyond KGB control in the West. Refuseniks began to become household names in the West, especialy among Jewish groups. Their plight and details on KGB actions against them were chrinicled in the press, causing a major outcry against the Soviet Union in the United States and Western Europe. Israeli media also covered the Refuniks. The best known Refusnik was Natan Sharansky. This had less impact on Soviet leaders, but it did help gt the word out about Soviet repression. The Refuseniks suceeded in publicizing the denial of their right and KGB harassment, including being fired from their jobs or demotion to junior, often menial jobs. Their economic plight, including the loss of apartments as well as the discomfort and harasment of threir families (including their children) was duly reported in the Western media. This coverage and publicity was not what Soviet officals were used to experiencing. Previously the Sovirts were very adroit at covering up discent and even massive attrocities like the Ukranian Famine.

To Europe


Barrett, David.

Robles, John. Vkontakte website.

U.S. Congress. The Defector's Study (1979).

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Created: 6:06 AM 5/19/2014
Last updated: 11:26 AM 12/24/2020