When we grew up, Igor was special - but only as a friend We were under no illusions about the possibility of arrest
Click to follow
The Ukrainian poet Irina Ratushinskaya, 40, was one of the last prominent dissident writers to be imprisoned by the Soviet regime. In 1986, after four years in a labour camp, she was released and allowed to come to the West with her husband, Igor Geraschenko. Igor Geraschenko, 41, was the first Ukrainian witness to testify before the US Congressional inquiry into the Chernobyl disaster. He now helps Ukrainian and Russian businessmen to set up in the West. For five years, he and Irina Ratushinskaya have lived in London with their sons.

IRINA RATUSHINSKAYA: Our parents knew each other before either of us was born. Igor's family moved from Odessa to Kiev, but they always kept in touch. When Igor was six and I was five, we all went away for a summer holiday - that's when we were introduced.

Igor's father had a high position with the Academy of Science. He had a private car, which was very prestigious in the Soviet Union. On holiday, there were four adults, Igor, his older sister Larisa, and me, which was one too many for the car. We drove along the beach and camped in wild places, always making sure the police couldn't see seven of us. If the extra child had been discovered, Igor's father would have been fined, which would have been the end of our holiday. Igor and I took it in turns to di sappear under a car rug. My second memory of Igor is being sent, at the age of nine, to Pioneer Camp in Kiev. Before camp, Igor, Larisa and I had a week by ourselves. Their parents were working, so we were completely out of control in the flat, doing fo r bidden things. Igor's mother had a collection of curious salt crystals which we used to lick, until one day, she noticed the crystals were getting smaller. Our life seemed so free, but I'm not sure it was safer then - children were kidnapped and murdered , but because there was never any information, we didn't hear about them. A girl from my class disappeared. No one knew what happened to her. The militia kept their secrets.

Igor and I have never had a fight, but growing up together we had endless arguments. When it came to defending Odessa or Kiev as the best place, we were both little patriots. Despite the arguments, Igor was always special, but only as a friend.

Igor wanted to be a physicist like his father. I had no particular ambitions and just wanted to be myself - to be independent. Although I knew I would never be a great scientist, for me physics and maths were far away from ideology. I thought if I studied them at university, I wouldn't be in danger of being controlled by ideology, so I took a degree in physics. Literature was what I loved, but I would have been taught how and what to write and ideology would have spoilt my hand. I wanted five care-free years for myself at university. For Igor, it was serious study, night and day.

I was 24 and Igor was 25 when we surprised each other by falling in love. We were at a New Year's Eve party. Igor danced with me. I don't know exactly how it happened, but we kissed, and after we kissed we no longer saw each other with friends' eyes. Tw o months later, on my birthday, Igor arrived, without warning, in Odessa. He had come to propose formally. He is convinced he told me he was coming, but I know he didn't, because I was in a bad mood and wanted to spend my birthday with my books. Igor ofte

n thinks he's told me something when he hasn't. Usually a girl knows when a man is going to ask her to be his wife, but I was completely surprised. A dance, a kiss, and now marriage? I didn't know what to answer. It was such a big step. We both believe in God, so for us marriage would be for ever.

We decided to experiment. I would take my savings to Kiev, where Igor and I would live in sin. Even now, I am surprised that my parents didn't protest. I arrived in Kiev in April 1979, and we were married that November.

By 1982, I had published some poems and Igor was editing an underground literary magazine. We knew we were both in danger - that the KGB had to arrest a certain number of dissidents in the Ukraine, Moscow and other places. When I was arrested, my interr o gator told me that they'd discussed which one of us to arrest. He explained that they chose me because I looked like a child, whereas Igor looked tough. It is difficult to say which one suffers more in our situation - the one who is tortured physicallyo r the one who is blackmailed and tortured mentally. When I was eventually released I had the idiotic feeling that we had never been separated. The KGB succeeded in one thing only - making us both appreciate each other's company.

Igor Geraschenko: Even at six years old, I was aware that Irina was completely fearless. She simply didn't know what fear meant - she would swim away from the shore. There was never any competition between us. It's strange, because I think that nearly all children fight, but we didn't.

We were friends for almost 20

years before the New Year's Eve party which changed our lives. I asked her to dance. It must have been a waltz, which is the only dance I know. I had a feeling I can't describe. We kissed each other, and suddenly we began to look at each other from the point of view of two people of the opposite sex. I had no doubt that I had fallen in love with Irina.

I decided to go to Odessa to inform her of my intentions. My parents asked, "Does Irina know?" I answered, "Not yet," and they replied, "We'll keep our fingers crossed." They knew that if I'd made up my mind to do something, it was pointless to discuss it with me.

I was attached to the Academy of Sciences in Kiev, and Irina was teaching maths and physics privately. About 18 months later I lost my job, because we were both very active in the struggle for human rights and wrote a number of open letters, campaigning

on behalf of Andrei Sakharov and others. After I lost my job I did a number of different things - none of them requiring any qualifications. In 1982 we found work picking apples on a farm about 40 kilometres from Kiev.

We were under no illusions about the possibility of being arrested. Someone in authority came over to the office and we knew something was wrong. Five KGB officers took me to the house where we were living. They were wearing business suits and unbuttonedtheir jackets to show me their guns. When they found nothing, they took me to Kiev to my parent's apartment, but even after 12 hours, they found nothing, because I knew where the best hiding places were. The KGB confiscated Irina's passport, s o I realised that she had been arrested and taken to the prison in Kiev.

Irina was arrested for writing poetry; on the list of charges her crime was "producing materials which damage Communist ideas and the Soviet Government in the form of verses". I knew Irina wouldn't be frightened, that her belief in God would sustain her,but of course I wanted to be in her place. Seven months later, in court, when I refused to say anything, I saw Irina for a few moments and realised that although she was obviously under great pressure, she was OK. When it comes to blackmail, the KGB arethe world leaders. They always used visits as blackmail. If only one of you is in prison and there is a possibility of the other being granted a visit, then the KGB have room for manoeuvre.

My first visit to see Irina in the labour camp was allowed. We knew our conversation was being taped, but because we knew each other so well, it was very easy to tell each other things in a way which no one else could understand. The next six visits wereall cancelled, without explanation. My task, while Irina was in prison, was to collect information and to send her poems to the West. Three books of Irina's poems were published during that time. I've always known that she was a great poet, that she wasborn a writer. She has a gift from God. When Irina showed me her poem "Motherland", I understood why she was accused of being a most dangerous person to the Soviet State.

After Irina was released from labour camp, she literally had to learn how to walk and eat again. Her KGB torturers said that she would never have children, but when we got to the West, Irina went for medical treatment, the results of which are Sergei andOleg. When my father knew that Irina was expecting twins, he said, "Irina never knew limits." !