Chance encounter that led to torture and Siberian work camps

A Ukrainian Jew, now settled in Israel, recalls his friendship with British soldiers in Stalin's Soviet Union

On the eve of the defeat of Germany in May 1945, Anatoli Shandalov, a 17-year-old student in Lvov in western Ukraine, was asked the way in the street by two sergeants named Frederick Grace and James Logie, belonging to a British military mission.

"We became friends and met several times at the hotel where they were staying," says Mr Shandalov. "On parting they left me a note: `We, two Englishmen, are very glad to have met you. We hope that our friendship will be everlasting. Long live Churchill! Long live Marshal Stalin! Fred and Jim.'"

Half a century later in his apartment in Haifa in Israel, Mr Shandalov, a short, courteous man speaking perfect, slightly literary English, recalls sadly, but without visible bitterness, how his chance meeting with Fred and Jim ruined his life. He says: "It never occurred to me, a naive youth, that a contact with allies might be considered a crime by the Soviet state security."

But within five years the Cold War was in full swing. Any contact with foreigners was suspicious. The hotel staff had monitored and reported on the meetings between the Soviet student with an enthusiasm for Dickens, Fielding and Wordsworth and two foreign soldiers. Just as Mr Shandalov was about to write his diploma essay on George Bernard Shaw's The Chocolate Soldier in 1950 he was arrested by the security police, jailed, tortured, given a half-hour trial and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment as a British spy.

Seldom can anglophilia have had such catastrophic results. Mr Shandalov has a very complete memory of how it all happened. Born a Jew in the western Soviet Union in 1928, he was evacuated with his family to the Urals at the start of the war. They returned in 1944 after the German retreat. He says that James Logie and Frederick Grace told him they were part of the British Military Mission in Moscow. He says: "We talked about what was happening on the battle-front, drank and sang songs." He hums a tune from Noel Coward's London Lights.

Mr Shandalov never saw the two sergeants again. He wrote letters, but received no replies and assumes they were intercepted. Partly as a result of his meeting, "I resolved to master English and eventually to defect to the UK. I entered with difficulty Lvov university". He thinks that at first the MVD security police (later renamed the KGB) may not have thought it worth detaining him, but with the onset of the Korean War there was a wave of arrests. Later, in prison, he met a lawyer serving 10 years because he comforted a client, whose son was about to go to jail, by saying: "Don't be afraid. In prison now there are many decent people."

A few days before he was arrested he received a mysterious phone call from an unknown woman who said "a friend of hers, an American journalist called Goldberg, was coming to Lvov and I should go to meet him at the airport. Of course I had no intention of doing so. I knew how dangerous it was to meet an American. But I had a foreboding something awful was going to happen."

On 4 August 1950, two MVD officers arrived at his parents' flat where he was living and searched it. Mr Shandalov says: "They took me to the local MVD headquarters. The interrogation lasted three days and nights. I was beaten black and blue. They asked me how I became a British spy." On the third day he was taken to a jail with a fearful reputation in Lonsky street in Lvov. At first he was in solitary confinement, but was then moved to a small cell with 70 men in it. "To turn over at night one of the inmates used to give a command," he says. "The only toilet was a big pot."

Interrogations were held at night only, but prisoners were forbidden to sleep during the day. Mr Shandalov says: "If you don't sleep for three or four days they can do what they want with you. My first day's interrogation was on my 22nd birthday. They beat me with a rubber hose."

After 11 months in Lonsky street he was brought to trial before a military tribunal charged with treason, espionage for the British intelligence service and anti-Soviet agitation. His parents had, with great difficulty, found him a lawyer, but his speech for the defence was even more hostile than the prosecution. Mr Shandalov had, in any case, already signed a full confession under torture. He received a sentence of 25 years in prison and five years deprivation of civil rights.

Mr Shandalov just survived the next few years of work camps in Siberia. News reached the camp slowly. In 1952 an officer stopped in front of him and a group of prisoners and said: "Today at 5am Comrade Stalin passed away." But it was four years before he was released. There were small signs of change. In 1956 the camp chief and his staff sat down with the prisoners for New Year's dinner. Soon afterwards he was freed.

Even then life was not easy. He says: "I could not get a job. As a former political prisoner I had been turned down wherever I applied. I was constantly under KGB surveillance." At one moment he was given 24 hours to clear out of Lvov. He thinks he may have made a mistake in not returning to Siberia, which was full of former political prisoners. He worked at a design firm and a research centre, keeping a low profile. In 1990 he and his wife Emilia took advantage of the new freedom for Jews to emigrate to move to Israel, but at 68 he finds it difficult to get a job or afford his flat in Haifa. "Unfortunately we have not found a haven in this country," he says. "We are desperately unhappy here."

Out of curiosity Mr Shandalov has resumed his search for James Logie and Frederick Grace, writing letters to the BBC and the Ministry of Defence. The reply from the ministry notes petulantly that he had not supplied enough information "to enable us to find the right service documents among the many millions we hold". Nevertheless, he still feels an urge to find out everything about the chance encounter in Lvov which determined the rest of his life.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower