Family Overcomes 5 Years Apart to Come From Russia With Love

Times Staff Writer

This is a Russian love story.

It began in Moscow in 1974 and ended happily early Thursday morning with the emotional reunion of a Russian Jewish family and a crowd of flower-bearing friends and relatives at Los Angeles International Airport.

In 1974, Yasha Sklansky photographed a beautiful Russian woman, 19-year-old Leanna Muravina.

Sklansky immigrated to America. In 1979, he showed Leanna’s portrait to a young American attorney, Carl G. Buchberg, who was so taken with her image that he went to Moscow where he met her and her parents.


The family welcomed Buchberg, who brought messages from their relatives and friends in Los Angeles. They told him about themselves and the artistic and literary circles in which they moved.

Muravina by then a published poet and literary critic. Her mother, Larisa Moiseevna Muravina, was a television producer, and her father, Arkady Borisovich Edidovich, was a cinematographer.

Buchberg was smitten.

“We started a correspondence after I came back--in very oblique terms, since it’s difficult to communicate with anybody in Russia about anything of substance,” he said.


During his next visit to Moscow, 10 months later, Buchberg and Muravina decided to marry.

It took several more trips, countless letters and the unraveling of miles of bureaucratic red tape to arrange it, but finally, in 1981, Buchberg and Muravina were married. She kept her surname, and later changed her first name to Elena.

The ceremony was performed, in Buchberg’s words, “in the Palace of Marriage, by a rather large, severe-looking woman with an iron hammer and sickle around her neck.”

Muravina, an only child, bade her parents a tearful farewell, promising that soon they would be together again.


Almost immediately after her marriage, Muravina said, her parents, who are both 52, received an ultimatum from Soviet authorities. They must either publicly denounce their daughter or lose their jobs. They refused.

Their careers in the Soviet Union were over. Their income was limited to a small disability pension her mother received because of earlier cancer surgery, Muravina said.

In 1982 her parents applied for an exit visa. It was refused. Four more times they applied and four more times the request was denied without explanation, Muravina said.

Luck Ran Out


“There had been no obstacle to Elena’s departure,” Buchberg said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t so lucky with her parents.”

“There was no political issue involved,” Muravina added. “I am an only child. The thought never entered our minds that we might be separated. We were a tightly knit family. We started thinking what to do. We started developing a strategy.”

That strategy required a lot of paper work and Muravina, who by 1986 had become a producer for a film company called Kinoproductions, would eventually amass three fat manila folders labeled “Parents.”

Muravina would also visit the Soviet Union twice--once alone and once with her husband and his parents, Dorothy and Harry Buchberg of Cheviot Hills.


Although the senior Buchbergs were born in this country, their grandparents emigrated here from Eastern Europe. Their son and daughter-in-law’s battle had become theirs.

Muravina besieged Washington and the American Embassy in Moscow. She wrote letters and paid personal visits to congressmen, senators, the State Department, immigration authorities and the U. S. Information Agency.

She contacted such diverse people as philanthropist Armand Hammer, actress Jane Fonda, producer Elia Kazan, journalist Harrison Salisbury, Carter Administration official Hodding Carter and San Francisco Mayor Diane Feinstein.

Muravina and Buchberg had made one trip together to Washington, but in January, 1986, she decided to go alone. In eight days, she said, she kept appointments with 43 people.


“She used the Congressional Guide like other people use the telephone book,” Buchberg said.

Knew the Shortcuts

“I knew all the tunnels, all the shortcuts,” Muravina said. “I knew where to get lunch--not that I had time to eat. I knew all the guards and they knew me.

“By then we were already on all the lists (of separated families who were trying to come here from the Soviet Union). Every congressman seems to have his own list of Soviet Jewish. Everyone has a list. Our names were popping up everywhere.


“The purpose of my trip was to ask all these people to pay special attention to my case.

“We were really a pain in the neck. It was a crusade. I walked into the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I went to the federal communications bureau. . . . I saw Sen. (Alan) Cranston in the hallway in Washington and was able to talk to him personally. . . . Washington is like Hollywood. In a way, it’s who you know.”

Muravina said she even contacted a friend who contacted another friend who knew Nancy Reagan.

When a large group of emigrants was allowed to leave the Soviet Union, Muravina said she and her husband became extremely excited. “They didn’t have the heart to tell us at first that our parents weren’t on the list,” she said. “They kept saying, ‘Let me check.’ Finally they told us that they were not on the list. We were very desperate.


“Then all of a sudden, three weeks ago, we got a phone call from my parents saying they had been granted permission to leave. They were getting papers together, that it was the last stage.”

Flight From Moscow

Muravina’s parents told her that they would leave Moscow via Aeroflot last Sunday evening.

There was no way to verify that they actually did board the flight, Muravina said. She knew of people who had been pulled from the airplane at the last minute and told that their papers were not in order.


Early last week Muravina’s parents called from Rome, where they would spend three days before boarding a plane for New York City.

Their flight from New York to Los Angeles was scheduled to arrive at Los Angeles International at 10 p.m. Wednesday. Takeoff was delayed three hours. Muravina and Buchberg arrived about 11 p.m. By 12:30 a.m. there was a crowd of about 20 friends and relatives, many carrying flowers.

“We’ve waited five years, what’s a few hours more?” Harry Buchberg said.

Then someone called out, “It’s landed! It’s here!”


Muravina, pale and tense, stood behind her husband, peering around him, looking like an apprehensive child.

A cheer broke out and her beaming parents walked through the entry, into the waiting arms of their daughter and her husband. Their arms laden with flowers, they headed toward the baggage pickup area--only to find their luggage had been lost.