By Nadezhda Savinkova
Edward and Tatiana Lozansky outside their Russia House restaurant and lounge on Dupont Circle in Washington D.C.
When 18-year-old high school graduate Tatiana Yershova decided to marry the much older Edward Lozansky in 1971, her friends and relatives believed she was making a terrible mistake. The slim, dark-haired and striking Tatiana was the daughter of one of the Soviet Union's highest-ranking generals, who, in 1968, played a key role in crushing the Prague Spring. So her decision to marry a poor Jewish physicist twelve years her senior, with dissident connections and a bad KGB record who had protested that Soviet invasion, was a mystery to those who knew her.
Tatiana Lozansky with Senator and 1996 GOP Presidential nominee Bob Dole (left) and former Congressman and Republican Vice Presidential nominee Jack Kemp
No one could have predicted that this marriage would force Yershova to, at one point, work as a cleaning lady in Moscow. But then, no one could have guessed that she would someday meet former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and draw international attention to the plight of Soviet dissidents. From birth, Tatiana Yershova had lived a life of privilege, accustomed to elite treatment by the Soviet system.
Close friends said she might have married into the family of a Politburo member or top military commander instead. Her choice bewildered those who knew her, and angered some hopeful suitors. One evening, after Lozansky dropped Yershova off at her parents' home, he was surrounded by a gang of young men who started roughing him up - until one recognized him as a physics professor at his college.
'So clean and pure'
As a high school student, Yershova wanted to study at the prestigious Moscow State University, so her family searched for a tutor for the rigorous math and physics exams. Enter Edward. Yershova's mother heard he was a top-notch tutor, so she offered him ten rubles a lesson - four times the going rate. Bogged down with research and students, Lozansky told her he was not interested. But when she wouldn't take no for an answer, he relented, planning to include Yershova in a study group. Recalls Lozansky: "When she came the first time, rang the bell and I opened the door, I saw someone so clean and pure, it was as if she had come from a spaceship. I immediately had a feeling that this was not going to be a group lesson. But I also understood that a girl like that is not for the likes of me." The hour flew by. Yershova said she would be back in three days - a lifetime for Lozansky, who immediately got a proper haircut and bought some new shirts for their next meeting.
A gradual courtship
When she came for the second lesson, Edward knew he was hopelessly in love with Tatiana. But she was less impressed, and her interest developed more gradually. In addition to math and physics, Lozansky taught her about Russian history, underground literature, prominent Russian exiles and Stalin's red terror. He introduced her to his dissident friends, and Yershova began to see a different side of Communism. In the fall of 1970, after she enrolled in university, the two decided to marry. Needless to say, General Ivan Yershov and his wife were not at all excited by these plans. But they did not attempt to persuade Tatiana to change her mind. After all, she had grown up getting exactly what she wanted.
So they gave their consent and braced themselves for trouble, though they did not know how serious it would become. Edward and Tatiana continued to see dissident friends, attend underground art shows and distribute forbidden literature, including the magazine Kontinent founded by exiled Russian writer Vladimir Maximov - a good friend of Lozansky, but hated by the KGB. Finally, the KGB lost patience. Lozansky was fired and told he could emigrate - if he divorced his wife.
Privately, Yershova's parents told her that the divorce was a formality, to allow her father a promotion. Afterward, they said, she and the couple's daughter, Tania, would be allowed to go to America. "I knew it was a trap," Lozansky says now, "and I told Tatiana that." But she had complete faith in her father: "I thought this divorce was a game, I never took it seriously." During the divorce proceedings, Edward and Tatiana held hands and pledged their love.
A difficult departure
Lozansky left for America in December 1976 with a heavy heart, not knowing if he would ever see his wife and daughter again. He settled in Rochester, New York and got a job at the local university's laser fusion lab. General Yershov got his promotion and another star - then told his daughter to forget her husband and marry again. It looked hopeless: Even U.S. State Department officials told Lozansky to give up, because "the Soviets would never allow the daughter of a three-star general to go to the West." But when Tatiana realized she was trapped, she wrote to Edward with the French embassy's help, telling him she was ready to fight and asking him to do the same.
Tatiana took a job as a cleaning lady, founded the Divided Family Group and wrote appeals for help to the world's leaders. Edward moved to Washington, DC where he got a job at the American University and founded the Andrei Sakharov Institute, focusing on Soviet dissidents and their families. After six years of fighting, Tatiana made a desperate move: She would remarry Edward by proxy and begin an indefinite hunger strike. "I want to marry you under American law," she wrote to her husband. "If I die I have no regrets. I will be your lawful wedded wife in the eyes of God."
The 1982 New York Times article about Tatiana Lozansky's hunger strike against the Soviet authorities and emigration to the U.S. (archives available only to NYT subscribers)
The last desperate call
On May 10, 1982 Edward and Tatiana were remarried in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. That same day, Tatiana started her fast, which generated enormous publicity in the United States and Europe. On her 33rd day of fasting, Tatiana released her father's phone number to a visiting American doctor, who passed a message to Edward. The doctor warned that the damage to Tatiana's health would soon become irreversible. Edward made a desperate phone call to the general. "I'm calling to tell you that your daughter is dying," he said. "I beg you to visit her at once."
The general's first reaction was to dismiss the hunger strike as a CIA plot to embarrass the Soviet Union. But Edward persisted, and he relented. Seeing his daughter near death broke his resolve. He promised to get Tatiana her exit visa - and did, though it meant the end of his career. "One day I was a good Communist and soldier," he said later to a New York Times reporter, "and the next day my comrades, people with whom I worked and drank, viewed me in a different light."
Tatiana and her father, Gen. Ivan Yershov, visiting the U.S. from Russia in the late 1980s. At this time, before the official Soviet position had yielded in Moscow, Yershov denounced to a New York Times reporter the suppression of the Prague Spring he had helped to carry out in 1968.
A happy ending
Tatiana and Tania arrived in Washington in December 1982, after a six-year separation, to a typical American happy ending: a battery of microphones and TV cameras at the airport, meetings with President Reagan, Senators Bob Dole and Edward Kennedy, and book and movie contracts. With their new life started, the family thought they would never see Mother Russia again. They were wrong. Six years later, they were invited back to Moscow by Mikhail Gorbachev's science advisor. The two had become successful Washington lobbyists, orchestrating a meeting in Prague between General Yershov and Prague Spring hero Alexander Dubchek, where the general apologized for the 1968 invasion.
Tatiana and Raisa Gorbachev during one of Gorbachev's U.S. speaking tours
They founded Moscow's American University and Kontinent USA Media. Their daughter married a Russian physicist and moved to Moscow for good. And on Saturday, Tatiana Lozansky will celebrate her birthday with friends and family in Moscow - in the city she once longed to leave, then feared she'd never see again.
The Russian feature film "Tatiana, the General's Daughter", based on Edward and Tatiana's life, has recently been produced in Russia and is now in the process of editing for an English-speaking audience. One of the actors is former Congressman and Reagan Administration official Jack Kemp who plays himself. The BBC also produced a documentary about Edward and Tatiana's story during the 1980s.
Edward Lozansky is President of the American University in Moscow.