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For Russian émigrés, Reagan meant 'freedom'

The number of people from the Soviet Union emigrating to the USA began to increase as the Cold War ended. In 1988, fewer than 3,000 immigrants to the USA claimed the Soviet Union as a birthplace; by 1991, the number neared 57,000.

NEW YORK The women gathered in a corner of Brooklyn known as "Little Odessa" have much in common.

They are Jews who, in the former Soviet Union, lived in fear. They are mothers who once worried that their children would have no future. They are former refugees who believe that Ronald Reagan paved their way out of Russia.

"The name 'Reagan' for us was like a ticket to freedom," says Rita Kagan, 51, who came to the USA in 1991 with her parents and son. "Reagan for us wasn't just a president. He was a man who changed our lives."

The five women and their families have now been in the USA for more than a decade. They are social workers at a community center in Brighton Beach. They help many who, like themselves, were able to leave the former Soviet Union after Reagan's presidency because of improved relations between the USA and Russia.

The women remember Reagan's visit to Moscow's Red Square in 1988 and watching him on television. They recall his speeches and how they were moved by his presence and

passion, even though understood little English.


"He knew how to deal with Russia," says Raya Khaimchayev, 65, who was denied permission to leave the Soviet Union for 18 years before finally coming to the USA in 1991. "We are very grateful for what he did."

Bella Bykov, 56, and her husband

tried to emigrate in 1985, fearful that their son, then 17, might have to join the Red Army in Afghanistan. "We didn't think he'd have the future he'd have here because he was a Jewish boy," she says.

Two years later, the family unexpectedly got permission to come to the USA. "Now we understand it was because of Reagan," she says.

Reagan holds a sacred place in the heart of Lyuba Tarnorutskaya.

"When I go to synagogue, I can compare him only with Moses," says Tarnorutskaya, 57, who came to the USA with her family in 1990. "Now," she says, beginning to cry, "I feel so sorry that I could not express my gratitude when he was alive."

By Charisse Jones

Reagan's name conjures range of emotions

By John Ritter USA TODAY

Some Americans see a conservative ideologue who bloated the national debt, who favored the rich over the poor and the suffering, who presided over a scandal-plagued administration and whose detached, corporate style fostered a nation that was, as Haynes Johnson wrote, "sleepwalking through history."

If Ronald Reagan's imprint left our politics colored black and white, surely our memories of this man of old-fashioned, deeply held values are infinitely more complex.

Image defined his public essence, but for every flattering image of Reagan the incurable optimist, the master of self-deprecating humor, the steely cold warrior, the restorer of America's confidence there's a countervailing one.

But as is usually the case with presidents, the mosaic of the Reagan years bridging the healing of Vietnam and Watergate and the information technology explosion was woven by events: The decline of communism. The rise of AIDS. The

spread of global terrorism. The loss of a space shuttle. An assassination attempt blocks from the White House.

So, it's hard to pigeonhole Ronald Reagan. Even at a time of nationwide mourning over his death, many Americans can't ignore his warts. The Gipper is beloved, not just on his side of the political fence, and he is reviled.

To read what some Americans his admirers and his detractors say about the nation's 40th president, read on.

Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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