Russian designs better life here Engineer seeks asylum and work


WESTMINSTER -- Vladimir Khoruzhenko points, with a father's pride, to the etchings of two young men hanging on the wall of an apartment here.

"These are my two sons; I drew their pictures," said Khoruzhenko, who arrived here from Russia about two months ago on a six-month visa. "I hope to bring them here soon."

His talent for art may help him achieve that goal. While he waits for a work permit, Khoruzhenko, 49, is trying to supplement the little money that remains of his savings by sketching portraits.

When he lived in Ivanovo, a city 150 miles northeast of Moscow, art was his favorite pastime. Now, it could become his livelihood.

"If citizenship is possible, I would like very much to stay here and work," he said. "I'm not a lawyer familiar with legal definitions. I just want to stay, live and work."

He sees only a bleak future for the Russian economy.

Rather than convert rubles to dollars, Khoruzhenko said he likes to illustrate that point by relating salaries to buying power in his homeland.

In Russia, a 60- to 70-hour work week often buys only the barest necessities. A pound of butter costs a third of his monthly wages as an industrial engineer and mechanical designer. An ordinary business suit would probably cost as much as an entire month's salary.

"Engineers and doctors are the least paid category in Russia," he said. "It's outrageous how small professional people's salaries are compared to others."

A coal miner earns one of the highest wages, about 30,000 rubles a month, he said. With two degrees and years of experience, Khoruzhenko was earning about 1,500 rubles a month, and working long hours.

"A man has to live as well as work," he said. "He can't just work and work. It's no life. People in my situation are not happy."

He said he fears that reforms will be slow in coming and costs will escalate for many years. Russians are experiencing critical shortages of food, medicines and medical supplies, he said.

Khoruzhenko has set his sights on a new life. He has applied for asylum in the United States and for a work permit, and hopes to find a job here.

Donna Durr of the New Windsor Service Center helped Khoruzhenko file the papers with the Immigration Office in Arlington, Va. A hearing on the work permit is set for June 23 in Baltimore.

"People often file for asylum and a work permit at the same time," said Jane Yount of the Service Center. "Work can be authorized while the asylum case is pending."

Khoruzhenko, who also taught English to Russian college students, said he is keeping all employment options open.

"I like research, mechanical design, engineering, teaching," he said. "But, I would agree to anything. I remain flexible and grasp new things easily."

His immediate priority is repayment of the loan he used to finance a plane ticket here. He also would like to bring his two sons to the United States.

His American odyssey started a year ago, when his 20-year-old son Stassik met a Westminster High School teacher traveling through the former Soviet Union. After Ralph Shewell, the social studies teacher and member of the People to People Caravan of Friendship, left Russia, he continued corresponding with the Khoruzhenkos.

When Shewell invited them to visit, the father and son discussed who should come and who should stay. A one-way plane ticket cost about 43,000 rubles. They couldn't afford two.

"I thought, with my background, I would have a better chance of getting a job than my son," he said. "I thought I could get a job, maybe organize a business, and then send for my sons."

Khoruzhenko and his sons -- another son, Vladik, is 19 -- agreed he should accept the invitation. Peter Viryashov, 21, a friend of Stassik's, accompanied him.

Viryashov and Stassik are both fourth-year medical students at the university in Ivanovo.

"I would like to continue my studies here," said Viryashov, who also has applied for asylum. Until a few weeks ago, the men were guests of Shewell and his wife, Tonya. They recently found an apartment to share with another tenant.

"Without any means of support, we are completely dependent on our friends here," he said. "Everyone has been so helpful. Without them, it would have been impossible."

While Viryashov has been able to pick up odd jobs, mostly yard work, Khoruzhenko has turned to his favorite pastime, painting.

He set up a booth at the New Windsor Service Center's International Festival last month and has contracts for several portraits.

LTC "I love drawing, especially portraits, and making everything come out the way I see it," he said.

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