129. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark) to President Reagan 1


  • Pentecostal Problem

The Secretary of State has recommended that direct Presidential action, in the form of a message from you to President Brezhnev (Tab A) on behalf of the two Pentecostalists on a hunger strike in our Moscow Embassy, may be our only remaining chance to bring the fast to an end. Our fears for the health and ultimately the lives of these two Christian women, Mrs. Augustina Vashchenko and her daughter, Lidiya, have sharpened as it has become clear that neither we nor their many other supporters in this country can persuade them to end their hunger strike.

Mrs. Vashchenko and Lidiya, who have been living in refuge in our Embassy in Moscow for the last three and a half years with five other Pentecostalists, continue their hunger strike in hopes of gaining Soviet permission to emigrate. The women commenced fasting on the 27th of December, taking only liquids for sustenance. The Embassy reports that the women have lost some weight, but are not yet in serious condition. The women appear determined to maintain their fast until they and their families are permitted to leave the Soviet Union—a solution they continue to believe the U.S. Government can “force” the Soviet Union to grant them.

While we have no guarantee that your intervention will be responded to favorably by the Soviets, the approach outlined in the draft message offers the Soviets a face-saving way out of this tragic problem if they have any interest in this at all. We, therefore, feel that this last attempt to work through direct diplomatic channels is worth trying and should be done now.

It will be essential that your message not be publicized.2 If the Soviets do not take prompt steps to act on your proposal, however, we will want to consider public statements and a media campaign in support of the Pentecostalists—steps which are unlikely to bring positive action from the Soviets but would demonstrate your continuing concerns.

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Former President Carter 3 has been requested to call the Pentecostalists in our Embassy by their friends in this country. Mr. Carter has indicated he intends no publicity, but may not be able to resist because of the drama of his efforts to dissuade the two women from continuing their hunger strike. This call is scheduled for the morning (EST) of the 15th. Should this become known before your have taken direct action, it will increase our problems domestically.4


The State Department and the NSC recommend you approve the attached letter for dispatch to Brezhnev.5

Tab A

Message From President Reagan to Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev 6


Dear Mr. President:

I wish to direct your attention on an urgent basis to the plight of seven Soviet Pentecostalists who have been living in our Embassy in Moscow since seeking refuge there in June, 1978. These people seek permission from Soviet authorities for themselves and their families to emigrate from the Soviet Union according to the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. We have repeatedly approached the Soviet Government on behalf of Petr and Augustina Vashchenko and their daughters, Lidiya, Lyuba, and Liliya, and Maria Chmykhalov and her son, Timofey, and the other members of these two families, seeking a prompt and humanitarian solution to their plight. Yet three and a half years later, they still await permission to emigrate.

The families’ situation has now taken on a new and potentially tragic aspect. After three and a half years of waiting, in frustration and [Page 416] now in despair, two of the family members, Mrs. Augustina Vashenko and her daughter, Lidiya, have embarked upon a hunger strike in support of their goals. Despite the efforts of the Embassy staff and of the families’ other friends and sincere well-wishers in the United States and in Europe to dissuade them from this life-endangering course, the two women have made clear they are determined to continue their fast.

Our Embassy in Moscow has discussed this matter with your Ministry of Foreign Affairs, informing the Ministry that the two families have agreed to leave the Embassy and return to their homes in Chernogorsk for the processing of their applications for emigration, according to Soviet laws and procedures, if their other family members residing in Chernogorsk are first permitted to emigrate, and if the seven family members are guaranteed that they will not be prosecuted by the authorities once they depart the U.S. Embassy and assured that their applications for exit permission for reunification with their other family members abroad will be granted. Out of deep concern for their lives and health and for the plight of their family members, I ask you to intervene personally in this matter to allow these people to emigrate and thereby bring about a humanitarian solution before it is too late.

Ronald Reagan 7
  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Head of State File, USSR: General Secretary Brezhnev (8190211, 8290012). Confidential. Sent for action.
  2. An unknown hand underlined this sentence.
  3. An unknown hand underlined: “Former President Carter.”
  4. An unknown hand drew an arrow from the right-hand margin to the last two sentences.
  5. Reagan initialed his approval.
  6. Confidential. The message was transmitted to Moscow for delivery to Gromyko or Korniyenko in telegram 10429 to Moscow, January 15. (Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Head of State File, USSR: General Secretary Brezhnev (8190211, 8290012))
  7. Reagan did not sign the proposed letter.