Submitted by Roger N.

The former Soviet Union is a region of the world which I find most fascinating. Perhaps part of my intrigue is because this part of the world was part of the “evil empire” before we used terms like “evil empire.”  But we did have a fifty year cold war with her; and we called what surrounded her “the iron curtain.” Even now foreign policy tensions between the U.S. and Russia are beginning to re-escalate.

Perhaps you experienced as I did as a child, bomb drills where we took shelter as a precaution or a preparation if the Soviet Union launched a nuclear attack on us. Hovering under a school desk would have been of little protection as we know now from emergency response planning following 9/11.

A number of years ago, following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, I was the Project Manager for the Iowa Council for International Understanding, which is now known as the Iowa International Center.

The Iowa Council was one of 33 NGO’s across the United States who were awarded an initial federal grant, to bring to Iowa in our case, local government officials, lawyers and judges, and small business owners, from Ukraine and Moldova for mentoring and training in the U.S. for two- to four-week periods. Ukraine, the second largest of the former soviet republics has been in the international news now for the last couple of years with its conflict with Russia.

One of my groups visiting Iowa on that federal grant, was a group of businessmen from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. For fifty years, DP was a secret soviet city which permitted no foreign visitors. That was because the industry there was the engineering and construction of rockets. Some of those rockets carried cosmonauts into space, and some were designed for nuclear war heads.

One of my Dnepropetrovsk grant participants was a retired military officer who now was on reserve status. His name was Yuri. We placed him with a home host who was also retired but from the U.S. military. Well Yuri and his home host family fell in love with each other. And they would take him on cultural excursions on his free weekends. One weekend they took him to Omaha and visited the SAC airbase there.

Yuri was enjoying himself but suddenly became rather quiet. His host family asked him “What was the matter?” Yuri quietly replied. During the cold war Yuri had an important responsibility. If the phone call came, Yuri was responsible for pushing the button which would launch a rocket with one of those nuclear war heads on it. Yuri was careful to say that actually he would have turned a key and not have pushed a button. The results would have been the same.

But what made Yuri’s eyes moist, as he looked around the visiting area of that airbase and examined a map of the United States, was something only he knew. He explained what he had just realized. This was the intended destination of the rocket in that silo, to which Yuri had the key to launch. And if he had received that order, the radiation or nuclear fallout from the blast would have killed his beloved Iowa host family as well.

That realization was a powerful moment for Yuri, and I suspect for his host family. It was just personal enough to me and my involvement in bringing cold war enemies together, that I will never forget that moment either, even though I was not personally there. So this is a small world story with a happy ending. Perhaps it is a small world story with a moral. Ironically, as project manager, the day Yuri arrived in Iowa as a grant participant, I almost sent him back to Ukraine, because of his lack of English language skills. For some reason I didn’t. Perhaps there are no accidents in the universe.

Yuri’s Cold War Enemies

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