"Though I shall walk in the valley of death I shall not fear, for You are with me" (Psalms 23:4).

Twenty-four year old Katya Umansky was alone in her Moscow apartment when the phone rang.

"Hello Katya," said the caller, his tone dripping with cloying sweetness. "I'd like to take you out for the day."

Katya's senses immediately went on high alert. "I don't talk to a man I don't know," she said and replaced the receiver.

Half a minute later the phone rang again. "All right, Katya," said the unknown caller. "Let's put the games aside. I'm a representative of the KGB. I need to talk to you."

Katya inhaled. "What would you like to talk about?"

"Just some small talk."


"Listen Katerina," the voice became harsh. "You can't joke with our organization. You'd better cooperate."

Katya nodded into the phone, as if the caller was able to see. Just one year earlier, in the spring of 1979, she had applied for an exit visa in order to immigrate to Israel. As part of the process, she'd sent her letter of resignation to the Comsomol, the Communist youth organization. In response, they had convened a public meeting to humiliate and degrade her – the disloyal Soviet citizen. "Why do you betray us?" they had demanded. "Why do you want to go serve our enemies: Israel and Zionists? You're a loyal Soviet citizen; you have to continue to be a loyal citizen."

Katya had felt dagger-like eyes slicing into her until suddenly her embarrassment had given way to an inner strength she hadn't been familiar with. "I want to leave this country," she'd said with conviction. "I am a Jew. I want to live in my homeland, the land of my forefathers, Israel."

"How can you betray the country where you were born? The country that raised you and gave you everything? You do not belong in Israel; you are the loyal Soviet citizen. You do not even know Hebrew..."

"It is my right to choose the place where I want to live. Relieve me from the Comsomol, please...and I do know Hebrew."

The reaction had come a few weeks later. Katya was kicked out of college, her brother fired from his job. Without work, she risked arrest as a "parasite." She was therefore forced to take on a job as a janitor and a night guard. Yet she had no regrets, no desire to backtrack. Forward she would go, with courage and with strength. G‑d was with her. She had nothing to fear.

"Katerina," the voice on the line, gentler now, disrupted her thoughts. "It's in your interest to co-operate with me." Katya turned up her nose. They were all the same, those KGB agents, switching from benevolence to terror with alacrity. "Tomorrow at seven," he said. "I'll be at the park next to 'Dynamo' subway station. I expect to see you there."

For some time, Katya had felt dagger-like eyes slicing into her. "I want to leave this country. I'm a Jew. I want to go live in Israel." Katya remained standing in the same place, staring into space. What was this all about? She wondered. The image of the Comsomol meeting came to mind. Her slight figure standing alone before the giant bears of the Communist Party as they raved about their motherland. Their anger hadn't surprised her, but why were there eyes so full of hate? Was it because she'd voiced her opinion? There she'd stood, face to face with the dreaded organization, yet she hadn't been intimidated – she'd spoken her truth. For her it had been a liberating experience. For them, well, they were a slow moving beast, was this then, their retaliation?

After the Comsomol meeting, she'd joined the Jewish underground movement and developed ties with Reb Getzel Velensky, who had been a chassid of the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber. Reb Getzel, an underground rabbi and a leader of a minyan was now teaching her about her religion. Katya realized that personal freedom was available to her only by salvaging her true identity and reclaiming her historical roots.

Manipulation, intimidation, terrorization – these were the weapons of the KGB. She, however, had her own arsenal: faith, trust and loyalty to God.

When Katya entered the park, a nondescript man, his muscles bulging through the tailored suit he wore, appeared from out of nowhere. "My name is Alexander Vladimirovitch*," he said solicitously and led her to a park bench. "You'll be interested to hear what I have to tell you, Katya Umansky," he said with an ingratiating smile and promptly proceeded to relate to Katya her entire life story.

Katya looked at him. At first glance his light blue eyes seemed vacant, giving him the primitive appearance of a Russian peasant, but as he continued to talk she could see the shrewdness lurking beneath the surface. It made her shudder.

Vladimirovitch sat with his legs crossed, As he continued to talk she could see the shrewdness lurking beneath the surface. It made her shudder. suavely talking about her friends, her school experiences, about her grandmother who had died in her arms; he told her everything about her from the time she was born. Katya's head felt heavy. So the KGB knows about me, she ruminated. That could mean only one thing – they had something against her.

"Katya," Vladimirovitch said suddenly. "Do you want to know what happened to your father?"

Katya shot up from the bench. Her head swam and there was an ache in her heart. "Do you…Do you know where he is? My father?"

"Contain yourself, Katerina," Vladimirovitch sneered. "I prepared for this meeting, see, and there are a lot of things I know."

Katya sat down and placed her trembling fingers behind her, hoping he wouldn't see them. It annoyed her that she sounded desperate. But, he was dangling before her information that she longed to know.

Vladimirovitch stood up. "If you want to find out," he said, straightening his suit, "keep in touch with me."

Lev Umansky, a scientific researcher for the Academy of Science of the USSR, had left on a secret mission. Katya knew only that her father had gone on a field trip in search of uranium mines in a tiny village in the Ukraine. A few days after he left, she received a phone call from his coworker.

"Where's your dad?"

Katya was startled. "My dad? Isn't he there with you?

"Well, no. Isn't he in Moscow?"

"No, not at all. He's supposed to be there with you!"

Katya was beside herself. Frantic searches led to nowhere. Her beloved father, a strapping, healthy man in the prime of his life, had simply vanished without a trace. What had happened to him? Was he alive? The questions plagued her but nobody had answers for her. A horrible, throbbing pain lodged itself in the pit of her stomach and never left her.

Now that ache intensified. So they knew what had happened to her father. And they were using this information to exert pressure on her. She stood up from the bench. Her legs felt numb. In her mouth was a bitter taste she didn't recognize. Her mind was racing – a thousand thoughts vying for her attention. Was her father alive? Where was he? Would she ever find out? What did the KGB want from her? What lurked behind Alexander Vladimirovitch's guileless smile?

Despite her fears and her pain, Katya kept meeting with the KGB officer, sometimes in a coffee shop, at times in a hotel lobby, and yet other days on a park bench. Vladimirovitch called the shots and Katya went along with them, hoping, always hoping that she would finally discover the whereabouts of her father. But while Vladimirovitch talked and talked, he said nothing – neither about her father and nor about anything else. Alexander Vladimirovitch, Katya came to realize, was a highly professional rambler.

It was in a coffee shop when Vladimirovitch suddenly said, "My boss wants to talk to you, Katya." His boss, he explained, was an important man, a colonel and a general who had joined the KGB in the 1920s. "He's from the old school," he cautioned. "You'd be wise to follow his directives."

Katya (Kreina) today
Katya (Kreina) today

Colonel-General Anatoly Ivanovich Kovalyov was very tall, probably 6"5'. His army bearing seemed to have gone after spending years at the desk in his office, but his posture spoke of a man who was used to giving orders. "You are twenty-six years old Comrade Umansky," he said and launched into a lengthy talk about the prominence of the USSR.

Getting to the point, he said with studied sincerity, "You want to leave the USSR. You want to live as a Jew. Very well."

He leaned back in his chair and placed his hands behind his head. Behind him on the wall above his desk, portraits of Lenin and Brezhnev looked at each other from their frames. Katya waited expectantly.

Suddenly, Ivanovich sat up and fixed Katya with a penetrating gaze. "What do you know?" he yelled. "Your Zionist propaganda will never tell you what kind of difficulties you'll face as a new immigrant.

"Listen Comrade," he said his voice calm again. "We offer you a better life than you could ever imagine. You will be admitted into the USSR KGB Higher School. It's a great opportunity for you to learn an excellent Hebrew and also English. When you're done, we'll send you to Budapest, Hungary. You will go to the Yeshiva there and learn about your religion. And then you'll be ready to be sent to the U.S. to live the good life.

"In exchange for all that, Comrade, you will be ready to act when we tell you to. We have a mission for you. That is your privilege as a loyal citizen."

Katya rolled her eyes upward. "Sorry," she said. "I'm not interested."

A cold look came over Ivanovich's face. "What?" he sputtered. "What did you say?"

"No," said Katya, rising from her chair. "This is not for me."

"Are you saying 'no' to a Colonel-General of the KGB?"

Katya took a deep breath. "It's my right to decide how to live my life," she said moving to the door.

Anatoly Ivanovich's face contorted in anger and he burst into a torrent of threats. "You will die!" he shouted, pounding his fist on his desk. "You'll never be able to leave this country. I, yes I myself will personally make sure that you will get a refusal for a lifetime. You'll never leave the Soviet Union as long as you live!"

Katya shrugged. "That's fine." She opened the door.

"You'll be forced to undertake this mission. We'll make your life really miserable here. You won't be allowed to leave."

Katya half turned. "Comrade Colonel-General," she said, "you will yet kick me out of your country. Good day, Sir."

Outside of his office, Katya leaned against the door and closed her eyes. She noticed that she was panting; the palms of her hands were sweaty. What have I done? She wondered. What will happen to me now? Every fiber of her body trembled with emotion. "G‑d, please," she whispered, "only You can help me."

Press "Next" to read Part II...