Lev and Kalina Tuchinskiy


Interviewed by Carol Zuckert
December 19, 1998

CZ:   We were starting to talk about how to describe where they're from. So please continue.

LT:   We were born in the Soviet Union, it was one country. So we, my wife was born in Russia, in Siberia. I was born in Ukraine, in Kiev. I lived almost all my life in Kiev but for seven year I studied in Russia's university and I worked in Russia. Then I moved again to Ukraine, in Kiev, and after collapse of the Soviet Union the Ukraine became separate state, separate country. We have Ukranian citizenship.

CZ:   You both do?

LT:   Yes, Ukranian citizenship. But we are considered ourselves as Jews. See, it is a different way of the definition, what are Jews in America and all the west countries and what are the Jews in former Soviet Union. Jews in Soviet Union, th at means only your nationality. Who was your father and who was your mother, who were your parents. Who was your mother, who was your father. If they were Jews, so you automatically are Jew. It doesn't depend on your religion. Absolutely.

CZ:   It's totally what your parents were.

LT:   Yes, totally, totally. And moreover, it's not only who are your parents but how you are written in your passport. If your passport says that you are Jews, so you are Jews. You never could avoid it. You see, it's very interesting problem because in America if you belong to Judaism, belong to Jewish religion you are Jews. But you don't distinguish people with their nationality. All of American people are Americans. In Russia it is very strongly distinguished.

CZ:   Except that you're not distinguished as a Ukranian? Or as a Siberian?

LT:   No, that is separately. We have a citizenship, we have Ukranian citizenship but besides we have the nationality. And Ukranian citizens can be Russian, can be Jews, can be Belorussian, can be French.

CZ:   It's apples and bananas as we say. Do you know that expression? One's your religion, the other's your nationality.

LT:   Yes, that's why the people in Russia, in former Soviet Union, they struggled for many years counsel these so-called five paragraph in all your Russian passports. You have the fifth paragraph which determined your nationality. The first paragraph was your citizenship...

CZ:   Ukranian.

LT:   Yes. No, in former Soviet Union we have citizenship Soviet.


LT:   USSR. But besides you have your nationality and if it is written that you are Jews, you are Jewish. If it is written that you are Russian. Do you get it?

CZ:   Yeah. Now say you're Catholic, Roman Catholic.

LT:   Nobody cares about it. Nobody asks you what religion you belong.

CZ:   Except if you're Jewish.

LT:   No, if you're Jews it doesn't mean that you belong to Jewish religion. I am absolutely not religious person. In Russia. I never was in synagogue. It was officially not prohibited but practically it was prohibited. And I lived, it was less than quarter mile from my apartment to synagogue but I never was there.

CZ:   Did your parents go to synagogue? Let's see, you're talking the Russian Revolution, it was 1917.

LT:   My parents, maybe two, three times I heard from them that they visited.

KT:  They were afraid.

CZ:   They're afraid. Because this is after 1917 and the Revolution. So were you born, are you Jewish on your passport?

LT:   Yeah, I'm Jewish, yes.

CZ:   But Kalina?

LT:   Kalina, no. She is Russian on passport.

CZ:   Is there any history in your family of Judaism?

LT:   No, I am pure Jew. My parents, grandparents, all of them were Jews.

CZ:   We might be related. My grandparents on my mother's side were from Kiev. Rabasha. That's the last name.

LT:   Your name, Zuckert.

CZ:   My father's name, Polish. German, Polish. Can you see?

LT:   My name is Polish too.

CZ:   With a Y it's K-Y. Yeah. So there's nobody Jewish in your household essentially? In your household.

LT:   No. My kids.

CZ:   Your kids are considered Jewish.

LT:   Yes.

CZ:   Do they consider themselves Jewish.

LT:   Now, yes I think. But in Russia not. It was very dangerous.

CZ:   Very dangerous.

LT:   They could not make the good career.

CZ:   I was wondering. And what about you?

LT:   Same as you. I had many, many problems. But the Jews are very insistent, especially if you know that you will have many, many obstacles. And your parents used to say from your childhood that you have to be better than other kids because they don't have these obstacles which you have.

CZ:   So what did you do to overcome the obstacles? Tell me about your education for example. Did your parents help you with your education? Were there public schools for you?

LT:   Unfortunately my parents, they were not well educated people. They could not help in my education. So I was forced to do everything myself. And I wasn't the best student in my school. And it's very interesting story. I graduated from the school with all A's. For students who graduated with all A's it was a rule that you got the gold medal, this award. But they did not give me the gold medal. Well, my parents came to them and asked why. They said "because we do not have the gold." It was not made of gold, it was made of copper (laughing). "We don't have gold." It's not enough for, the gold for everything, for everybody. So it was three persons in my school who graduated with all A's but they gave only to two. They were Russian and I did not get it.

CZ:   So what level school are we talking about?

LT:   It was high school. Then I tried to enter the university in Kiev but anti-Semitism in the Ukraine at this time it was end of 50s, it was very strong. It's very nice story, very interesting story but it's maybe too long. I don't know, if you have time I can tell.

CZ:   Talk, please. I'm interested, I'm interested not just for this. This is an interesting story.

LT:   If such kind of events will be described in the literature you never believe that such kind of coincides can happen. As I said, I was a best student in my high school and for six years I have the very good teacher in math. And I was his best student and he was very proud with me. I participated in all olympiads in math. It is competition. And I took the ... she's afraid that I wave my...

CZ:   Oh oh, no no. Please be natural, absolutely.

LT:   OK. And he likes me very much and when I was going to be ready for the university he called me and we had very long talk, long conversation and he said to me that I have all possibilities to reach high levels in math especially he trusts, he believed in me. I was very excited. And I decided to go to university in Kiev. But in order to enter, for everybody they have right to get B and C and then you enter. But for me I had to have all A's.

CZ:   Because of being Jewish, is that right?

LT:   Yes. It was unofficial rule but if you have all A's it's OK. If not, forget it. And I had to pass five exams. And I got four exams, I got A's. They asked me very, very, in partisan ways, these examinators, people who took these exams. But I passed.

CZ:   Excuse me. You said they asked you in a partisan way. They tried to get you to fail?

LT:   Yes, but I passed. And the last exam left it was math but I was sure that no problem with math because it was my field. Can you imagine when I came to pass this exam in the room where the exam was going to be, I found only one person. It was my teacher. And he had to quiz me. And he was so surprised when he saw me because it was absolutely suddenly for him, it was unexpected for him to see me.

CZ:   Random, it was a random selection?

LT:   Yes, it was random. And I saw him, he saw me but he did not express any emotions. He made as if he doesn't know me. OK, hello, hello. Take the ticket and I took it. I found all questions very, very easy for me and I knew that he knew that I know everything. We worked together all these tests which I had to solve and he knew everything about me and in ten minutes maybe I said "I'm ready." "OK, let us start." And I started to answer, he raises his head. OK, OK, when I finished he said "Wait a minute please. I have to invite a couple of my colleagues to help me examine you." OK, and he brought a couple new people and they started to ask me again. I answered all their questions but they said to me "Let us make a consultation between us." They consulted maybe for two or three minutes and they called me and said you got B. Why? They didn't explain anything. But I did not enter.

CZ:   They wouldn't allow you to enter.

LT:   Yes, I did not enter the university.

CZ:   You had no way of asking them to reconsider.

LT:   No, no way, but my teacher next day he came to house of my parents and he cried and explained that he had no choice. And they said to him, you have a choice, this guy's or you got forced to left your job. I was very offended. Now I understand that he really did not have choice. But it took a lot of time to understand it. Now I understand and I have no offense. He died. He was a very good person but then I didn't understand.

CZ:   You were angry.

LT:   Yes, I was very, very angry and that's why I understood that I have no chance to get my higher education in Kiev. We had, in Russia, some provincial cities, we had small universities where anti-Semitism was not so strong and where Jewish people learned there, studied there. And that's why next year I went to Russia, it was very small city in Russia, Novocherkask, near Rustov and I entered the university and graduated from this university in Russia.

CZ:   Can you spell those names for me? Both of them. The city you actually went to school, that would be the best one.

LT:   Well, I studied in the school, in high school it was Kiev.

CZ:   No, no. The university.

LT:   Novocherkask.

CZ:   So, how did you get there?

LT:   My uncle lived there and he, we all came, here Jewish people can study.

CZ:   OK. So you went there and got a 4 year degree or whatever the equivalent?

LT:   I got the master degree there in engineering. I long for five years. There I met my wife, Kadina. I was studying mechanical engineering, she was studying chemistry.

CZ:   From Siberia?

LT:   No, she was born in Siberia but then her family lived in Moldova. Now it is separate state, country. Then she had another problem because she was Russian and Moldova it was a small republic where original population was Moldovanian, Moldavian, a nationality. And the policy was that in Moldavia only Moldavian people should get the high education. And that's why, as Russian, she was forced to move from Moldavia to Russia. So you see, the Communists they created this nationalism problems artificially. They forced people to hate each other. They don't have the same opportunities. Because of their nationalities. It was so stupid.

CZ:   So you got your ... were you about on the same level, did you finish about the same time?

LT:   Yeah, I was one year earlier. I entered one year earlier and graduated one year earlier. But we met in the university.

CZ:   Did your parents have any problems with you marrying somebody that wasn't Jewish?

LT:   Yeah.

CZ:   They did, huh? So there was this feeling there of being Jewish.

LT:   Yes, they were very, very afraid.

CZ:   Afraid for whom?

LT:   That I was going to get the Russian wife.

CZ:   They didn't like that idea. Because?

LT:   Because they were afraid that, see, they consider that all Russian should hate Jews. And they was not sure that it will not happen with me because they sort of thought, when you're young it's OK. But what can happen later nobody knows and this national problems can appear every time. You see, in principle, not for my life, but in principle it could take place because some marriages, by the way the same in America. When people of different religions marry and they have problems in bringing up the children in some religious. Yes, problems can appear.

CZ:   I see. So your parents were afraid of that?

LT:   Yes, yes, yes. And how about your parents?

LT:  No. My parents.

KT:   No problems from side of her parents.

CZ:   How come? Why do you think? I mean if Russians are generally anti-Semitic...

KT:  In Russia we get a lot of people ... international character.

LT:   Russian people themselves they are not anti-Semites.

CZ:   Ukrainians are.

KT:  Ukranian more.

CZ:   Well they have a reputation.

LT:   Ukranian more, yes. Russian too but it depends on your bringing up, on your education.

CZ:   Just like here.

LT:   Yes, it depends. So you cannot say that all Russians are anti-Semities. It's not true.

CZ:   I'm doing what you call probing just kind of getting an explanation.

LT:   It is the same problem as in America with different religions, with different color skin. Absolutely the same situation. But differences in Russia, anti-Semitism was the state policy. It was not official. It was actual.

CZ:   OK, that's interesting.

LT:   It wasn't official. Officially all nations were equal.

CZ:   So you finished your degree in mechanical engineering.

LT:   Yeah, I finished my degree and then I entered, in American you don't, no you have it, it was post graduate level I entered, it's called aspirantura in Russia. To make my Ph.D. investigations, research. I started my Ph.D. research in Novcherkaosk, at the same university. But then I moved in Kiev because in Kiev were much more facilities to make my job. But I could not do that officially because officially, again, Ukranian authorities didn't allow Jews to work in science. They build many, many obstacles.

LT:   So I had friends in Kiev and I came to Kiev and I, how to say, officially I was a post graduate of Novcherkask University, but worked practically. I worked in Kiev and I made all my experiments, all my investigations in Kiev.

CZ:   When you say you worked, did you work for the University doing your research or were you involved in a factory?

LT:   No, it was not University. It was a research institute, a very big research institute. Institute where I worked for more than thirty years later.

CZ:   Oh I see. After you got your Ph.D.

LT:   It is very big story.

CZ:   Where were you Kalina. You waited for her to finish her studies?

LT:   We lived together in Novcherkask. Then she was pregnant and I studied at Novcherkask. Then she went to Moldova to her parents. She delivered there our first daughter.

CZ:   And that was when?

LT:   It was 1966. Natasha.

CZ:   And where's Natasha?

LT:   She [Russian conversation with girl in another room] She's embarrassed.

CZ:   OK, you don't need to come in. Later, I'd like to meet you.

KT:  This is my grandson.

CZ:   Oh, so Natasha has a child. OK, so you go back to Kiev and you do your Ph.D. studies.

LT:   Yes, and I got my Ph.D. in Kiev. They liked my job very much and director of this institute where I make these investigations he said "I going to invite you to work." He was a very famous scientist in Russia, he was commissioned at the highest level of science and he was a hero of the Soviet Union. He knew personally Stalin. At this time Stalin died but this director of this institute was a very famous scientist.

KT:  Nice person.

LT:   Nice person. And he said to me "I want to invite you" and I said OK, I would be glad. But when I started to walk to work in this institute, this institute belonged to Academy of Science, OK, and Academy of Science was governed by Presidium ofAcademy of Science, it was administration. And when he came to administration in order to confirm that he has the right to hire me they said "No, no way." OK, then he came to me and said "I can do nothing so you have to go back to Novcherkask and try to find something." He went to vacation and I started to collect all my stuff to go back but he had deputy director and this director he was a very good person but he was not a fighter. The deputy director, he was my opponent during my dissertation. He was official opponent. And he liked me so much, when he knew that I had this response

CZ:   That you couldn't get hired...

LT:   Yeah, he went himself to administration and he took me and he talked with them more than three hours and I hear very high sounds. And when he came back he said "You will work here." In maybe five years after this event I met some guy casually, it was in the house of my neighbors they invited some guests and invited us. And they introduced me to their friend and when I said my name it was maybe in five years, "Your name is Tuchinskiy." Yes, I said. "Oh, you know that I get so many troubles with you. Actually I lost my job because of you." He said "I worked in Administration" and after talking with deputy director the chief of administration called this guy and said "you have to find reason why we cannot allow him to work. If you don't find this reason..."

CZ:   Out you go. So he couldn't find a reason. Not even being Jewish didn't do it! So this poor man really resented you or was he nice?

LT:   I don't know exactly. But he explained to me what happened five years ago.

CZ:   Well, that's really interesting. OK, keep going. So you worked for this administration, this technical, what was the name of it?

LT:   It was in Kiev, it was a very big institute, it had more than 4,000 people, called Institute for Problem of Material Science. I am a specialist in new materials.

CZ:   OK.

LT:   I started to work there. I worked for 30 years for them and I made not bad career. See, in Russia we don't, the Russian scientific career is not like in America. In America you have the highest level of scientific positions is Ph.D. You don't have higher scientific level, yes? In Russia we have higher scientific level. Approximately 5% of Russian Ph.D. they get the Russian level of Doctor of Science, much higher than Ph.D. But you need to protect the new dissertation for this level. I made this dissertation, got the Doctor of Science. You see, when you work, if you work in some institution in Russia, the people are very good. It was official policy but it was not the policy of people. Of course, maybe for ten or twenty percent of people they were anti-Semites but in my institute it wasn't anti-Semitic because director of institute was very nice person, very clever and wise person. And all leadership wasn't anti-Semitic.

CZ:   Were there other Jews working with you?

LT:   Yeah, of course.

CZ:   At the Ph.D. or post doctorate level?

LT:   Yeah, but practically all of them, in order, I came from Russia to this institute and they had this problem. But the way how Jews could make career in science, they had to start from the lowest level. They came from position, for example, as technicians, at very low salary. When they were there at this institution they can prove themselves. It was successful, they could make it work. So they made this career but, of course, officially it was allowed that five percent of the staff could be Jews but not more.

CZ:   For the higher degree?

LT:   No, totally. If 100 people worked for this organization only five of them could be Jews. It was acceptable for administration but with more it was breaking the rules.

CZ:   OK.

LT:   In this case KGB started investigating this problems and Communist committee, yes, and chiefs of department who has more than five percent of Jews they had troubles. I became the chief of department. I had big department and of course I had more than five percent of Jews. They accuse me every time! Fortunately, practically I had maybe ten percent but fifty percent of this ten percent were hidden Jews because they had Russian names and their parents were Jews but in passport it was written that they were Russian, Uzbecks, Ukrainians. Every time somebody sent messages to KGB, to Communist committee that in my department there are a lot of Jews. But then when they started to check it appears ...

CZ:   Yeah, the on the surface you were safe. That's good.

LT:   Yeah. Of course, between, among the high level persons of my institution the percentage of Jews was much higher than five percent, maybe thirty percent. People needed to work and we need to give some new materials, new projects. As I said, Jews were forced to study much harder than common people. That's why they have the better background, better education. And they have possibility to achieve higher positions. But I'm not sure that it's correct for all organizations for Soviet Union.

CZ:   Not true at all. Just because of the scientific ...

LT:   Yes, in my branch, in my specific institute...Now you can see that again, now in Russian government more than sixty or seventy percent of people who govern this country are Jews. Same situation in America, I believe.

CZ:   Yes, it's often true that the people that are powerful are Jews. What did you do in the meantime, were you working or just raising a family?

KT:  In Kiev I was a teacher 25 years, a chemistry teacher in college.

CZ:   And are you working now?

KT:  No. My language...

CZ:   Well you're doing very well.

LT:   Not really. For me it's no problem. I came practically, all my life I learned Germany. I couldn't speak English. Last year, when I decided that I would migrate I started to learn, but it's very difficult to learn without English background. So practically when I came I could not understand any words.

CZ:   When did you come to the United States?

LT:   It was October 23, 1995. Three years ago, yes.

CZ:   And how did you get here? What did you do? What was the story?

LT:   Practically I was invited to work here. Here in Tucson there is a research company that deal with material science.

CZ:   And how did you even get in contact with them?

LT:   My former post graduate, one of my former post graduates he migrated. He lives here in Tucson. He immigrated and he found the job for this company.

CZ:   For him, for him and for you?

LT:   No. He started work for this research company and I was on a business trip here in America and he said to his boss that he has to meet me. And the boss invited me and I made the report and I explained, proposed to them, suggested, what investigations, what new projects, and they invited me to work with them. So I came and started to work immediately on the first day of my arrival. But it was a horrible time, I have to say, because without language it's unbelievable.

CZ:   So have you taken courses in English?

LT:   No, without any courses. My job is to write.

CZ:   Well, at least it's technical, that helps.

LT:   It's technical but it's English. Nevertheless it is English. They gave me to rest for two weeks and then they said you have to write the reports.

CZ:   How did you do it?

LT:   I started to write! Now it is not a problem for me.

CZ:   So you're very lucky. You're not very typical, are you.

LT:   Absolutely not typical. No.

CZ:   Coming with a good job. I mean, you're living in this nice house in this nice neighborhood.

KT:  He took a loan.

CZ:   Of course you took a loan but you could afford, they let you do that. You had good enough credit because of a good job.

LT:   They gave me a good salary and I'm sure that they are not sorry for that because I brought the company a lot of money now, so they pay me and we are satisfied both. Of course, in Russia I could not even think about this house, it was beyond a dream.

CZ:   So once you were here on the business trip and you could see how people were living and what level, that's very enticing.

LT:   Yes, I was chief of department, a professor, Doctor of Science, academician, but I never, never had my own apartments. All what I had it was my parents gave me, it was heritage of my parents. See, in Russia we did not buy apartments. The government gave. But I waited for 30 years and I didn't get anything.

CZ:   So were you living with your parents?

LT:   No. We lived with my parents at the beginning but my dad died when I was 28 and in a couple of years my mother got a second marriage. Her new husband have his apartment. My mother lived with him and...

CZ:   And you took over the other one or it became yours. I want to get some of the uninteresting things, like the statistics. Date of birth, and...so just tell me. When were you born Kalina?

KT:  Well I was born...

CZ:   If you don't mind telling me. Women, you know women in this country are very sensitive about that.

LT:   Not only in this country!

KT:  I was born on March 17, 1942 in Novisibirsk in Siberia.

CZ:   Very cold. I know somebody who lived there awhile. Very cold. And look at this wonderful weather we have here.

KT:  I like it.

LT:   I cannot say that we have wonderful weather all the year, but now...

CZ:   Forget June, July, August and September. So you're happy you moved here?

KT:  Yes.

CZ:   Did you decide kinda together? It's kinda scary, isn't it.

KT:  Yeah.

LT:   Of course it's very scary.

KT:  We lost our friends. I liked Kiev. Kiev is very nice city. Very beautiful city. But now you heard about Chernobyl, it's very near Kiev. And I ...

CZ:   Oh, I bet I didn't have the record on when you were talking about your grandparents.

LT:   No, it was recording.

CZ:   Oh it was OK? Alright. This is hard for me, the technical. It's very difficult. If we want to come back next year and interview you again or two years to see if anything's changed would you have any problem with that?

LT:   With what?

CZ:   Us repeating, not repeating the same interview but interviewing you again in two years.

LT:   No problems here.

CZ:   The other thing I'm thinking is I don't know how much spare time you have but would you ever consider being a translator for us, or even doing the interviewing yourself? Did Joel talk to you about that at all?

LT:   No he didn't. I can not a lot but sometimes I can help you. Because I am busy.

CZ:   You work a lot, sure. And you have family.

LT:   But if you need I can help you of course. You make the good job.

CZ:   Well thank you.

LT:   Very necessary job.

CZ:   Well but the thing is everybody isn't as, I can't imagine that people coming for the Soviet Union - now correct me if I'm wrong - are going to be as open as you are. You're very comfortable in this country. But everybody isn't. They haven't had the success you have. They don't have the background you have. So it might be that you could, they'd be more comfortable with you than with me.

KT:  In Ukraine my daughter never said to her classmates that her father is Jew.

LT:   I'll explain.

CZ:   See, what I would love to do is have a lot of people doing these interviews but people that would get the comfort level that you would be able to get probably with people speaking Russian.

LT:   OK, if you really need help I'll help.

CZ:   You see, you just said the word. You've committed yourself. OK, I probably...

LT:   Not very often, but...

CZ:   Once a month?

LT:   OK.

CZ:   I should have said twice a month. About an hour, hour and a half interview?

LT:   If I have time. If we agreed it in advance.

CZ:   Of course. I would set it up in advance.

LT:   But I don't believe that my English is so good.

CZ:   Well, I think that your English is fine. You may not have an enormous vocabulary but you sure have a very good understanding and I think you do very well. I think your English is absolutely good enough. Absolutely, without question.

LT:   It seems to me that I have artificial, it is not, I don't have contacts with American people. I can talk only with literature, with computer, with television and that's it.

CZ:   But that's a lot. And you work. Television is one - I hate to say it - a very good way of learning English.

LT:   But I don't understand my grandson. It's his language, it's absolutely not my language.

CZ:   But it's not standard either.

LT:   Absolutely.

CZ:   He's not standard. But you understand me?

LT:   Sure.

CZ:   And I'm standard. I speak standard English of an adult

LT:   You speak real English.
[conversation with Tim, the grandson]

CZ:   Is he staying or going back with your daughter?

LT:   We don't know.

KT:  We came back from movie theater. We watched very beautiful comedy.

LT:   You've Got Mail. Have you seen it.

CZ:   Oh no, but it's gotten good reviews.

KT:  Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

CZ:   Did you understand a lot.

KT:  Not all, but a lot.

LT:   We don't understand maybe twenty percent of words but situation is very understandable. You don't need to understand everything. Very nice actors, yes.

CZ:   Tim go with you?

LT:   No. But he advised us. He watched yesterday and that's why he asked us to go because he liked it.

CZ:   What I'll probably do next, I can stop this now.