After waiting six years and three months to be reunited with his Soviet wife, an elderly Pomona man was not about to let a little case of pneumonia keep him down.
Polish-born Kazimierz Frejus, 82, was at Los Angeles International Airport Sunday night to greet his wife, Helle Frejus, 50. With him was a group of supporters, several in Estonian costumes.
It was the couple's first meeting since their wedding six years ago and came as a result of an agreement between the United States and Soviet Union to reunite American and Soviet spouses.
"It's like waking up from a drug into life," Frejus said, clutching five pink carnations he had picked up on the way to the airport.
Then Helle Frejus--one of the first ten Soviet spouses to be allowed to immigrate to the U.S. under terms of the pact--walked off the plane.
The couple broke into big smiles and hugged each other. Frejus speaks Polish and English, his wife Estonian and Russian, so communication at the emotional airport scene was difficult.
She tried to say a few words of English:
"I am so glad. . ." she smiled. "My husband . . . " and her voice trailed off.
"America is the best and greatest country in the world," he said. "God bless you people."
Frejus has been campaigning for his wife's release since their marriage in 1979 in her native Estonia. Although he is still recovering from triple-bypass heart surgery, the recent bout with pneumonia that sent Frejus to the hospital could not keep him home Sunday night.
"I had lost hope," Frejus said last month, when he heard his wife would be able to join him. "It's been six years . . . not six months or six weeks, but six years!" Now, with his heart surgery, he needs her help more than ever, he said.
In spite of his ailments, "After six years, he was anxious to come" to the airport, said a friend, Bruno Laan. "It has not been an easy chore, getting her out."
The reunification agreement freeing 10 of 25 Soviet spouses waiting to come to the United States was announced shortly after the Geneva summit, and was seen as a Kremlin gesture to derail criticism of its human rights record.
The second of the separated spouses, Tatyana Bondareva Bartholomew, was scheduled to meet her husband, Tony Bartholomew of Fountain Valley, in Baltimore today on a World Airways flight from Frankfurt. The airline has offered free seats to all the spouses leaving the Soviet Union.
Elena Balovlenkov of the Divided Spouses Coalition--whose own husband is still waiting for permission to leave the Soviet Union--joined Helle Frejus in Baltimore for the last leg of the flight to Los Angeles.
This is the second marriage for both of the Frejuses, said Laan. Frejus, who came here from Poland and still has a son there, was married for 28 years to another Estonian woman, who died of cancer, the friend explained.
The reunion was touched with bittersweetness, by Frejus' failing health over recent years and the fact that Helle Frejus leaves behind from her first marriage two daughters in their 20s and a 4-month-old grandson.
The couple met when Helle came here in May of 1979 for the funeral of an aunt, and in October they were wed when Frejus visited her in Estonia. They have been separated ever since, and Frejus--like Tony Bartholomew--waged a paper-work battle to get his wife out.
Although some international marriages are made to help one spouse gain legal status in the U.S., Laan said the Frejuses were not among those. Besides sharing an understanding of what it is to be politically dominated--Poland and Estonia were under both Tsarist and Soviet Russian control--they are also fond of each other.
"Although they are not youngsters any more, especially Mr. Frejus, they must have fallen in love," said Laan. "You never know what's in the deepest heart of a person, but I think it was a genuine marriage really."
Frejus said that he will "show her everything . . . I've been here 33 years in Los Angeles and I know every corner."
He said he would take his wife to see Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, Wilshire Boulevard. "She'll like that . . . and dancing," he said. "Isn't that true?" he asked her.
And when she did not respond to his English, he told her, "Say yes."
But she only smiled and sniffed at her flowers.