JERUSALEM — Freed Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky is still not sleeping properly and has a "small problem with his heart," his wife, Avital, said here on Wednesday.
However, she said that "he'll be all right" and that a report in the Israeli press Wednesday morning saying he was not well enough even to record a greeting to a group of visiting Americans working on behalf of Soviet Jews was "a little bit exaggerated." Avital Shcharansky said the couple are "thinking about" a trip to the United States. Other Israeli and Western sources close to the situation said that the visit is tentatively scheduled for early May and is expected to last for about two weeks.
Resting at Kibbutz
Wednesday was the first time in a month that either Shcharansky had spoken to the press. Avital Shcharansky said she and her husband have spent the time resting at a kibbutz, or collective farm, in northern Israel, meeting a few friends, and "walking a lot."
The dissident, who was freed in a prisoner exchange on Feb. 11 after nine years in Soviet jails and labor camps and flown to Israel the same day, "is already swimming," his wife said. "He can't believe this is winter and not summer," she added in reference to the country's unseasonably balmy weather.
The Shcharanskys slipped into seclusion last month after a week of interviews, press conferences, and other public appearances during which the freed dissident provided riveting insights into his emotional and psychological survival in the gulag (labor camp system), all delivered with a lively sense of humor.
But after the initial excitement, his wife and others close to him indicated Wednesday, there has been some physical letdown.
"It's difficult for him to face many people," Avital Shcharansky told newsmen at a leadership meeting here of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, an American group. "He spent nine years either alone or with only two or three other people at a time," she explained.
Avital Shcharansky said the dissident "is still dreaming about his cell" but that his condition is improving "with time and rest. He has to walk a lot, but he'll be all right."
Family spokesman Avi Maoz added that the 38-year-old Shcharansky "cannot sleep in the night, so because of that, he is very tired during the day. . . . He must rest and rest and rest."
Another source close to the family recalled that during the last weeks of his captivity, Shcharansky "was shot full of drugs--probably vitamins, but nobody knows. This was done to make him look as if he was well treated in Soviet prison. Now this has worn off and what we are seeing is the letdown."
Tremor, Heart Murmur
Shcharansky's physician, Dr. Marvin Gottesman, described him after an examination on Feb. 13 as a man of "extreme psychological and physical power." Gottesman, a heart specialist at Hadassah hospital, said that prison, including more than a year in solitary confinement and repeated hunger strikes, has left Shcharansky with a heart murmur and a tremor in one hand, but that all he needed was rest, dental treatment and exercise.
A Hadassah spokeswoman said Wednesday that Shcharansky has not been back to the institution for treatment. Gottesman was reportedly traveling abroad until today.
The Jerusalem Post reported in its Wednesday editions that Shcharansky had been prevented by illness from attending a Tel Aviv banquet in his honor Tuesday night. The newspaper added that he has been unable to adapt to a normal diet and that he was having trouble walking any distance.
However, Soviet Jewry activists here said Wednesday that he had been seen as recently as Sunday looking reasonably healthy and walking hand-in-hand with his wife in the countryside of northern Israel.
It had been hoped that Shcharansky would appear for Wednesday's luncheon meeting of the Soviet Jewry group, but his wife made a belated appearance on his behalf.
"He especially asked me to thank you for all these years you worked very hard for him," she said.