Leon Charny is a reserved man. Yet he bares his soul to strangers, over and over again, in hopes that someone, somewhere, can help him get his brother, who has been diagnosed by the Soviet doctors as terminally ill, out of the Soviet Union.
``My brother was just like a father to me,'' says Mr. Charny, his voice catching with emotion. He would like to see him again.
His brother Benjamin is one of five Jewish cancer patients who have been petitioning for years to leave the Soviet Union. Benjamin has been asking to leave since 1979, when Leon left. ``He desperately needs treatment available in the West,'' says Leonard Zakim, executive director of the New England office of the Anti-Defamation League in Boston.
Of the other four patients, two, Tatyana Bogomolny and Rimma Bravve, were allowed to leave, but the others have had no word.
Ms. Bogomolny left the Soviet Union in October. Ms. Bravve is to fly into New York today.
Bravve and the other patients have been guaranteed free treatment by the US and Canada. But a strong factor in treatment, and one that is missing for the patients left in the Soviet Union, is the ``supportive atmosphere'' of being with their families in the West, says Gerald Batist, a Canadian specialist who visited them. ``It has a direct bearing on their medical condition.''
Because the patients have asked to leave the Soviet Union, Leon Charny says, they lose their jobs, are harassed by Soviet officials, and become ostracized by their neighbors. The Soviets do not like it when you want to leave their ``paradise,'' he says.
These are not the only people who have asked to leave the Soviet Union, temporarily or permanently, for humanitarian reasons. For instance, Yelena Bonner left the Soviet Union last year for medical treatment in the United States; and Inessa Flerov, who wanted to contribute bone marrow to her brother in Israel, was allowed to leave in August.
Dr. Batist says a high-ranking US official has told him the Soviets are using these patients as bargaining chips.
``With all the craziness going on in the world,'' Mr. Zakim says, ``people tend to forget that these are real people.''
``Their best hope lies,'' he says, ``in a persistant, sensitive, vigorous campaign to hold the Soviet Union accountable for the way they treat individuals.''